I've recently started a PhD. I'm having trouble getting high impact authors to agree to write papers with me. Is there any ethical issue which prevents me from paying high impact authors monetary compensation, to agree to write papers with me? I of course will obey any and all paper writing requirements, such as both must substantially contribute, etc...

Also, my original intention is that the monetary payments would be fully disclosed before the transactions, to all relevant parties, including my University, supervisors, opposing side in the final PhD, etc...

I kind of do the same thing with my daughter. I hire a tutor, but ask them to help provide her with the required knowledge, but require her to do any and all actual work.

  • 57
    Most academic authors that I know are not particularly motivated by money (at least, not the kind of money your average PhD student can afford to offer).
    – ff524
    Mar 11, 2015 at 0:09
  • 52
    I'll throw in that if you have trouble getting high impact authors to co-author that probably means (1) they don't know/trust you, (2) your work is not high-impact, or (3) they are your competition. I'd work more on figuring these out if you want to boost your academic career, rather than relying on money.
    – che_kid
    Mar 11, 2015 at 2:33
  • 15
    If your work is sufficiently interesting, they should be willing to write papers with you without any compensation from you.
    – gerrit
    Mar 11, 2015 at 15:15
  • 20
    Why would a high-impact author write papers with a new PhD student, (except for their own PhD students, of course)? There aren't enough hours in the day to write papers with every student who comes along. Build up a reputation for producing high quality work (e.g., with your own advisor) and then high-quality researchers will want to work with you. Mar 11, 2015 at 18:24
  • 11
    I signed up on this stackexchange just to inform you that many people, me included, won't justify buying credit and reputation in academia or anywhere else! Thank you for helping the world become even more distorted by dishonesty, greed, and politics. Mar 12, 2015 at 12:04

10 Answers 10


If you are simply writing scientific papers, I don't think it is inherently wrong about hiring a collaborator. I do it all the time when I offer a student an RAship to work on a project and the student ends up as a co-author. It's a bit unusual that the student would be paying the professor, but I don't think there's an ethical problem there. (And in fact I do know of a few cases where a well-off individual has worked out an arrangement of this sort, albeit with a postdoc rather than someone more senior.) The only ethical issue I can see is that if the authors are required to disclosure their funding, the hired author might have to disclose that you had provided the funding. My student RAs always do so, after all -- we acknowledge the grant that supported them.

If the work is to be part of your thesis, things get more complicated. You would want to be very clear that you had not violated any university requirements for the preparation of the thesis. My gut feeling is that paying high-impact coauthors to help with the chapters crosses a line, but I can't nail it down to some particular rule. And obviously (I hope), paying anyone on your PhD committee would almost certainly create a conflict of interest that would be a significant breach of ethics.

All of that said, there most definitely is a reputational issue here. Word will get out that you are paying people to collaborate. Depending on your goals, this may not be in your advantage.

  • 27
    +1 for mentioning reputation. In my field (and probably many, many fields), a person hiring/paying a senior researcher would certainly be treated with disdain and not be good for one's career.
    – che_kid
    Mar 11, 2015 at 2:31
  • 2
    @che_kid typically jrs allow seniors to coop thier research as thier own using aggrandization as payment. those senors or fellow jr's who show disdain for offering compensation which isn't first or contact authorship are not really worth the trouble.
    – user7985
    Mar 12, 2015 at 6:20

I think the other answers are way too nice. As for myself, I have never heard of such a insulting / distorted idea about what a PHD is. Do you want to buy yourself a PHD? There are countless diploma mills for that, so you could hang a useless paper on your wall to claim you have a PHD without doing all the necessary work / research yourself. Do you want to buy yourself an academic career by hiring established professors to write papers for and with you? That is even more insulting. If that was the case, every rich kid could tell his / her dad. "I want a PHD for Christmas. Buy me some high impact authors to write papers with me. Pleaaase..".

It does not work that way. And the fact that you are at the beginning of your PHD and you are even considering this, is even more infuriating for people who have busted their behinds to get a PHD (and some of the people in Academia SE still do to this day). Reconsider why you want a PHD and what you want a PHD for. I am mostly sure you want it for the all the wrong reasons and not because you actually want to do research. In that case, you should probably spare yourself the agony, because without a passion for research your PHD road will be a long, rocky one.

UPDATE: In retrospect, the tone of my answer is pretty hostile. Still, the upvotes showed that my initial reaction to the OP's question also expressed an important part of the Academia SE community. In this sense, my answer might still be useful if it makes the OP reconsider his "thought" of hiring "high-impact" authors to write papers with him, since such an action will probably cause much more damage to him than my "harsh" words.

Moreover, since we had a previous question about "Is it ethical to hire a programmer for ... my CS PHD" and now "Is it ethical to hire high-impact authors ... to write papers with me", I sincerely hope that in the future we do not get any other questions like "Is it ethical to hire a professor to write my PHD thesis if I still do the typesetting in Latex and all spell checking" or "Is it ethical to hire a professor to do my PHD defence, since I will still bring the pizza and the drinks".

  • 22
    This is really rude and insensitive
    – user7985
    Mar 12, 2015 at 6:15
  • 33
    @Eric If you look at the LinkedIn profile of the OP (which I did before answering - did you?) the OP is a >50 year old CS professional serving on many CEO roles. So, give him some credit that he can handle harsh criticism. I am trying to protect him from doing such a horrible mistake, because the academia world is not the corporate "if we can't do it ourselves, hire someone that can" world. Also, the "tutor" addition to his question shows his obvious misunderstanding. He already has a tutor (his supervisor) ...
    – Alexandros
    Mar 12, 2015 at 9:54
  • 19
    @SteveJessop Sorry to have to break it to you but as a wild analogy, dating a woman and paying a woman to "date" you is not the same thing. It is the payment that makes the difference and not the hours or the effort you spend at the "date".
    – Alexandros
    Mar 12, 2015 at 13:34
  • 17
    People complaining that Alexandros was "mean" are ridiculous. Perhaps he should have put a "Trigger Warning" on his post. The OP isn't saying he isn't able to get published, it's that because he's junior, his stuff doesn't get as much attention. Welcome to the club. Most PhD students, and even junior faculty, are not high profile. Part of the career is working for it. I wouldn't respect someone who bought his way up the ladder. Mar 12, 2015 at 23:31
  • 20
    This isn't overly hostile. It is spot on. If a PhD candidate is this clueless about what academia is, he needs to be told sooner rather than later.
    – jwg
    Mar 13, 2015 at 8:14

Is there any ethical issue which prevents me from paying high impact authors monetary compensation, to agree to write papers with me?

Assuming you are honest and open about what you are doing, and you don't violate any of the usual ethical rules about collaboration and authorship, I doubt you can get in any trouble for doing this.

However, your collaborators might get in trouble if they accept your proposal. If they are already being paid to do this work, then their employer or funding agency will be unhappy to hear that they are making side deals for extra money, so you'll have to be careful in how this is set up. Furthermore, being paid by a student to collaborate looks terrible, since it suggests they are exploiting you or extorting money from you. Even if they insist it was your idea, I'm sure administrators will be unhappy with them.

In any case, this would be bad for everyone's reputation, as Corvus pointed out at the end of his answer. You'd effectively be announcing that you can't convince people to work with you without offering them money, and your collaborators would be announcing that they sold out and decided to earn money via a project they wouldn't otherwise consider worth their time. Unless you work in a field with an exceptionally strong commercial ethos, neither side would end up looking good.

Instead of offering money, it's worth rethinking how you are trying to attract collaborators. For example, are you trying to recruit people to work on your own ideas? That can be a tough sell, since they probably have lots of exciting projects already taking up their time (otherwise you wouldn't be interested in them in the first place), and they have little idea of how skilled you are or how good your ideas are. Instead, you might start by seeing whether you could contribute in some way to their current projects. If you impress them by doing so, then they may be much more open to other ideas you have.

  • 1
    "their employer or funding agency will be unhappy to hear that they are making side deals for extra money" That is not necessarily true: the last (UK) academic job description I read in detail explicitly said that the person was allowed to spend up to X weeks a year on external consultancy without needing specific permission. As I recall, when applying for a UK research grant, you state what fraction of their time the PI will spend on the grant. That's usually less than 100%, to allow for teaching, which allows scope for side projects. (But +1 for the rest of the answer.) Mar 12, 2015 at 9:35
  • @Anonymous Mathematicia: Wow, your comment really helped me!!! rethink ... attract collaborators ... own ideas ... tough sell ... contribute to their current projects. I had not tried that and I'm sure I'll have a much better chance with your great strategy!!!
    – Todd Booth
    Mar 16, 2015 at 13:42

If you are lining their pocket with a secret bribe, then of course it is wrong on several levels. If you are offering to hire them in an openly declared consulting role on a problem, and willing to pay their rate and deal with the appropriate paperwork, that's more plausible. Note, however, that anybody actually high quality is likely to have a consulting rate in excess of $200/hour, and you probably can't afford them.

  • Especially since a decent research paper is going to need at least 100 hours of work. Mar 12, 2015 at 9:35

Luckily, there is no genuine issue here, since, I'd wager, none of the people you'd fancy paying to collaborate would do so, even for significant sums of money. This is lucky for you, since if any such thing happened there'd arise many problems... first about whether you earned a Ph.D., second, about your own fitness for the academic milieu...

So, in brief, don't do it, don't try it. Even a failed attempt would be so operationally unfortunate for you that the ethical issue wouldn't even get to the front of the queue.


TLDR You can hire researchers to work with you, but you still need to do independent work for your PhD thesis.

I am unsure if you understand what is the typical research process for a PhD student.

Based on my observations of my PhD classmates, I would say that this is a more or less typical PhD experience in an applied math PhD program:

  • A student would have a professors as his/her PhD adviser, and meet the adviser approximately once every one or two weeks. (Some students have two PhD co-advisers but the process is similar.)
  • The adviser would give high-level input such as: why don't you read this paper, can we build a mathematical model of this problem? The student would do the work, and discuss his/her findings with the adviser during the next meeting.
  • At the end of about two or three years, the student would write the paper, with the adviser providing some feedback.
  • After 4-6 years, the student writes a thesis which is basically stapling 2-3 of his/her research papers together.

In our field, basically the student does all the tedious work, while the adviser provides high-level guidance.

I think that it is basically impossible to hire anyone to do your PhD work for you because you are awarded a PhD when you can demonstrate through your independent work that you are capable of independent research. (Caveat: Among my classmates, occassionally one of the 3 chapters of their thesis was joint work with a fellow PhD student. Nevertheless, at least the other 2 chapters were his/her independent work.)

Finally, perhaps your expectations are unrealistic. I think it is fair to say that in almost any field, most PhD students do not co-author a paper with a professor in the top 1% of their field during the course of their PhD studies. You don't have to co-author a paper with a famous professor in order to do excellent work. In fact, if you do co-author a paper with a famous professor, people might discount your contribution to the paper because they think "This is just another one of Professor X's amazing ideas that Todd Booth just latched on to." This thinking would be further reinforced if they found out that you paid for the collaboration as this is extremely unusual in academia for a co-author to be paying another co-author out-of-pocket. (Usually funding comes through grants and not personal funds.)

Instead of trying to pay a famous professor to work with you, why not work to become a famous professor in your own right? If you do excellent work and become known for it, it is extremely likely that chances will arise for you to work with other famous professors.

  • @i like to code. Hello Coder. Is it possible that people would question the expert thinking he had a student do all the work and he took credit for it? Why would he (or she) need a student collaborator?
    – JJLL
    Mar 14, 2015 at 17:28
  • From my understanding (others can confirm or deny this), when a paper is written by a professor and a PhD student(s), people expect that the PhD student(s) did most of the tedious work while the professor provided high-level guidance. This doesn't mean that the professor's contribution is less important, just that it is different from the student's contribution. Mar 14, 2015 at 18:41
  • @i like to code. But are you sure it isn't the professor who gets the credit. Do the students get credit as co-authors. I really don't know.
    – JJLL
    Mar 15, 2015 at 16:15
  • @I Like to Code: You wrote, "if you do co-author a paper with a famous professor, people might discount your contribution". Great reflection and extremely helpful. My new plan is to get someone, just a little bit higher quality than me. You wrote, "hire anyone to do your PhD work". If I worked with a high quality co-author, I would assume their standard is higher, and I would in fact, do much more work (and learn more) than with a lower quality co-student.
    – Todd Booth
    Mar 16, 2015 at 13:44
  • @JJLL From my understanding, all of the authors get recognition for a jointly published paper. How much "credit" a student author gets may depend on how the professor speaks about the student. For example, if the professor says, "This student was extremely creative and hardworking and it is really his/her work, with minimal contributions from me" then other researchers would have a much higher estimation of the student's ability. Mar 16, 2015 at 16:49

This is not the same as hiring a tutor. I suppose its possible that you could find a retired or semi-retired academic who is interested in your work. That said, the usual course of action is for you to find a researcher to work for or with, and write your own paper with their advice (and their name on your paper so you can publish). I don't know what your field of study is, but the route you are suggesting doesn't sound like it will help you get grant funding in the future.

I think the problem you are having is related to the expense of running a research laboratory, and the way researchers are judged by their peers. I am not a researcher, but I have had a front row seat for my lab's struggle for research funding - so here is some perspective.

The cost of running a research lab can be huge. For instance, the cost for some types of microscopes can easily be 6 figures. And the yearly maintenance contract for a microscope can be 5 figures. And of course most labs employ lab technicians and/or post-docs. On top of this, research groups pay their university a percentage of some of their expenses - salaries and some purchases. For a "wet" lab, this is almost 50%. In other words, a researcher's time has to equal a lot of money.

So a lab has to get some grants, and researchers must have published research in order to get those grants. An experiment with negative results, even important and valuable negative results, generally cannot be published. So successful, accepted research is the indirect source of almost 100% of the funding of many labs. Sound like a crapshoot? Yes it is. Encourages bias? Ah hum mumble. Do researchers generally give into this bias? I think most of them try very hard not to.

The grants that a lab receives are peer reviewed - that is researchers are on each other's grant panels. Researchers cannot afford to be involved in a research project unless they can defend it. Research can be highly specialized, and this makes it difficult to defend against critics who are experts in something slightly different. Researchers I know always hope to get panel members who do very similar work - if not, they are likely to get turned down.

There is a lot of pressure put on researchers, and they value their time and reputation highly. Unless you can substantially contribute to funding a lab or have a project which the researcher really understands and believes in, they won't risk working for you. And there's no denying that there can be a status thing here - they would rather work with you then for you.

http://www.nature.com/jcbfm/journal/v30/n7/full/jcbfm201051a.html http://acfnewsource.org.s60463.gridserver.com/science/negative_results.html

  • Thx for the incredibly helpful comments. I now plan to do the following. I'll look for co-authors, who need papers concerning their funded projects, and where I can use my skills to help them, on their ideas. This will be much, much easier than what I've been doing, which was to get co-authors to work with me, on my projects, which have no funding. Instead of trying to get the top high quality co-authors, I'll shoot for co-authors who have higher quality than me, but not so much higher.
    – Todd Booth
    Mar 16, 2015 at 13:45
  • This sounds like a much more effective approach. Good luck!! May 16, 2016 at 23:41

You say you have "recently started a Ph.D." At that stage, you're only expected to be gaining your bearings in the field the Ph.D. is about. You shouldn't jump ahead of yourself.

Typically, your connections with other researchers will come from your advisor at this stage. Later, as you learn more about the field, you will develop more independent relationships with other researchers based on your level of scholarship.

In many fields, it is common for top Ph.D. candidates not to publish until towards the end of the graduate program, after they have actually produced valuable research. The research tends to define the authorship, not the other way around.

Furthermore, single-authored papers are arguably more prestigious than those with collaborators, all else being equal, because they reflect a higher level of intellectual independence. Caveat: Single authored papers are only possible in some fields.

  • 5
    The relative prestige of single-author papers varies from field to field. In my own field (theoretical computer science), single-author papers are rather rare and I've not noticed anyone attach extra prestige to them. Mar 12, 2015 at 9:38

In my opinion it would be unethical to do this, as it would mean that students or researchers from richer backgrounds would have an unfair advantage over those from more working class backgrounds. In some ways it could be seen to parallel the idea of unpaid internships which give an automatic head start to young people from richer backgrounds who have the freedom to focus on obtaining key skills relevant to their desired career, while others have to take whichever paying job that allows them to subsist themselves/ their families.

  • You don't know anything about the posters background, and >50 year olds usually don't rely on their parents money. I would assume that he worked hard to make money, and has the right to spend it however he likes.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 15, 2016 at 23:18
  • @gnasher729 How do you define entitlement? A person can work very hard for many years as a cleaner or in some other low paid job, reach their 50's and have nothing to show in monetary terms for all their many years of hard labour. Why should someone who has had the good fortune to have obtained a high paid job or perhaps who has not had dependants to provide for (regardless of whether they're hard working or not) be more entitled to such perks that give them an advantage over their less well off peers? I think the perception that some are more "entitled" than others is a malady in the world.
    – Gvsg
    Jun 16, 2016 at 0:55

Taking this question seriously, since you appear to be independently wealthy, you could establish a research foundation (The Booth Foundation) and announce grants in your particular area of interest. I still doubt that you will get listed as a co-author but your foundation will at least get an acknowledgment.

Or you could set up your own own research institute, in which case you might get courtesy last author depending on your field.

Neither option guarantees that anyone serious will actually want to work with you, but you might attract some mercenaries or cranks. Cf. Discovery Institute.

Ps Neither of these will get you anywhere near a PhD at a reputable university.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .