I have now completed my PhD by research.

I received support from my supervisor in the form of advice on my chapters (for which I am indebted to him; we have a very good working relationship).

The advice mostly related to clarity of arguments. My supervisor was not actively involved in my research and he did not amend or add to any chapters. He just provided broad advice on the contents of each chapter so that I can fulfil the requirements of my degree.

In this case, should I credit him as a joint author in any paper I may publish from my dissertation? I cannot see a case for joint copyright of my work!

  • 7
    What did you agree on before you started working together? (You did discuss co-authorship standards before you started working together, didn't you?)
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 0:15
  • 4
    I guess it would depend on the field of study. As I understand it, in engineering, the adviser of a dissertation is automatically included as the last author in papers involving the dissertation.
    – JRN
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 0:55
  • @JeffE This matter was never raised (I wasn't even aware of it until I completed my dissertation and got some free time to think about the next step from here.) We did not work together in the co-author sense; it was a student-supervisor relationship. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 0:56
  • 1
    @JeffE Sounds quite unusual to me. Did you discuss authorship when you started your Phd? Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 9:11
  • 1
    @FedericoPoloni: Yes, absolutely! (In theoretical computer science, mere advising or funding is not considered an intellectual contribution meriting co-authorship. For example, I am not a coauthor on all my students' papers; if anything, I'm less likely to be a coauthor on papers involving their dissertations. Also, "last author" only means "author whose name is last in alphabetical order".)
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 12:51

4 Answers 4


I'll assume that you have a good relationship to your PhD advisor and that you can have a reasonable discussion with him. If this is not the case, then ignore the following as you will potentially have much bigger things to worry about.

It sounds as if the papers have not been written yet, so I'd suggest you discuss this with him as soon as possible. Lay out to him which papers you want to write, what will be in them, and where you plan to submit them, and ask him if he would like to be a co-author on any of them.

Now, the important thing is that this co-authorship you're offering is not a free ride. I would assume that a good supervisor knows that this will imply a significant contribution to the preparation of the manuscript and/or any follow-up work that still needs to be done. If he is willing to actively contribute to the papers, then you have a bona fide co-author and nothing to worry about.

If your supervisor is not willing to contribute anything to your publications, then there is no reason to add him as a co-author.

In any case, you should be open and honest about your intentions. Your supervisor is a very important person in the critical post-PhD phase of your academic career, and even if you leave academia, he is your previous employer. In any case, he will be writing all your letters of recommendation, so don't do anything that may have a negative influence on your relationship.

In summary: Ask him first, and if necessary, remind him that co-authorship implies active collaboration. If he does actively collaborate, you have a good and valuable co-author, and if he does not, he will either not want co-authorship, or you will have a valid reason not to add him.

  • 4
    I strongly agree, with this answer. Just ask.
    – A.Schulz
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 10:26
  • 1
    Yep. I've had supervisors kindly rejecting authorship in cases where they didn't see it appropriate.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 1:50

I think this kinds of discussions boil down to if a person has had a significant impact on the paper. This can be in either of the following categories:

  • conception and design of the project
  • data collection
  • data analysis and conclusions
  • manuscript preparation

These are the categories in the quantitative uniform authorship declaration (QUAD) system (Verhagen JV, Wallace KJ, Collins SC, Scott TR (2003) QUAD system offers fair shares to all authors. Nature 426: 602., or this link for some information). THe QUAD system quantifies what each author has contributed to. Ofcourse, where you put the line when someone is a co-author or not is debatable.

If your supervisor does not tick a lot of boxes, you could put him in the acknowledgements of your papers. Alternatively, if you feel his contribution is significant in either of the above categories, or more than one, add him as an author.

In addition, co-authorships come reasonably cheap. You have collaborated on your project, and you make your supervisor happy with an additional publication. Also, your supervisor is probably more well known in your field of study. If he associates himself with this paper that might mean more attention for your paper, although how valid this point is depends on the reputation of your supervisor.

In regard to copyright, often you sign the copyright of your paper over to the publisher of the paper. Maybe you do not mean copyright, but attribution. You did the work, and adding him as a co-author makes it look like you did not do it alone. If you feel like this, it looks like you feel his contribution has not been significant enough to make him co-author.

A lot of things to consider.

  • +1 for pointing out that having your supervisor as co-author increases visibility of the result. Still, he shouldn't get it for free, that's certain, but it can influence your decision.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 1:51

From your description it sounds like your supervisor was acting as a supervisor, not as a collaborator; however without knowing the exact details of his contributions, and what the etiquette/standards of your field are, it would be impossible for us to assess whether or not he should be a co-author. Why not just ask him?

Also, keep in mind that in certain fields it may look bad if your post-PhD publications are all joint with your supervisor - people sometimes assume that means the supervisor did all the work, or question your ability to perform independent research. For this reason, even if his contributions to your work were substantial, your supervisor may prefer to forgo being a co-authour to help your career. Best is to just ask.

  • +1 Or, if there are several papers, let the supervisor be co-author on some of them. Ideally, I think this co-author issue should be solved by looking at the contributions someone had. Although, both you and me showed some additional things that could be added to the mix of considerations Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 9:26

I know this is quite old, but I am providing an answer as I have experienced something similar recently. Given your description, it looks like you have done the majority (>90%) of the work and, as such, I see no reason why you should even bother with asking your supervisor if they like to be a co-author.

I strongly disagree with Pedro's suggestion, as if you do ask them, they're unlikely to say no (who DOESN'T want to be a co-author on a paper?). And if they say yes, then you have no guarantee that they will do the amount of work necessary for said authorship. In fact, and from my experience, listing someone as a co-author in the hope that they will, along the way, contribute in a way that makes them deserving of that authorship is counterproductive and poor project management. As you said, you've already done the majority of the work - what makes you think that someone who wasn't actively involved in the research will do a good job writing the paper?

PhD students vary. Some of us are self-motivated and know what we're doing and thus require next to no-input from supervisors. Others are not so fortunate and require significant input from supervisors. I see no reason why supervisors should be included as co-authors in the case of the former. Hope it's all sorted now.

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