I recently finished my PhD and moved on to a postdoc research position in a semi-related subject area at a different University. I have an idea for a narritive review in my old subject area and I have some time to make a start on it before the current project gets really busy.

My issue is that I would like to invite my old PhD supervisor and another researcher from a third University, who we have collaborated with before, to co-author the paper with me as they are experts in the area that the review would cover. My current postdoc supervisor/line manager and other research colleague do not have any expertise in this subject area.

Is it ok to start writing the paper with my old colleagues without permission or notification of my current research team/boss? Or should I tell them that I am writing a paper with my old colleagues, without being able to offer them the chance to be involved? Not sure what the expectation is and don't want to annoy anyone at my (very new) job.

  • 1
    It's always good to be upfront. Tell them what you would like to do and ask what their opinion is and whether they have any concerns about it. Chances are, they won't mind. But imagine they do, and you didn't even give them a chance to weigh in -- are you going to work a secret side-project? It's bound to come out at the latest when you publish. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 11:23
  • I'm having a hard time understanding how any postdoc supervisor (worth working for) would react to the news that you are collaborating with your PhD advisor on a paper with anything other than "yeah, and?"
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


You should not start working on an independent project without telling your current supervisor. After all, he acquired the funding which pays your salary, so he needs to be on board with everything you do that takes up a significant amount of time. (Of course, I am not talking about asking for his permission every time you review a paper.)

Then again, as a postdoc (as compared to Ph.D. students), you are expected to start spreading your wings and collaborating with people outside your supervisor's immediate group. So chances are that your supervisor will be supportive, especially since you write that you have some time to kill.

But ask first; it's possible that your supervisor knows something that needs to be done before your project "really" starts.

This question is related (full disclosure: I answered there): Should postdocs work only on the projects they are hired for, or can they work with other people in the same research group on other projects?

  • Would the downvoter be so kind to explain what is not useful about my answer? I'd like to learn from my mistakes. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 11:33
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    "start spreading your wings and collaborating with people outside your supervisor's immediate group" right, but collaborating with your old advisor isn't exactly "spreading your wings" :)
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 12:33
  • 1
    "as a postdoc (as compared to Ph.D. students), you are expected to start spreading your wings and collaborating with people outside your supervisor's immediate group" - getting the ok from the respective head of department notwithstanding, from what I've seen, PhD candidates are generally very much encouraged to do just that, as well. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 17:41

As henning said, it's always good to be upfront with your supervisor on your current activities, especially if they may overlap with your current duties.

I would have a chat with my current supervisor about what their expectations are for extra-curricular research, especially if it is not in their domain of expertise.

I would be surprised if they said no. The only reason they may have a problem with it would be due to worries that your efforts are being directed toward a non-work related activity. Also, double-check if there are any contractual obligations you have entered into in your new team to share credit. You may be obliged to include authorship to your supervisor in any work you create whilst at your workplace.

All of these are big if's; but I would say that it would be no problem at all, if you mention it in passing to your new supervisor, and just get their assent that it is all ok :)

  • Contractual obligation of authorship? Do you know of any such actually existing? This sounds horribly unethical to me.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 12:28
  • @jakebeal, the goings on around the big physics projects are interesting to say the least: twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/view/Main/ATLASAuthorshipPolicy
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 13:16
  • @BillBarth Interesting and unusual, but working in the opposite direction of this post, which implies that a person would be added to authorship without contribution, whereas the ATLAS policy sets a (possibly too high) bound to remove people.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 13:36
  • @jakebeal, my understanding is that once a member of the Collaboration: "Physics analyses using ATLAS collision data will first appear as General Publications by the whole collaboration." Which means that your name goes on every publication of the Collaboration regardless of your direct contribution. This process does not follow the Vancouver protocol. etc.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:29
  • @jakebeal, and 5000 authors can't have all made the traditional level of contribution to gain authorship of the article mentioned here: nature.com/news/…. The way these large projects handle authorship is both unusual and contractual.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:43

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