I have a personal relationship with a psychology professor. We have 2 situations where I may have some claim on authorship but I'm not confident.

  1. I was a participant in a research project in the spring semester. Due to my performance, I was asked to continue. The theory behind the research is that getting 2 types of training will improve learning of a specific task. Each session, I received both types of training.

    He wasn't happy with the data from the spring semester. After spending hours looking at the data, he found some way to eek out an abstract. As we continued, I started to realize that although my performance varied from session to session, I either increased or decreased on both tasks. In other words, I thought that if I did better with Training A on Tuesday, I also did better on Training B. If I did worse on Wednesday, I would do worse on both tasks.

    I told him about this. He looked at those particular data and I was right. There was a clear correlation. Within a few hours, he was saying it would be publishable.

    My contention is that he provided the theory for the study but I proposed the hypothesis. He said "You don't think I would have eventually looked at that?" Then I pointed out that he hadn't looked at those data when he was struggling for an abstract. He says I'm just a subject who provided feedback but I did more than that. I predicted the correlation between specific data.

  2. He's been working on a book chapter. His original plan was to write about his subject from the perspective of a different branch of psychology, one in which I hold a masters. His original interpretation was not good and I told him. We spent hours discussing this. I found the main reference on which he is basing this claim. Also, I spent hours teaching him the principles of my area. I gave him the interpretation from the perspective of my discipline which is the point of that section of the chapter.

    He had me read the relevant part of the chapter. I found it confusing. He failed to explain some things and implied information that was incorrect. Also, he explained things in an order that would leave the reader confused. He was frustrated because he had not planned to rewrite that section but said "You're right." To be helpful, I sat down and wrote that section myself. Initially, I had given him an example that I'd heard elsewhere. This time, I included a new example that explained things more clearly. I shared the document online and he continued working.

    A few hours later we were discussing it and I asked if he was using my new example. He said "No, because I don't want to give you a co-authorship." I was stunned. It's one thing not to give me credit but he is going to a great deal of trouble to avoid crediting me. Later he said he was excited for me to see the acknowledgement.

Yes, I should have discussed authorship with him before making these contributions. Setting that aside, do I have a claim to anything beyond an acknowledgement? I feel like I made "significant intellectual contributions" to both. The study has not been written but I provided a lot of the material for the chapter.

  • 2
    Are you also a member of the same university (as a undergraduate or graduate student, employee, professor, etc.)? If so, is the relationship known to others? I thought he may not want to reveal your relationship by putting you as co-author. Also, if you're a co-author, I would imagine that it's problematic if you're also a study participant.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 23:25
  • 6
    Maybe the author of the question does not know what "personal relationship" implies. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 0:32
  • 6
    This sounds very odd to me. You were a participant of the research group or of the study, meaning you were actual a human subject in a research study, who then analyzed your own data. It seems that IRB should have defined this line already. If not, from a personal perspective, psychological tests performed by someone on themselves should not be published as scientifically valid. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 2:06
  • Personal relationship is correct and it's public. I admit that the study is a bit odd. It was afterward that I realized it. Loads of data were collected so it was just one of many possible findings. My real beef is with the chapter. What about that?
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 3:51
  • And I have no affiliation with the university.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 3:53

2 Answers 2


This is one of the most singular situations I have ever encountered on this site. In general, having multiple relationships with the same person can makes things complicated unless the parties are on especially good terms and/or are especially good at setting and respecting boundaries. Academically collaborating with someone with whom you're romantically involved is not (inherently) a conflict of interest, but it is a source of potential complication for both relationships. (I say this as someone who has never had both kinds of relationships with the same person, but who has found successfully navigating one or the other type of relationship separately to be complicated enough!)

I am simply bowled over by the fact that you are in a situation where the above two relationships are joined by yet a third: that of a participant in a psychological study.

My academic field (mathematics) is pretty far removed from psychology, so please discount accordingly, but my strong suspicion is that being romantically involved with someone in your psychological research study is already a potentially fatal (to the academic project, I mean!) conflict of interest. My understanding is that this is the sort of thing that should be cleared with IRB in advance, and in the absence of compelling reason to experiment on you and not someone else the practice looks iffy. When you compound that with the fact one of the subjects has a personal relationship with the psychologist and that personal contact led to a discussion of the study while the study is ongoing....holy moley. I think the professor should either submit the entire case to a body who is competent to authoritatively advise on the ethics of the situation or -- and I think this is better -- drop you from the study, remove all data which pertain to you, and consider whether it is worthwhile to try to replicate "your data" on a new and unrelated party. Continuing on to try to publish in this situation seems like such a bad idea, in which full disclosure and resulting failure to publish in a reputable journal is one of the better-case scenarios.

Having accomplished this, you will have reduced to the only ordinarily complicated double relationship that I mentioned at the beginning: being in a romantic relationship and a possible academic collaboration. I think you and your psychology professor friend are well overdue for a general talk about the boundaries between your personal and professional relationship. You don't list your own professional identity, and somehow I gather that you are not a psychology professor. Nevertheless you have a master's degree in psychology, which is more than enough for conversations about your friend's work to have a potential professional component. Your interactions with your friend about his work go way beyond the norm for "off-the-job" conversations with friends and significant others. Namely you:

  • analyzed his data (from the inside!) in a way that he regarded as making the transition to publishability
  • gave critical feedback on a subject in which (from the sound of it) you have more expertise than he does
  • read his writing in detail and gave critical feedback, both on the content and the presentation
  • rewrote a section of the work, changing the content to what you thought was superior

As it sounds like you know, any one of these contributions could be held up (and has been, at least once on this site) as being sufficient for coauthorship. In the confluence of all of them -- or let's say the last three, since the first pertains to something which may be to problematic to see the light of day -- I think it would be unethical not to have a conversation in which the coauthorship is carefully discussed and analyzed. Some may view your contributions as being essential to the point that it could be ethically problematic even for the two of you to agree not to list you as a coauthor: academics are not supposed to get substantial, expert help in their academic work "under the table".

He said "No, because I don't want to give you a co-authorship." I was stunned. It's one thing not to give me credit but he is going to a great deal of trouble to avoid crediting me.

Unfortunately I agree completely. It's unfortunate because this is really a tough situation: even from a professional ethics standpoint there is nothing to do other than to have the coauthorship conversation with someone who doesn't want to have it. If I were you I would plan this very carefully in advance. It may be that you will not be able to salvage both the personal relationship and the academic work you've both done, so it could be helpful for you to go into the situation knowing clearly which one is your priority. Good luck.


Without delving into the particulars of your case, the IMCJE has suggested four criteria that stipulate who should and who should not be considered an author.

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND

  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND

  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND

  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

They also happen to be supported by COPE, who helpfully also has supplied these guidelines: How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers

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