60

Recently, I submitted a research article in the journal "Applied Mathematics and Computations" and fortunately my work got accepted with a very good response from reviewers.

However, I made the mistake of submitting this paper without the knowledge of my coauthor (who is my advisor). When I told him that our paper had been accepted, he became really upset with me and warned me that he would withdraw his name from the article.

Nothing is wrong with the article except that I did not ask him before submitting it. The reason I did not ask him was because he took an unnecessarily long time (2-3 months) to edit the draft of the manuscript.

How should I convince him now?

PS. Please also see this "Query".

  • 48
    Unfortunately? You chose that path for some reason. That reason needs to be dealt with by you as soon as possible. Your relationship with your adviser is hanging in the balance. – Jon Custer May 19 '16 at 1:54
  • 99
    RetractionWatch is full of stories of papers that were retracted for having been submitted and published without a co-author's knowledge. You really can't do things like that. – ff524 May 19 '16 at 1:58
  • 76
    Yes, you are really wrong for not asking your coauthor in advance whether he agrees that the paper is ready to submit. – JeffE May 19 '16 at 2:52
  • 9
    Usually when you submit an article it explicitly mentions that you must have checked with all authors. – Jessica B May 19 '16 at 6:44
  • 13
    I'm not sure I agree with the edit to change "Advisor" into "Coauthor". This frames the question in a rather different circumstance. In principle the same rules apply, regardless of who the coauthor is, but the perspective in the situation is rather different. – J... May 19 '16 at 11:38
150

You are wrong for putting the name of someone on a paper and submitting it without asking them for permission. Having them as an author communicates to the world that they approved the content and agree with the conclusions. Implicit in that is that they signed off on the manuscript. Some people get angry when this happens even if the paper is fine and they agree with the conclusions. Some don't. This happened to me recently, and even though I didn't agree with the recommendations of the paper, they weren't wrong, scientifically, so I decided to let it go.

You need to figure out a way to smooth this over with your advisor and to work with them to get edits turned around more quickly. That being said, don't lead the discussion by bringing up the turnaround time issue. That's combative.

  • 44
    Someone could certainly be upset about an article being submitted, even if they are happy with the content, because they do not agree with the choice of journal. Especially when it's an Elsevier journal. – Jessica B May 19 '16 at 6:46
  • 22
    @Mehrdad Their business model, in short. Quite a lot of mathematicians have chosen to boycott them. – Jessica B May 19 '16 at 8:46
  • 9
    All good, except note that OP did ask the professor to review it; they just didn't get the thumbs up before submitting. Doesn't make it right, but consider editing your first sentence. – user1717828 May 19 '16 at 12:56
  • 8
    @BillBarth, I must be interpreting that sentence different than you are: OP asked the professor to review the paper (i.e., edit the draft of the manuscript). OP did not ask about the final submission when he got tired of waiting for it to come back. – user1717828 May 19 '16 at 13:11
  • 8
    If you're worried about time sensitivity (though in this case the OP screwed up badly, so this is a "future lesson"), you can always say, "If I don't hear back from you by the Umpteeth of Decemberween, I'll assume that you've reviewed the paper and are OK with me submitting it." That's a great way to deal with procrastinators/busy people. If they really care, they'll respond to you immediately, but chances are they don't, and you've given them a fair chance. Though for something like a research paper, I'd probably also send them a second reminder. – Wayne Werner May 19 '16 at 13:34
104

To complement Bill Barth's answer, here's some concrete tips on how to move ahead in this case:

  • First, you need to come to terms with the fact that a very likely outcome is that you do in fact have to retract the paper -- your primary objective here should be to get back on good terms with your advisor, not to publish the paper, because the former is much, much more important for your career in the long run. (If he relents in the end, that's a bonus.)

  • Second, what you need to convince him of is that you fully understand how utterly and inexcusably wrong your action was -- no ifs and buts. He needs to be certain that in your (hopefully) long career to come, you will never, ever, do such a thing again.

  • Offer to do anything he feels necessary, up to and including writing a very apologetic letter to the editor-in-chief explaining your mistake and requesting to withdraw the paper. No arguing.

  • Then, you can try to (carefully) find out if there is any additional reason why he reacted so strongly in this particular case (beyond justly being upset over your scientific misconduct). Does he disapprove of the choice of journal? Does he think the paper is not good enough to be submitted (yet)? All of the above? This way, you might get some constructive feedback out of this mess.

  • (If your advisor is not the only coauthor, repeat the above steps for the remaining coauthors -- the earlier, the better.)

  • 24
    "Ask him if there is any particular reason why he reacted so strongly"... uh, this seems like awful advice. He reacted strongly because he was portrayed as endorsing something he was unaware of. Is that not sufficient reason? Either reword this or remove it, because the way it's worded right now, it might even be more infuriating than the original thing, considering it's stated after the OP supposedly understood what he did wrong. – Mehrdad May 19 '16 at 8:26
  • 10
    @Mehrdad Of course it is sufficient reason; but there might be additional reasons in this specific case which could be helpful to know explicitly. (Also, as Bill Barth points out, not everyone gets angry for not being asked, so it is conceivable that there is in fact something specific to this paper.) – Christian Clason May 19 '16 at 8:55
  • 29
    +1 The immediate and unqualified apology, no ifs and buts, is central here. Don't even try to justify what you did. Ask what you can do to fix it. – Captain Emacs May 19 '16 at 11:40
  • 7
    @HC_ More like a longterm "friend" (ideally, without the quotes). To put it briefly, one lost paper is easy to remedy by writing another paper; your advisor's bad opinion of you as a potential member of the scientific community (which will get around) is much harder to make up for. One way of looking at it is that essentially you have two resumes: The objective one on paper, and the subjective one made up of your peers' collective opinion of you -- and the latter can be just as important for your career (if not moreso), in particular later on when the first one becomes too long to evaluate – Christian Clason May 19 '16 at 20:26
  • 7
    (cont'd): Even in the short term: The first thing I (and probably most of my colleagues) do when considering an application is to call up the advisor and ask for his personal opinion on the candidate with respect to what topics I had in mind. If said advisor then mentioned any scientific misconduct, that would be a huge red flag unless the lesson was clearly and permanently learned. – Christian Clason May 19 '16 at 20:30
-8

This basically is the counterpart of the question:

Is it ethical for advisors to automatically coauthor papers?

In fact, the same ethical standards apply here. Authorship is only justified by a significant contribution to the actual work. The supervisor role by no means automatically qualifies for that – in neither direction.

The following is – again – from the "DFG Proposals for Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice" (pp.82f, emphasis added):

Authors of an original scientific publication shall be all those, and only those, who have made significant contributions to the conception of studies or experiments, to the generation, analysis and interpretation of the data, and to preparing the manuscript, and who have consented to its publication, thereby assuming responsibility for it. [...]

So putting his name on a paper he did not consented to is actually a case of scientific misconduct.

However, if we assume that your supvervisor has high ethical standards, the situation is even worse: The unfortunate, but way more common system of misconduct is that professors insist on "automatic coauthorship" on their students papers (which, in some cases, they do not even read). By automatically putting his name on the paper, you leave the impression that he is a supporter of this unethical practice!

If you want to thank somebody or underline their great support, you can safely do so in the Acknowledgements section of the paper.

  • 14
    Why do you assume that the co-author did not contribute to the paper? Nowhere does it say that he is a co-author only because he is the advisor. (And of course readers of the paper have no reason to assume he is an "automatic" co-author and did not contribute, so I don't see how By automatically putting his name on the paper, you leave the impression that he is a supporter of this unethical practice! makes sense at all.) – ff524 May 20 '16 at 11:52
  • +1 for referencing some actual guidelines. No idea why this answer is getting hammered. – beldaz May 24 '16 at 0:08
  • @ff524: Apparently I misunderstood this, sorry about that. However, my general message still holds, so I wonder if that is the (only) reason for the surprisingly high number of downvotes? I am a bit puzzled... – Daniel May 30 '16 at 12:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.