A PHD (in Computational Biology) student asked me to do some programming for a software application she is developing as a part of her work for her PHD. To be more clear, she is not asking for any help in the design part, but rather in the implementation.

The PHD student I am talking about was my teacher in my undergrad. She taught me a software related course in my undergrad, and was generally a very nice teacher. She taught well, and she was polite, cooperative and kind.

She called me yesterday and told me that she is doing her PHD. The mobile application she wants to develop is only a small part of her work. She asked me to help her with it. There are two kinds of help that she mentioned:

  1. She wants me to guide her on how to go about learning mobile application development. I am fine with that.

  2. She said that she is very busy and if her schedule gets tighter, she will like me to complete the application. The application has not been started yet, and she told me about already being very busy, which tells me that she wants me to write a considerable amount of code for the application.

From my web search, I found out that doing this is permissible, if the work of the external person is acknowledged.

So, if she does want to acknowledge and give me due credit if I do some work (that is if I actually write some code for her application), in what ways can she do that?

5 Answers 5


She should mention your contribution in the acknowledgments section of her thesis and the related article(s) she might publish.

Additionally, she could provide monetary compensation for your time. Or, as per Dan Neely's suggestion, she could arrange that you receive academic credits or that your work counts as one of the requirements for getting a degree. This is only applicable in a subset of situations where you are pursuing a degree and where the involved institutions are willing to do so.

In response to comments arguing that you should get co-authorship, or that you could bargain authorship instead of a salary, I'm copying the authorship guidelines of the ICMJE:

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

  1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  4. 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.

In addition to being accountable for the parts of the work he or she has done, an author should be able to identify which co-authors are responsible for specific other parts of the work. In addition, authors should have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.

All those designated as authors should meet all four criteria for authorship, and all who meet the four criteria should be identified as authors. Those who do not meet all four criteria should be acknowledged.

  • 5
    For the amount of work this seems to entail, "could provide monetary compensation" is almost "should provide monetary compensation".
    – Davidmh
    Oct 19, 2015 at 11:21
  • 2
    @Davidmh agreed. But the question is only asking how. Besides, that depends on many criteria that are economical and not related to academic ethics..
    – Cape Code
    Oct 19, 2015 at 11:25
  • 4
    +1, because this answers the question as asked. Might be worth noting that authorship is based on... whether or not an individual was an author. Authorship is independent of financial compensation (at least in theory).
    – mfsiega
    Oct 19, 2015 at 15:14
  • 4
    If the OP is still an undergrad, academic credit might be possible as an alternate form of non-monetary compensation. This would be dependent on the nature of the work and university policy; so may not be available. Oct 19, 2015 at 15:25
  • 3
    @DanNeely good point, I hadn't thought of that. That could also fill the requirements for a mandatory internship in a given program.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 19, 2015 at 15:28

Sharing authorship on related publications has already been said so I will just mention one very important thing that I'm surprised no one mention.

Copyright of the code.

This is not really her giving credit to you, this will be your right from the very start. Just be clear from the very start on the license and put your name on it. If you choose the right license, you will retain copyright of it and derivative works making sure that the application or library remains free forever (or more selfish requests such as money for the use of the application, authorship or citations in any paper that makes use of it under a signed MTA, or anything else). I will refrain from advising on choosing a license since that's a big topic, I am biased for GPL, and the subject is probably off topic here.

However, do note that if you are paid to do this job, you may be required to relinquish copyright.

  • 9
    ... and if you are required to relinquish copyright, you should be paid.
    – user10948
    Oct 19, 2015 at 20:48

The important questions to ask:

  • Will you get paid for your work?

  • Will you be a co-author on the publications that will use your code?

Note that the answer to (b) is independent of the answer to (a) and vice-versa. Ideally, the answer to both of those questions should be YES. If she has not any money to offer (which is possible), then (b) should be 100% YES and she should provide an estimate of how much time this task will take. Once, she has given you a rough estimate (probably multiply it with 1.20 to 1.50) and see if adding a publication to your CV is worth your time without getting any money.

TL, DR; You should be a co-author on the (at least initial) publication that uses your code and you should negotiate for some monetary compensation. Do that, BEFORE actually committing to anything or starting to work on the project.

  • 13
    I disagree. Usually implementing a piece of software does not warrant co-authorship. And I also find the idea that authorship is an alternative form of payment problematic.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 19, 2015 at 11:33
  • 4
    @CapeCode I have a paper to write but I am too busy to write the code. Would you like to write the code for me? Note that, I do not have any money to give you and it will probably take about 2-6 months of your time. I will be forever grateful but you will not be a co-author. Would you please do it?
    – Alexandros
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:25
  • 3
    I personally don't work for free, co-authorship wouldn't buy my time either. But all of that is irrelevant to the fact that if I did, I would not deserve co-authorship.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 19, 2015 at 12:33
  • 9
    @CapeCode: usually in which field? If I build an experiment, all the people who contributes significantly to the experiment deserve authorship, and if the piece of software is required for the apparatus to work, that's a significant contribution. Oct 19, 2015 at 13:58
  • 4
    I'm a bit confused by this answer, since it suggests that monetary compensation and co-authorship should be totally independent, but then goes on to say that obtaining one should affect the other. Also, I totally agree with @CapeCode - implementing software usually isn't grounds for co-authorship. Oct 19, 2015 at 14:40

It depends on what you want out of it. Yes, ideally you'd get paid, and that may be possible in the form of a paid summer internship if you're still an undergrad.

If you are considering further postgraduate study, a publication to your name is a good thing. It's a really good thing if it's something you'd be happy to raise in an interview, and working on it may get you good contacts.


Are you proud to be asked, or do you see it as a chore? Do you need to be credited for your work, is the experience of doing it not enough? What happens if your work is not of sufficient quality, do you want her to acknowledge that?

I think the area you are in is a messy one. If you can't do it for the sake of doing it then you should not do it. The experience should be reason enuf to do the job, and if you can tie into a undergrad project then so much the better.

  • 1
    Do you need to be credited for your work That is irrelevant. OP's contribution should absolutely be acknowledged unless (s)he explicitly doesn't want to be named.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 20, 2015 at 0:59
  • 1
    If you can't do it for the sake of doing it then you should not do it What an absurd statement! If OP values her/his time and wants to get paid, that is perfectly OK.
    – Cape Code
    Oct 20, 2015 at 1:02

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