I have completed my master‘s degree work one year ago under supervisor A, and now I am doing PhD under supervisor B. I have presented a part of my master’s degree work and included supervisor B’s name in the abstract since he paid the conference fees. I have not requested for a consent from supervisor A about that and now supervisor A seems to be very upset and wants to complain.

Please advise me what should I do now?

  • 6
    Paying fees under no circumstance ever in any discipline equals authorship. My advise is remove them both unless they are coauthors Jan 10, 2016 at 1:25
  • Arno has covered the fundamentals pretty well. In terms of what you should do, in what stage is the work? Have you presented already? Will there be published proceedings? If it is not too late, you should attempt (with the consent of both supervisors) to change the authorship on your slides (easy) and the abstract (much harder). Simply write to the organizers, explain the situation, apologize for the mistake, and ask for a correction.
    – E.P.
    Jan 10, 2016 at 3:51
  • I have already presented the work. Now there are several small things my supervisor B has added to my work. I am not sure whether that can help me to justify adding his name Jan 10, 2016 at 4:14

2 Answers 2

  1. If someone has no input whatsoever on the content of a scientific publication, they should not be listed as a coauthor. In some fields, this input may be indirect, but merely paying money never establishes coauthorship. Based on your description, it seems that B should not have been listed as a coauthor at all.

  2. Any submission for publication needs to be done with the consent of all coauthors. Adding a coauthor is a significant step, and should not be done without the agreement of the established coauthors: So if A is established as a coauthor, you should talk to A before adding B as a coauthor.

  3. (Edit, as Nate Eldrige pointed out in the comments): One musn't list someone as a coauthor in a publication without their knowledge and consent! If B consented to being listed as a coauthor, and indeed had no input at all on the project, this is misconduct from his/her part, too.

If B did not know about this: The straight-forward course of action would be to apologize to A and B and then to contact the conference organisers to amend the conference proceedings accordingly.

If B knew about this: In addition to apologizing to A, you should seriously reconsider whether B is a suitable PhD advisor.

  • 7
    Note that while authorship is an inappropriate way of recognizing funding sources, it should be possible to phrase the usual funding acknowledgement fine print in a way that includes recognition of conference fees/travel expenses. e.g. "This presentation made possible by the financial support of ... (list grants at masters institution AND new supervisor)" instead of "This work funded by the following grants (list only grants at masters institution)"
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 9, 2016 at 18:03
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    Additionally: regardless of other issues, you should not have listed B as a coauthor unless you had his permission to do so. And if you did get B's permission, then he acted improperly, because he should have known that contributing money does not entitle him to authorship. If that's the case, you have a bigger problem: you are the student of a possibly unethical advisor. Jan 9, 2016 at 19:47
  • 1
    On point 1: It is definitely common in Engineering to have a supervisor listed despite not obtaining any input beyond funding from him/her.... (at least in the UK) Obviously a supervisor who had some input would be listed/named.
    – DetlevCM
    Jan 9, 2016 at 23:44
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    @DetlevCM I believe the common assumption behind that phenomenon is that the supervisor has envisioned the overall project when writing the grant that then provided the funding. I don't believe I can buy a coauthorship in an accepted way in any academic discipline by just paying for someones trip to a conference.
    – Arno
    Jan 9, 2016 at 23:56
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    @Arno Well, not by necessarily funding just the conference but the entire degree (if we are talking about a PhD) with no further input, then yes. As to envisaging the overall topic... ehm, most definitely not in some cases. In fact, in my (former UK) University it was fairly standard to give the student a topic and tell him to find something to work on... Depending on the topic 1-2 supervisors out of 3 may have some input or even none at all.
    – DetlevCM
    Jan 10, 2016 at 0:01

You cannot add someone's name to a paper if he or she has not contributed substantively. I wondered how B agreed.

  • Standard procedure in some fields (e.g. engineering) - your supervisor is named even if he/she just supplied funding, at least in engineering in the UK. Especially if people are at a PhD level, you aren't exactly in a position to challenge them unless you want a fight for the rest of your degree.
    – DetlevCM
    Jan 9, 2016 at 23:46
  • That's true if they supplied money for the research (and therefore probably also provided a research context / some of the ideas, however indirectly). But not just travel money. Jan 10, 2016 at 3:46

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