I worked as a contract researcher with a university-affiliated institute. I ended up doing qualitative analysis and extensive writing for an academic paper. My former supervisor has basically edited and published my work under his name. The papers are different but only in the way that an interim and final draft are different - the structure is the same and some sentences were either paraphrased or identical.

The analysis and final recommendations are also identical, he did not supplement my analysis with his own. Although, the analysis process was a collaborative process, I was the one who did the VAST majority of the writing with him chiming in occasionally about what he did/did not like. The basic distribution of labour was: he conceived of the project, did the interviews, made comments on drafts, performed the final edit and responded to peer review questions. I performed the analysis, performed the literature review and wrote the bulk of the paper.

To boot, I feel like this was a punitive action because at various points after the end of my contract he tried to get me to do various forms of free labour for him which I did not do because it was a substantial amount of work and I was busy working another job. Also, I feel that I should be reimbursed for my time because, quite frankly, I need to pay my rent. I feel that by not including my name on this paper, I am being punished for not being at his beck and call.

I feel that this is extremely unethical, verging on just plain wrong. I am wondering what I can do as this is a research institute setting (not a formal university setting but affiliated) and I was on contract.

What options do I have?

  • 2
    The ethical side of things is probably well covered in this question; the significant difference here is the legal situation as a contract researcher. Answers should probably focus on this side of the issue.
    – F'x
    Nov 8, 2012 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


This seems to be a real case of Scientific misconduct by your former supervisor. By common scientific ethics, everybody who made significant scientific contributions to a publication must be named as an author.

In practice, violations of this rule occur, and there are several options for you to react to it. In fact, several institutions have a responsibility to follow up on indications of scientific misconduct, any of which you could try to approach on this matter.

  1. The research institution itself is responsible for investigating any possible scientific misconduct of their members. The question is of course which organizational level to approach first. The level just above your former supervisor may have conflicts of interest, but any higher levels may suggest that it should be dealt with on lower levels first. This is probably best judged from the local situation.
  2. Journals and conferences must make sure that scientific results they publish were obtained in adherence to standard scientific rules. Editors of the journal have the responsibility to investigate problematic cases, and may take measures such as correcting the author list or retracting the paper. If you want to take this approach, it would be best to contact the editor in chief of the journal (if it is a journal publication).
  3. National science foundations usually have their own rules concerning scientific misconduct, and investigate cases where violations may have occured. This applies especially if the research was (co-)funded by such an organisation (check the acknowledgments of the paper in question, or it may have directly been your former source of funding), but some foundations also take this role more generally and may feel responsible if the scientist in question gets any money from them. An easy approach will be if the foundation in your country has a contact point for scientific misconduct. Otherwise you could ask the central administration there how best to proceed.

In any case, secure your documents. Drafts or analysis results that you sent to your former supervisor will probably be a very important proof of your claims.

Also, before you take any of these quite serious steps, it could be helpful to confront your former supervisor with the issue. You can clearly state that you see it as a case of scientific misconduct, and that you are willing to pursue the case with any accountable institutions such as the ones I listed above.


First, a generic question on this topic has been posted already, and you’ll find lots of good information (and maybe some advice) there.

Second, there are two facets: legal and ethical. For the legal facet, the solution is clear: read your contract. What does it state of the intellectual work produced during your employment? If you want to pursue any kind of action on the legal side of things, then lawyer up. Don't shudder at this thought any more than you'd be afraid of seeing a doctor if you thought you were sick. Plus, it doesn't have to be expensive: there are free legal consults in many places (local borough, professional associations or unions, local Bar, etc.).

For the ethical facet, Leon’s answer cover it. I’d add that:

  • You should document every action you take.
  • I would strongly recommend to contact the department head or the dean if your accusations have standing: it is there job to handle such matters.
  • If the paper is already published, the only remedial to this issue is retraction: you have to be aware that it is a very grave recourse, and picking up this fight might not earn you a lot of friends. (Sorry, but it is better to know in advance where you're going.)
  • 5
    If the paper is published, other options than retraction are possible, for example an erratum stating that the list of author was wrong and correcting it. In a different situation (errors introduced by the publisher) I managed to get the entire paper republished as an erratum, I do not see why this would be different for a wrong list of authors (whatever reason the process the list got wrong). Nov 8, 2012 at 11:41
  • 3
    @BenoîtKloeckner An erratum is for minor issues or for correcting misprints due to the publication process. An erratum is not adequate to resolve authorship misattributions, and is only used (at least in the journals I know) to add an author name if it was dropped from the paper due to a mistake during the publication process. Adding an author after the paper is published for any other reason would not be possible. In particular: submitting a paper without approbation from all co-authors is serious misconduct, and should not be treated lightly.
    – F'x
    Nov 8, 2012 at 13:42
  • 1
    This may vary between fields, but in math I don't see errata as being limited to minor issues. I don't recall having seen an erratum for adding an author, but if the paper is otherwise correct and acceptable to the omitted author, I think an erratum would be appropriate. I agree that it's serious misconduct and should not be treated lightly, but that can be handled separately from the erratum/retraction issue. Nov 8, 2012 at 17:42
  • An erratum doesn't help here, though, unless the publisher is willing to also revise the original article to include the missing author. An erratum draws much less attention than a standard manuscript. Unfortunately, unless all of the work is the original poster's own, it may be difficult to get the paper republished somewhere else if it gets retracted.
    – aeismail
    Nov 10, 2012 at 19:28

So there are a number of things to analyze in this whole thing.

If the Institution you are is an American University, the paper, and all the research coming from it usually belong to the University unless the Institution releases the rights of said research via some kind of waiver. This applies for all research funded from Public funds, if the research was done using funds from a company, it gets tricky and is up to the joint program agreement.

Now, also, depending on the terms of your contract, the professor might or might not have an obligation to include your name in the paper, ethically speaking, you are right, and your name should be there in the paper, but again, it all comes to the legal side of the agreement.

Why does it came to the legal side? Because you have 3 instances you can go:

  • The University itself: Depending on the place, I wish you good luck going against a tenured professor of the same institution.
  • The Journal/Conference it was published, and expose your case to them.
  • Downright demand the professor and the institution.

Probably for the 3 cases you need a lawyer and some kind of letter where it was stated that your work had to be recognized in the publication of a paper. Also, some kind of proof that you wrote most of the paper.

I hope it helped at least to give some notion on what you are facing.

  • 3
    One correction: In American universities the paper generally does not belong to the university. Nov 8, 2012 at 12:10
  • In accordance with the Bayh Dole Act, every research that comes from public funding belongs to the university, the paper may be released via the copyright letter one usually has to sign.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayh%E2%80%93Dole_Act Nov 8, 2012 at 21:28
  • 4
    I don't think Bayh-Dole applies to copyright in papers (it's about patents). As far as I understand, the only way universities would own the copyright to academic papers is if they are works for hire. I don't think this is a 100% settled issue (see, for example, paragraphs 15 and 16 in openjurist.org/847/f2d/412/hays-v-sony-corporation-of-america for the state as of 1988). In any case, I think almost no U.S. universities try to claim ownership of copyrights to academic papers written there, and it's not clear that they could if they wanted to. Nov 9, 2012 at 3:31
  • Many universities claim copyright to theses, though. Papers, not usually. And of course the US government asserts copyright on its own works, but grants rights to distribute them (more or less; I forget the exact language they normally use in such cases.)
    – aeismail
    Nov 10, 2012 at 19:30
  • 1
    @aeismail The US government generally does not assert copyright on its own works and cannot do so under US copyright law: it places them into the public domain (see Wikipedia). Mar 26, 2014 at 0:51

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