A colleague in my lab, let's call him Jim, has recently presented a poster at two different conferences containing largely my figures and analyses. I had generated 4/5 of the figures, which had taken months of analyses and work. I was fully credited on the work and listed as second author, I was not asked if the figures could be used however. Moreover, it is difficult to see Jim's substantial original contribution in the experimental design or analysis of the presented work. Jim also went on to win a non-trivial monetary prize for the poster, which I also had no knowledge of until recently. Most of our lab's work is formed from a collaborative effort, which I fully accept. I do however think that when presenting a poster of a project, you should have a substantial hand in the experimental design or analysis (excepting of course if you are presenting on behalf of someone who couldn't make the conference).

We are working on the same project, Jim has generated the data and I have analysed it and the PI has lead the direction. Jim is an experimentalist and I work in informatics. Jim is working on more experiments using some of the insights that came from the analysis, which is all well and good. These experiments only have preliminary results, which is why I think he went with my figures, as I had generated a fair few in my analyses and sent them on to Jim and the PI. In terms of driving and shaping the analyses, they have largely been led by the PI and myself. Jim has assisted, however contribution to forming conclusions about the analyses, or guiding which figures to generate, his contribution was minimal. For the record we are equal way through our PhDs.

Once Jim's experiments start to gel I'm sure our contributions will start to diverge, however it bothers me I wasn't consulted about use of the figures. We are both final year students, and I don't see lack of results as an excuse at this point. Use of 1-2 figures I would have been indifferent about, but 4/5? The poster prize definitely didn't help the situation. I am worried about my figures being used in Jim's thesis without consent or comprising the majority of future posters, for which he'll get majority credit.

Any advice on best way to handle this? Talk with Jim directly? Go the PI? Go my advisory head (who is external to the lab)? Or is this just the nature of highly collaborative labs?

  • 1
    Is Jim also an author of the paper? Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 4:35
  • there's no paper yet, we will both be authors on the paper, but who will be lead remains to be determined Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 5:28
  • If you have the normal sort of relationship with your advisor, in which s/he advises you, this would be a good concern to bring up with him or her. Is there some reason you're hesitating? Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 7:11
  • I do plan to talk to my advisor, my concern is that the lab culture can be fairly opaque with using other's work, people sometimes don't get notified if their work is being used in a paper, poster etc. Seems to be if people get credited there's no problem. It's happened a few times that someone on the lab published a paper, I was on it but didn't even know about it until months later! Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 7:40
  • Somewhat related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/58768/… I point it out because a distinction is made on what type of paper award it is.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


If this would have been a paper, Jim's doing would certainly have been unacceptable. As we are talking about a poster, I could imagine that Jim had no bad intentions. Given that you come from two different disciplines, you are probably not directly competing in terms of scientific merits, and you could both greatly profit from collaborating further in the future.

In the past I always tried to resolve these kinds of conflicts on the lowest level possible before escalating it to the professor / PI. This helps to keep the work environment poison-free and often resulted in surprising insights on both sides. More often than not people do not have bad intentions. Maybe he considers these figures as a team effort by the two of you. Maybe you are overreacting. In these cases a discussion from face to face often helps to sort things out.

I would probably talk with Jim and ask him why he did not ask for your permission to use your figures. Maybe also ask him how much, in his opinion, were your and his original contributions to the poster. If he considers your input as important, you could also argue that your contribution helped him to receive the price. I would certainly try to discuss the terms of your future collaboration.

Only if that discussion is not fruitful I would go to the PI and explain the situation.

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    +1 and I'd like to add that it's not unusual in some disciplines for the presenter of the poster to be listed as the first author regardless of the extent of their research contribution.
    – anonymous
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 14:19

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