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I am a PhD student, working on Applied Math while my wife is a software engineer. I plan on going to academia after PhD and will start to job hunt soon.

A few weeks ago, I thought of an idea that hadn't been done before. I wrote a crude C++ code to implement the idea and it worked well. I believed that with my theoretical understanding of the problem and an expert coder, we could make something really impactful and incidentally, my wife knew how to. So, we spent some evenings together writing the code (she didn't know math, but I abstracted each step so she could help implement). The resulting code is fairly sophisticated and does an excellent job. I was wondering, now that I write a paper about it, would it look weird if my wife was listed as a co-author? Her contributions were definitely sufficient to warrant co-authorship by any definition.

Let's step aside the legalese of it (my advisor doesn't care and her company might but let's leave that aside). I am asking more from the standpoint of how it looks on one's CV, job application and possibly, tenure.

  • 78
    It is my guess that mostly likely nobody will ever bother to find out whether one of your co-authors was your wife. – Drecate May 20 '15 at 3:43
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    I want to read this paper, and perhaps watch the Hollywood adapted movie version of this story. – user20640 May 20 '15 at 4:37
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    Not a big deal: if you want to enter the History, publish a paper with your wife and at least a lover, and let them decide over first-authorship! – Massimo Ortolano May 20 '15 at 6:17
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    Didn't matter for Patrick and Radhia Cousot... – Bakuriu May 20 '15 at 6:21
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    Lots of husband and wife teams do research together. They will probably assume you met in grad school. – Greg May 20 '15 at 15:26

10 Answers 10

217

Nobody will notice or care, unless you share a last name with your wife, in which case the strongest reaction is likely to be, "aw how cute, a husband and wife published a paper together."

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    I'd be looking if they are still together as well.... – o4tlulz May 20 '15 at 4:55
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    That's my reaction. It's neat when this happens. I hope my wife and I can publish together someday! – jvriesem May 20 '15 at 5:17
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    @o4tlulz: I currently have 23 papers co-authored with my wife, and we are still happily married. – Stephan Kolassa May 20 '15 at 6:23
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    I STRONGLY suspect this happens more than we realize because there are a number of husband-wife teams that publish but have different last names. Having different last names is especially common in academia because of the importance of name-recognition. – jvriesem May 20 '15 at 16:44
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    Marie Curie won her first Nobel Prize for work performed and authored with her husband Pierre, and was a key research assistant later on the work that won Irene Curie her Nobel Prize in Medicine. – Pieter Geerkens May 21 '15 at 3:31
71

I know several instances where spouses/couples are co-authors, though often it is not obvious to an outsider if the co-authors are spouses. (There are also many examples of parent-child and sibling co-authors, so it is not obvious even if the spouses have the same last name.) Thus it is not a strange thing to happen, particular if non-academic co-authors are common in your field.

There is only one case where I even thought one spouse may possibly be going out of their way to bring up the research profile of the other (academic) spouse, but that is due to some specifics of the situation, and I don't regard them poorly because of this (which may not be true anyway), just am unclear on one of the spouse's contributions. In your case, presumably your wife has little to gain career-wise from coauthorship, so there is not even reason for people to think this.

If you personally feel weird about it, you can always explain in the paper what each author's role was. (And, of course, you should never deny a deserving person co-authorship, especially someone you (hopefully) like.)

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    Good advice overall. A note: In your case, presumably your wife has little to gain career-wise from coauthorship, so there is not even reason for people to think this. No, but they might think that she is boosting your career. Not that this is anything worth worrying about. – Corvus May 20 '15 at 4:46
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    I've seen quite a few textbooks authored by couples; I don't see why a paper would be looked at any more negatively than a textbook. – J.R. May 25 '15 at 11:56
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In terms of relationship with the external world, it need not be any problem. If you begin collaborating scientifically on a regular basis, however, it is likely to affect your relationship, by making you colleagues as well as spouses.

For some couples, this can be a good thing, as the shared interest and partnership can add a new dimension to the relationship.

For other couples, the stresses of scientific collaboration outweigh the benefits. Some people also find that they lose a place of refuge from work, as their work life and home life become more entangled.

Bottom line: have fun and publish together if you want, but make sure to have an explicit discussion about how you want to relate to collaboration as a couple, and revisit it from time to time if necessary.

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    +1, very good points here! I suppose it would help greatly to start collaborating on something that is small and easy to back out of, in case the couple get the feeling that it's not working well for them. – Moriarty May 20 '15 at 10:35
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Do you know that one of the most significant papers in Computer Science (nearly 6000 citations) was written by the couple Patrick and Radhia Cousot, and they continued to co-author more than 50 papers.

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    Which paper did they write? – user20640 May 20 '15 at 5:59
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    There are probably 100 papers in that list, you said they wrote "one of the most significant papers in Computer Science (nearly 6000 citations)", and I'm curious to know which one that is. – user20640 May 20 '15 at 6:13
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    @LegoStormtroopr apparently the vast majority of papers on this page, some of which actually look sorta interesting... – haneefmubarak May 20 '15 at 6:13
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    @LegoStormtroopr It's their 1977 paper presenting for the first time the concept of abstract interpretation. – Sylvain Peyronnet May 20 '15 at 7:30
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    @LegoStormtroopr It's the one with nearly 6000 citations? – jwg May 20 '15 at 9:36
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Goodman, et al wrote a paper on this very topic.

The first and most common type of such coauthorship is by married economists with the same surname. Prominent examples of this include Romer and Romer (2013) on monetary policy, Reinhart and Reinhart (2010) on macroeconomic crises, Summers and Summers (1989) on financial markets, Ostrom and Ostrom (1999) on public goods, Ramey and Ramey (2010) on parental time allocation, Ellison and Ellison (2009) on internet-based price elasticities and Friedman and Friedman (1990) on personal choice

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    The title of this paper alone is worth the price of admission. – Andrew May 20 '15 at 21:46
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    The title being, "A FEW GOODMEN: SURNAME‐SHARING ECONOMIST COAUTHORS", which is a play on the Goodman couple who were among the coauthors. – Tom Anderson May 20 '15 at 23:00
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    @TomAnderson there is no Goodman couple. None of the authors were related by marriage. – emory May 20 '15 at 23:38
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    @TomAnderson did you read the paper? It was 4 Goodmans, none of which were related by blood, marriage or affiliation. – tobyodavies May 20 '15 at 23:47
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    Please revise my comment to 'Goodman quartet', "unrelated by marriage, blood or current campus." – Tom Anderson Oct 13 '15 at 4:29
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To add to the other answers, I think the fact that your wife does not work in academia makes it even less questionable (from my point of view this does not raise any ethical concerns since you say co-authorship is warranted by her contribution). Since she does not have an academic career, and this paper seems to be a "once-off" thing, I do not think anybody would think you are spuriously including her or, more importantly, she is spuriously including you as a coauthor to enhance your career.

Now, if this becomes a recurrent thing then it will raise suspicion (academia is a competitive world). I know of at least a couple of cases of spouses systematically coauthoring all of their papers. And I know that at least in one of these cases one of the spouses is not doing enough.

13

The 2014 Nobel prize winners are husband and wife, so it really doesn't sound strange

  • The fact they divorced a couple of years after getting the Nobel prize could be scary for some people considering researching with own spouse. – Pere May 9 '18 at 13:01
10

I made a special appointment with a professor once to ask his advice about whether a proposed action would be ethical. He gave me an easy test: imagine a headline in a newspaper, reporting your action. Is there anything about that headline and story that would look questionable? If not, it's safe to go ahead with the proposed action.

In this case, we'd have "Woodward names wife as co-author of scientific paper." Sounds okay to me! If it were "Woodward pays wife to ghost-write scientific paper," for example, that would be a problem. But there's no money changing hands in your case, so your co-authored paper is fine!

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    This is a terrible test. Newspapers, especially of the more tabloid kind, have the power to make just about anything look like the worst crime against humanity to the general public with a sufficiently juicy headline and a modicum of persuasive creative writing. And even if they don’t do it on purpose, neither they nor their target audience have much of an idea about ethics in scientific publishing. – Emil Jeřábek May 20 '15 at 12:46
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    I was in a small university town with one newspaper, which was far from the tabloid kind. No one in the university would take a second glance at a national tabloid when waiting in line at the grocery store. I'll define my terms: The test the professor gave me is about imagining something appearing in a non-tabloid-type newspaper. - - In my particular case, the professor's advice helped me proceed with my proposed action with a clear conscience. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 12:51
  • But how can the journalist decide which title to choose between "Woodward coauthor a scientific paper with his wife" and "Woodward's wife ghost-writes his papers to advance his academic career"? – Taladris May 20 '15 at 15:37
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    @Taladris, if you had written the paper with your spouse, you would know which headline is an accurate reflection of reality. This test is essentially another way of examining your own conscience. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 16:28
  • @aparente001: yes, but the question is how publishing a paper with his spouse will reflect on the OP's CV. So, it is about which headline the reader of the CV would choose, more than the OP's choice. – Taladris May 21 '15 at 0:42
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In addition to other good answers, I'd advise:

  • If you're a PhD candidate with very few papers - which is usually the case - try not to present this one as your most significant contribution, since that brings up the level of scrutiny/potential suspicion. Let it be another one of your publications.
  • if there is a third guy/gal, that makes it look even less questionable; don't just add someone for this reason only, but if you add, say, your advisor, that wouldn't hurt I suppose.

Of course, I could just be over-fearful and it's fine regardless.

-1

I'll go against the grain in this specific instance and say your wife should not be a co-author. You had the idea. You wrote a working prototype. You provided your wife with step-by-step, high level instructions on what needed to be implemented to flesh out the prototype. Your wife essentially played the role of scientific programmer. This type of role / contribution is generally mentioned / thanked in the Acknowledgements but is not a co-author.

Those who actually read such a paper may think that your wife is only listed as a co-author because she is your wife. This may raise some eyebrows and may have some negative impact on your job search.

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    Whether the OP's wife contributed enough was not the question. He wrote: "Her contributions were definitely sufficient to warrant co-authorship by any definition." The OP wrote that with full knowledge of the situation, including his specific academic field. You are questioning it based on a one paragraph summary which describes substantial collaboration. I don't think you have enough information to weigh in on this issue. Do you have anything to say on the OP's question? – Pete L. Clark Jan 31 '16 at 16:59
  • @PeteL.Clark I've updated my answer somewhat. The OP's question is complicated because he is asking whether there will be any impact to having his wife listed as a co-author and the answer depends on whether it is justified to have her as a co-author or not. I'm not convinced, based on the OP's description, that it is justified so I am answering from that perspective. – Eric Jan 31 '16 at 17:12
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    Your answer is now more relevant. But I really disagree with it: if the person who did the programming were a fellow graduate student, it would be very hard to argue against including them as a coauthor, given that the OP feels that their contribution qualitatively improved the paper. If I were in the OP's situation, I would feel that the more urgent ethical imperative was not to look like I am trying to commandeer someone else's work as my own, not to preempt hypothetical mistakes, especially those with sexist undertones. Since when is authorship decided by what other people think? – Pete L. Clark Jan 31 '16 at 17:58
  • @PeteL.Clark Authorship is decided by significance of contribution. Since the other person is the OP 's wife, this opens the door for a conflict of interest. The OP must be extra careful to ensure the wife made a contribution that justifies co-authorship before making her one. The OP describes the wife's contribution as implementing software according to specifications. This is not research. This kind of work is done by acknowledged scientific programmers and not co-authors, graduate students or otherwise. To me this is a clear case of inappropriately giving out authorship. – Eric Feb 1 '16 at 18:51
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    Your claim that coding of sophisticated algorithms cannot be an academic contribution is easily falsified by searching the literature. If you want specific examples, please ask a question on this site about it. If you think that what you are saying might be true in a particular academic field or subfield, please identify that subfield so that the claim can be checked. – Pete L. Clark Feb 1 '16 at 19:32

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