So, a colleague at another university and I agreed to collaborate on a series of papers 5 years ago. To avoid clashes in style, etc. we agreed that I would write a couple and he would write a couple, with us both commenting and editing each other's. So far, so good. I produced my couple of papers in the first year or so and these were published with me and my colleague as first and second authors, respectively. I was expecting to see the same from my colleague but didn't. I have been waiting ever since for them to materialise but they haven't. We have repeatedly set deadlines, which come and go, with my colleague saying he has been very busy (teaching, marking, blah, blah) but that he'll get to them in a couple of weeks. 5 years later, I am still waiting to see something but I think it's now safe to say that I have been well and truly shafted.

Does anyone else have any experience of this behaviour and, if so, what, if anything, have you done about it? I am on the verge of writing a rather snotty email to this individual's manager to point out the retched state of affairs as, after all, it doesn't reflect at all well on his institution even though they have benefited from having their institution's name on effectively my work.

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    If you put him as a coauthor when he didn't deserve it, then there are more people this doesn't reflect well on then you think. If he did deserve it, what exactly is your complaint? He was doing his share. Not every arrangement goes as planned, especially so for long term ones. You got some papers out of it, but then it lost momentum. Stop wasting years upon years of your life and move on and find other projects and collaborators. Jul 15, 2015 at 13:54
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    I'd say your best bet is to assume that you'll never see anything from the colleague. If you ever do, it will be a pleasant surprise. Then just take away from this that this particular colleague is not someone to be working with.
    – mikeazo
    Jul 15, 2015 at 18:42
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    There is nothing you can do. The fact of the matter is, based on your colleague's action, research is the lowest priority for him/her. No matter how busy I am, research is always no. 1. Another colleague of mine would rather be busy with admin or take holidays than do research; i.e., over my dead body attitude when it comes to research. So, suck it up, and move on. Jul 15, 2015 at 19:22
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    This is basically a polling question, which is inappropriate here. "Does anyone else have experience of this?" is not a suitable question for this site. We are not a discussion forum; this is a question-and-answer site, for questions that allow a single correct answer. We won't want "a call to discussion" nor a poll that makes every answer valid. Please spend some time perusing our help center to learn more about this site format.
    – D.W.
    Jul 16, 2015 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


As zibadawa timmy mentions in his comment, something smells fishy here. I really see only two possibilities how the scenario you describe can transpire:

  1. Your collaborator did in fact provide input to "your" papers to the extent expected for "second authors" in your discipline. In this case, you are really not supposed to expect anything more from him, and writing a snotty email will reflect only badly on you.
  2. Your collaborator did in fact not provide input to "your" papers to the extent expected for "second authors" in your discipline. Rather, you expected that the "value" for you will come in the form of later papers for you, to which you would have contributed equally little. This is called a publication ring, and it is considered highly unethical. Writing a snotty email calling out the fact that your collaborator did not do his part in a more than shady deal sounds like a terrible idea.

Of course there is some amount of grey area between those two possibilities, but at the end of the day, you should never "pay forward" an authorship on a paper that the other person doesn't really deserve with any sort of expected or promised future benefits.

And if the other person has in fact contributed sufficiently, then what is there to complain about? Sure, one can be disappointed if the other person promised to lead a different research project and never gets to it, but that's a different story altogether.


Do you have a formal agreement with this person? A contract? Did you agree on work packages in a grant proposal maybe? That would be reasons to formally complain that someone is not delivering what they are paid for to do.

If not, then there is not much you can do. Academics sometimes think they will have the time to continue research on their free time and informally agree to collaborate and realize later that it's not possible. It might very well be that teaching and their new research is taking all their time. After all, they are hired by another institution to do something else. Writing to his "manager" (not sure who you mean by that, supervisor?) is not going to be helpful. Most likely this person never heard of your informal agreement and couldn't care less.

If anything they might (rightfully) think that they are responsible to get the funding to pay for your colleague's salary and are pleased to hear that he's not using his time to do hobby research. The name of their institution on "your" work (I hope you mean the work done in collaboration with him, otherwise he doesn't deserve authorship in the first place) will not constitute a viable leverage to force your colleague to work with you.

You got your first author papers out, be happy about that and go on with other scientific endeavors.

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