A colleague and I are both PhD students. We have conducted a project together that is unrelated to our respective theses. The project involved a bioinformatics analysis of public datasets, so we are not presenting any new experimental data (i.e., there was no overhead associated with the experiments). However, we have generated some very interesting results that we believe are suitable for publication.

A question that has arisen while preparing the manuscript is who to list as corresponding author. Our supervisors were not involved in the project. I designed the majority of the experiments, but my colleague and I are both concerned that listing myself as corresponding author despite the fact that I am a PhD student would be (a) improper or unethical, (b) likely to draw the ire of the university for listing it as our affiliation, as we do not have faculty appointments, and/or (c) likely to cause reviewers to dismiss the work. What is the appropriate course of action?

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    But you say that your colleague is also a PhD student. So you seem to be running out of authors to designate as corresponding. Mar 9 '17 at 20:50
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    (a) No, it's not unethical to list a PhD student as a corresponding author (b) definitely not, and if that draws the ire of your university, well, that's not a university you want to study in (c) likely not.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Mar 9 '17 at 20:56
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    What makes you believe that a PhD student should not be corresponding author? Mar 9 '17 at 23:27
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    @dentist_inedible Be careful with just handing out authorship like that. While some fields are fairly lax in what suffices to constitute authorship, in some "gift" authorship (or authorship that's solely used to make the paper look more important) like you're essentially proposing is considered unethical. You should make yourself aware of field and journal standards for authorship. In principle, no one should ever care who the (corresponding) author of a paper is. If it passes the initial muster test by the editor, reviewers should consider it in good faith. Mar 10 '17 at 1:30
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    Corresponding author is a technical role. The only requirements are that you are an author of the manuscript and available for correspondence. In my field that role is typically handled by the first author, who usually is a PhD student. However, (in my field) nobody cares who is the corresponding author. Authorship order is more important.
    – Roland
    Mar 10 '17 at 7:49

At least in my field (theoretical computer science), the corresponding author is often (but not necessarily) the person who did most of the work and prepared the final version of the paper. It is therefore completely normal to have PhD students as corresponding authors.

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    I'm my area of theoretical computer science, the corresponding author is literally that: the author who dealt with the submission process. Sure, the upshot is that it's completely normal for it to be a student but, for example, I'd never think, "Oh. X is the corresponding author. That must mean they did most of the work or prepared the final manuscript." Mar 10 '17 at 11:43
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    @DavidRicherby Sure, but typically (at least for the papers I'm involved) the person who prepares the final document is also the one who submits it. This must of course not always be true. Moreover, people after publication will more likely contact the corresponding author, so this should rather be someone who can and is willing to discuss issues with the paper, and not someone randomly chosen... Mar 10 '17 at 12:31
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    But, in the cases I've been involved in, all the co-authors have been willing and able to discuss issues with the paper. "Able" is more or less a condition of co-authorship, so that really ought to boil down to "willing" and most people are happy to talk about their work. Mar 10 '17 at 12:45
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    The answer is that you try not to have this situation in the first place. From the AMS culture statement: "the authors of a mathematical paper are almost always listed alphabetically by surname; all authors are assumed to have made substantive intellectual contributions to the work." Mar 10 '17 at 21:59
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    You are missing the point. You may choose to have the corresponding author to be the one who did more of the work, or less: that is your private choice. Both authors should know the work well enough to answer to emails and that's all that a corresponding author is supposed to do. But saying that the "corresponding author is typically the person who did most of the work" is is in my opinion a misleading and dangerous claim to make. Would you like hiring and promotions being based on this supposedly typical thing? Mar 10 '17 at 22:16

I am a PhD student, and I was the corresponding author on a paper published during my postbac [and my supervisor was a coauthor]. No one will think of it as improper or unethical. You are university affiliated, so there should be no problems there. And as long as the work is high quality and is reasonable (has your supervisor/other expert/faculty read over the paper?), I can't imagine a reviewer caring. If you're worried you can submit to a journal with double blind review.

On the contrary, I can only imagine being a corresponding author on a quality paper so early in your career being a positive outcome, as it exemplifies your independence.


Different fields have different conventions for authorship, but I've never heard of any of them that prevents or even discourages a PhD student from being a corresponding author. I've done it myself, at the suggestion of my advisor.

(a) improper or unethical

No, it's totally proper and ethical, as far as I've ever heard.

(b) likely to draw the ire of the university for listing it as our affiliation, as we do not have faculty appointments

Faculty or not, you are affiliated with the university, and thus it's entirely appropriate to list your university affiliation when publishing a work. Not listing it would be more likely to draw ire (not that anyone really checks up on this stuff in most cases).

(c) likely to cause reviewers to dismiss the work

Okay, in rare cases there may be something to that. If the result you're publishing is unusual in some way, or especially noteworthy, having someone with an established reputation in the field do the submission may help. Crackpots also claim their results are unusual or noteworthy, after all, and the journal editors are probably less likely to dismiss an odd-sounding paper out of hand if they get it from a known expert. But this is unlikely to make a difference in the many typical cases where you are submitting a publishable but otherwise run-of-the-mill result.

And I would note that the important criterion here is that the submitter has a good reputation in the field, not that they are faculty. It's certainly possible to get your name known as a researcher while still in a PhD program, and then it should be no problem for you to submit a paper on a topic you are known to be experienced with.


I cannot speak for all fields, but at least in physics, materials science and chemistry, I am not aware of any problem with a graduate student being a corresponding author. Typically, the corresponding author indication tells the reader who can/should be contacted in case of questions, requests for data, additional information, etc, and for convenience offers the (then) current e-mail address. Moreover, in many journals, this designation is not mandatory.

Yes, I've heard opinions that the corresponding author should be either the faculty ("because the students will leave soon, but the advisor will remain, and thus her/his contact will be more prominent") or the "main" author (who is typically the first author). In my opinion, either way is fine, but not for the reasons listed. It should be the person who will be the best to communicate on behalf of all the authors (i.e. knowledgeable about the project and able to communicate). Now, I am (and most other people responding here are) talking about "corresponding author" designation as it will be printed in the journal, which can be different from a similar designation in the article submission process (aka "submitting author").

When I was a graduate student, I designated my name as the corresponding author once or maybe a few times, - as I fell some sort of pride in that ("I've grown up enough to be able to do that!"), but then realized that it was mostly irrelevant. In the future, as a postdoc and a faculty advisor myself, I avoided this designation when possible.)

Usually, the corresponding author designation is helpful when authors from multiple groups are involved, and it is not clear for the reader who to contact. As an experienced reader myself, in the absence of that designation, I would try to contact either the first author or the advisor of the first author.

Re: affiliation. Being a graduate student (or for that matter any student) is sufficient to list your affiliation with the university. Moreover, unless there are some special circumstances, you should list your university affiliation. It would look strange if you didn't.

Designation of the corresponding author (or lack of such) is very unlikely to affect the review process and the decision. What might however raise a red flag with the reviewer or the editor is the absence of a faculty member among the authors, especially if none of the authors has a recognizable publication record in the field. While it is not prohibited, and is not a barrier for publication by itself, it might be an indication of one of the following two situations: 1. A graduate student(s) is not doing something right. I've seen several cases when students were attempting (successfully or not) to publish without the knowledge of their advisors (sometimes including them as coauthors, sometimes excluding): in one, the graduate student was misguided by some weird believe (in part, probably due to a different cultural background) that he had to publish some paper as the sole author, without his advisor or collaborators in order to become successful and find the next position motivation). In another case (IIRC), the student wanted to submit the publication against the request of the advisor to wait, due to concerns about the validity of the data. 2. The author(s) is(are) not a bona fide researcher(s) but a person(s) with some mental problems. (I received plenty of "preprints", proposals, etc. about new perpetuum mobile design, alternative relativity theory, etc. from such people.)

However, there are legitimate cases when even a graduate student might publish without his/her advisor. I am actually aware of the situation where a very modest advisor was refusing to put his name on the publication of his student "because of lack of significant contribution", which was actually a problem for the graduate student, who wanted to have at least one publication co-authored with his advisor before he'd graduate. (For the most of the scientific world, graduating without any publication with your advisor would look weird, and could be an indication of some problems.)

In the follow-up comment, you mentioned some other faculty member willing to critically read your article prior to submission. Depending on the actual contribution of that person that may qualify as an authorship. But I had multiple occasions when I gave my manuscript to my colleagues for comments prior to submission, and no authorship by them was expected or assumed.

Now, just in case, let me offer a related advice of caution about the authorship. I have seen situations when graduate students were not realizing what type of contributions qualify for being listed as an author. And that led to very unfortunate omission of the authors from the paper. The authors who were omitted often include people from collaborator's group (if you interacted only with one person from that group you might not be aware of other contributors from that group, including that person's advisor), sometimes people from your own group (a person might not have crunched the data, but provided a crucial for the paper insight or hypothesis). One other aspect is if you are a visiting researcher in someone else's lab using that lab's equipment, it means that the PI of that group (the faculty) has provided you with the opportunity to conduct your research using his/her, often sufficiently unique equipment (method, technique, etc.) without which you wouldn't be able to obtain your results. Depending on the circumstances, that can also qualify for the authorship.

Finally, the issue of including advisors. Sometimes, some graduate students do not realize the contribution of their advisor to the project. I've actually heard some graduate students expressing an opinion like this: "I did all the work, I didn't ask or get any help, I wrote the paper myself, why should I include him/her as an author?" It depends. While in some cases, you might not have to (and an honest advisor will probably tell you if that's the case), in many cases, there are several legitimate reasons why the advisor should be a co-author: a) The advisor is providing you with the opportunity to work in his/her lab, using his/her, often highly customized, equipment, methods, tools, approaches (e.g. software libraries developed in the group), etc. b) If any part of your research project (including your RA-ship) was relying on the grant money obtained by your advisor. (Why that matters? Besides other debatable arguments, it most likely means that your project was a part of a larger funded project which in essence [and you might not realize that] was conceived by your advisor.) c) If at any stage of your project you received valuable suggestions related to your research (including the initial idea for the project). d) ... It is hard to list all possible circumstances, - this is just a guide of how to evaluate this, not a comprehensive list.


  • Is there any chance you can edit this down or provide a bullet point summary? There are some good points (at least in the first half, I didn't make it to the end) but at the moment it's a wall of text. Mar 10 '17 at 7:54
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    This was a good discussion, just to add a point: If you already have an advisor who is supporting your work, it is generally good etiquette to keep them in the loop about other research activities you undertake.
    – Michael
    Mar 10 '17 at 11:45

This question is strange to me in the sense that the authors typically don't designate a corresponding author in my field of chemistry/physics. Typically, whoever submits the paper to the journal's online system is automatically labelled the corresponding author by the journal itself. It's not a big deal to be corresponding author, it just means you're the person who actually submitted the paper.


Yes. It is totally proper and ethical, as long as you are one of the main person/people who understand well the work.

Indeed, almost all my publications during my graduate student time to obtain a PhD, I am the corresponding author for almost all these papers (around 10+ papers).

In reality, you do not even need to be a graduate student in PhD to be the corresponding author. There are both undergrads and amateurs who are the leading and the corresponding authors for their papers.

It is fairly common in my PhD institution to do so.

(p.s. My PhD institution is Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

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