I'm part of a research project, initiated by another collaborator. The collaborator did the bare minimum of work to get the project started, but then completely stopped contributing, while I did about 90% of my part in the project.

Now the collaborator wants to publish the work done, but without completing their part, by refocusing the paper and emphasizing my part as the main focus of the paper. The resulting paper is high on content (that I've written), but low on applicability/impact (due to the collaborator's negligence). It is also not worth the time I have put into it, since the collaborator's part was supposed to be crucial.

Despite their lack of input in this paper, the collaborator still insists on being the leading author (since they initiated the project), but the result is mostly my work. I may have to collaborate with them again in the future, so I do not want to alienate them by forcing my hand in this, but I feel like some kind of bait-and-switch has been done here.

Is there a way to proceed without seeming unethical? I can't leave this entire project without wasting all my work. But if I don't leave, then the collaborator gets credit for the work I've done.

Is there a way to stop this from happening again? Is this common in academic collaboration, and is there is a way to work with collaborators without this happening?

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    At least in physics, you don't get first authorship for "initiating" projects (often you get last, though). Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 16:21
  • The authorship issue is worrying, but feels rather futile due to the low relevance of the project. It is the time wasted getting this to fruition that is more worrying for me. I did not expect such low-quality work from a major collaborator, that leaves my work in shambles too. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 16:31
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    There seem to be two related but distinct questions here: “Is there a way to proceed without seeming unethical?” and “Is there a way to stop this from happening again?”. Can you please narrow down your question to one of these questions (and ask the other one separately, if desired)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 17:03
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    @Wrzlprmft More concerned about "Is there a way to stop this from happening again?", since it may just have been bad luck this time...also I just read another question: How to achieve successful collaborations which seems to be very relevant here too...this could be a "low-hanging fruit" which establishes a precedent of collaboration which might be beneficial later. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 21:31
  • When doing a team project, you as a member are responsible to manage the product so that people agree about their respective workload.
    – user115896
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


Honestly, this is a fairly common problem. You see it a lot at even the basic office group level where one person ends up doing a majority of the work. If you've put in a lot of work and this is the only way forward then accept it and move on. If you can't live with that outcome then pull your contribution and move on.

In the future...well now you know what you look out for!

Either way, don't let this consume you. There will be many more battles to fight in your academic career.

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    Thank you...this is a very good answer. You're spot on, I have been getting very disillusioned with this issue despite its insignificance to the rest of my work...there are a lot more battles to fight, some of them will need more collaborative work in the future. Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 21:56
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    Best of luck CT!
    – Raydot
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 16:31
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    Dave Kanter! I really liked your answer, in particular the last sentence. Unfortunately, I have the same problem with my mentor nowadays. I am in my first postdoc in math.
    – user40491
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 1:16
  • Change mentors. Life's too short. :-)
    – Raydot
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 18:53

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