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A friend of mine finished his PhD and joined our group, on a project closely related to his PhD work. After three months, we submitted an article which includes significant amount of work from his thesis and also the work done the last three months in our group.

But his PhD supervisor got angry and said he can not add any other author except himself and he demanded that the acknowledgment should only be based on funding information which he will provide.

The article includes some experimental work which was conducted by my friend after joining our group. We offered the professor to add his and our both funding acknowledgment, but he did not agree.

Is he right in his demands?

Moreover, my friend said his supervisor rejected the publication draft by saying it’s not worthy to be published.

  • 2
    "the acknowledgment should only be based on funding information which he will provide." I don't understand what you mean by this, particularly the "only". But if your friend's work was partly supported by a grant awarded to the supervisor, it's quite common that the funding agency requires that it be acknowledged in any papers reporting on the supported work. So that part could be something reasonable. – Nate Eldredge Dec 17 '16 at 6:11
  • @nate we understand that point but as I mentioned the article includes some experimental work which he conducted after joining our group. We offered the professor to add his and our both funding acknowledgment but he is not agreed. – MBK Dec 17 '16 at 6:23
  • Could you clarify what you mean by "he can not add any other author except himself"? Do you mean that the PhD supervisor only wants the paper to contain his name and his student's name? – Antonio Vargas Dec 17 '16 at 9:22
  • @Antonio yes exactly. Authorship as well as acknowledgment should be of his choice. – MBK Dec 17 '16 at 9:27
  • Sometimes funding agencies require that papers that are listed in the final or intermediate report as the results of a project do not acknowledge any other funding source (i.e. that the project its not funded from other sources). If that is the case the position of the professor can be explained: he needs to include the paper in the report filed to the funding agency, which funded the ts' friend while he was a student, and the emerging collaboration prevents him from doing so (one may surmise that ts' friend had to have published his results, while working with his prof, but failed to do so) – greenb Dec 18 '16 at 2:35
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My understanding of the current situation:

Your friend is attempting to publish what sounds like a significant portion of results from their dissertation, along with some new results obtained after a few months in a new research group (your group). Further, your friend's former PhD advisor does not approve of the new collaboration with your group, is not satisfied with whatever compromise you've proposed thus far, and does not want your group to submit the manuscript in question.

Is [the former advisor] right in his demands?

Unfortunately, there is no universally correct answer. Why? Simply put, the "correct" answer to this question depends on the norms in your field, the agreed-upon publication policies in your friend's former research group, and so on. (One of the key things I've learned on this site is just how much academia varies, and I strongly encourage you / your friend to reflect on this point as well; see, e.g., Academia varies more than you think it does).

Further, getting into philosophical debates about the "correct" way a former advisor should proceed in this situation is, in my view, pointless; before getting on to your question, let me explain why I say this.

On this site, we see, time and time again, plenty of questions which are very closely related to the situation that your friend is currently in. Here are four such questions among many, and I strongly encourage you / your friend to take a look at these, too:

As far as the "correct" course of action in the above / other related questions is concerned, the key takeaway (for me, at least) that all of these questions have in common is: it depends.

Now, on to your question. For simplicity, I see your friend's situation as belonging to one of the following two categories (below, since it is not clear in your question, when I write "norms," this will refer to the norms that exist for your friend, whatever that might entail):

  1. If the "norms" are such that your friend is free to do whatever he wants with his research results, whether or not the results were obtained during his PhD, then your friend's former advisor has no grounds to halt publication, so long as the funding for the portion of the manuscript related to your friend's PhD results are acknowledged.

  2. On the other hand, if the "norms" are such that your friend is required to consult with former PhD advisor on any collaborations, publications, etc. stemming from the research conducted while a PhD student, then your friend needs to sort this out with the former advisor ASAP.

In an ideal world, if this second case applies to your friend, then your friend should have already had a discussion with the former advisor. In fact, what this question and the many other related ones help to underscore is how extremely important it is to have authorship discussions with your advisor early on. (This may seem obvious now, but I write this for future visitors to A.SE who are on the verge of finding themselves in similar situations.)

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The former adviser's position is unreasonable. It is unreasonable because he's holding his former student's career hostage.

But that is not a pragmatic position because insisting on it being unreasonable doesn't get the paper published. Since the former adviser, simply by virtue of advising, did a significant fraction of the intellectual work, the work cannot be published without him. So if he refuses to have other authors on the paper, then the only solution is to publish only that part of the work that was done during the PhD time. In that case, it is clear who should be author and what funding should be acknowledged. In return, you have freedom to publish everything that was done after the PhD work with whomever you like, and acknowledging any funding you think is appropriate.

The reasonable way forward is to discuss these options with him. In practice, few scientists will forego a publication they will be an author on and that someone else is doing most of the work for. That's true at least if they thing the publication has any chance of getting published. In other words, what the situation calls for is a frank conversation about (i) whether the work is good enough to be published, (ii) which parts exactly should be published, and (iii) who is going to be on the paper. You can't publish/the paper is not going to be good if you don't have agreement among all authors on these points, and you can only get agreement by having an honest and open discussion about it.

  • 1
    "Since the former adviser, simply by virtue of advising, did a significant fraction of the intellectual work, the work cannot be published without him." It may well be that the student's former advisor did a significant fraction of the intellectual work, but I disagree that this necessarily holds "simply by virtue of advising." You seem to imply that PhD thesis work is inherently joint work with the advisor. But that is certainly not the case. As I'm sure you know, most of the time thesis work in (e.g.) pure math does not appear with the advisor as a coauthor. – Pete L. Clark Dec 18 '16 at 10:19
  • @PeteL.Clark the advisor don't have intellectual contribution except he was his advisor on paper. – MBK Dec 18 '16 at 10:50
  • @PeteL.Clark -- I consider the fact that advisers in pure math typically don't appear as authors on papers of their students as mostly convention. We will probably both agree that few students have the technical and intellectual maturity to write good papers by themselves. The adviser mentors the student, points in promising directions, and corrects (foreseeable) dead ends. In most other disciplines this qualifies as "significant fraction of the intellectual work", which entitles to co-authorship. – Wolfgang Bangerth Dec 18 '16 at 21:52
  • In fact, I would claim that if an adviser does not share a significant fraction of the intellectual work, then either (i) the student is exceptionally talented, or (ii) the adviser is not doing their job. I have, of course, seen the latter many times in my career; the former not so much. – Wolfgang Bangerth Dec 18 '16 at 21:54
  • "We will probably both agree that few students have the technical and intellectual maturity to write good papers by themselves." Not really; I have known many graduate students who write good papers largely or completely independently of their advisors. Yes, these students are very strong, but this is not "exceptional" in the sense of "it almost never happens". For instance, I look at hundreds of postdoc applications a year, and perhaps a quarter describe work that was done independently of the advisor (so much so that the advisor doesn't comment much on it, often enough). – Pete L. Clark Dec 19 '16 at 0:27
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Edit 2: I find the question very interesting but not well presented. As long as it doesn't become clearer, here's how I understand the issue:

The OP's friend did his PhD with his PhD advisor. At least part of his work was not eventually published as the PhD advisor considered it inadequate for publication. The PhD student finished his PhD and went to work in another group in the same subject. He added a few more data, bringing the work to what he and his new group considered at publishable level. So, they wrote the manuscript (or planned to) adding the work from the PhD, plus the extra 3 months of work from the new group and offered co-authorship to PhD advisor. The PhD advisor was not aware that his ex-student was continuing working on the same subject and had not agreed in advance on this collaboration.

The acknowledgement is a detail in the issue. The actual issue is the authorship and the "collaboration". (That's how I understand it).

Also, the contribution of the PhD advisor was zero for the post doc, but was present in the PhD period.

If things are like that, then this is my "answer" below. If not, my answer is at the bottom.

Just to clarify, I don't answer in respect to how reasonable reaction it is for the career of the ex-PhD student. I answer if it is reasonable in the context of research collaboration and supervision and try to identify where mistakes were done. It's quite obvious that this behaviour obstructs the career of the student, but there are obvious or subtle rules in research (as in every workplace) that, if not followed, can lead to problems like this. End of edit 2.

I think that his PhD supervisor has valid reasons to be angry (provided some missing information are true).

Fist of all, most of the work was done during your friend's PhD, so as part of his PhD, it seems like his supervisor has the last word of what should be published and how.

Also, I assume that the continuation of the work was not agreed nor approved by the supervisor of the PhD, thus he's angry realising that the work has been continued without his approval.

So, in a way I can feel for him. It's his project (and your friend's) and he should decide if he wants to include your lab (in the work and) in the publication and not vice versa.

Edit: In this case, your friend would have to convince his PhD advisor of the importance of the new collaboration (as he should have done the moment he started his new post). If that doesn't work, he can discuss with his PhD advisor what he thinks is needed to make the work publishable and how this could be achieved from this point on. At the same time, work with the new team and/to submit a manuscript without the PhD work involved. End of edit.

In the case that it was agreed with the PhD advisor to continue the work on a project in the new lab, and now he backs off, then it's him on the wrong side and that's something the PIs have to sort out.

  • 1
    This answer makes no sense. A former supervisor has no right to "approve" any work a former employer does in a new job. It also makes no sense to claim that the supervisor "has the last word" on what gets published or not -- that must clearly be a joint decision by all authors. The only thing a former supervisor can do is refuse to be an author on a paper; if he did a significant part of the intellectual work, that of course makes this work unpublishable. – Wolfgang Bangerth Dec 17 '16 at 19:24
  • I'm not sure we have all the information. The (former) PhD student wants to publish his PhD work with people from a different lab, with which he worked 3 months after his PhD. I agree that he's holding his former career hostage, but the PhD advisor has the right (and responsibility) to know who is involved in the PhD thesis he supervises and a strong (if not the only) say in which collaborations are to be approved. – BioGeo Dec 17 '16 at 21:14
  • I just suspect (and based my answer on that) that the former PhD advisor was not aware of his former student position, nor the continuation of his work. In that sense, he has the right to approve a paper and disagree with the collaboration that was 3 years in his supervision and 3 months out of it. The new lab could be even a competitor. It makes sense to me as long as the assumptions I clearly stated are true. If the OP gives more information, i can adapt it accordingly. – BioGeo Dec 17 '16 at 21:19
  • But whether the new lab is in competition makes no difference. The previous adviser may refuse to publish the work, but he can't choose who his former student works with after graduation. – Wolfgang Bangerth Dec 18 '16 at 1:13
  • @WolfgangBangerth Exactly! But in this case the former student wants to publish the PhD work with the people from the new lab (with who he spent only 3 months). For me the PhD advisor still has some say who the PhD work should be published with. – BioGeo Dec 18 '16 at 9:00

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