As a part of my PhD project, I wrote a paper. When my supervisor read it, she said “it is perfect and complete, go ahead and publish it yourself because I cannot contribute more to it”. She really meant it and tried to do me a favor.

However, I still think it can be more beneficial for my future to have her name on my paper. Should I insist to have her as a coauthor or it might be useful in the future to have all the credits of a good paper?

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    If you put your supervisor on the paper as an author, that would be academic dishonesty since she did not contribute sufficiently to it to earn authorship. Having your supervisor as a coauthor does not increase the value of the paper (and for you personally, it would probably decrease the value). Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 12:25
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    What you are proposing is known as gift authorship. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 16:05
  • @DavidKetcheson: True, but I advise against using that term. It makes it sound like a positive act of giving, which is not how I see it.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 17:21
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    it can be more beneficial for my future to have her name on my paper – What makes you think so?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 18:28
  • @DavidKetcheson I'm not convinced this is a dupe. The other question is quite clearly phrased around a lab environment and it's not clear that this applies, here. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:12

4 Answers 4


You should be a sole author for two reasons. First, your supervisor did not contribute to the paper. Some journals actually make you write out what each author accomplished, so you would be at a loss there anyway. Second, a sole-authored publication will demonstrate that you can work independently, which looks great to faculty search committees! When you are on the market, they want to hire people who will become independent researchers. You are demonstrating that by sole-authorship! If you want to publish with your supervisor because she is well-known in the field, my suggestion is that you talk with her about an additional paper project that both of you can work on.

On a side note, your supervisor might have described your paper as "perfect and complete," though this is only one reviewer's opinion. Though the paper may be at a stage for journal submission, please be prepared that the 2-5 blind reviewers may have different opinions about what is "perfect and complete." You still may get A LOT of revision requests from them. I'm sure you did a great job, I just don't want you to get discouraged if the reviewers end up being more critical.

Best of luck!!!!

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    One problem a friend of mine had: his advisor had encouraged him to write almost exlusively single-author papers, so that when it came time for him to apply to postdocs, people in the field did not know who his advisor was because they had written hardly any papers together! So, it is important to balance the value of a single-author paper with the value of letting people know who your advisor is (as well as only listing authors in a paper who actually contributed to the paper.) Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 18:11
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    @Joshua The way the hiring committees will know who his advisor was is by the fact that his advisor will be writing him a letter of recommendation. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 18:23
  • @TobiasKildetoft, but they won't know until then. It's difficult to establish at a general level during your grad school years who's student you are if that fact isn't being advertised on your papers (at least in some fields). Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 18:38
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    If simply having others know that someone is/was your advisor is important, my suggestion is to list your advisor on your CV where you list your degree and institution. For example, underneath "2010 | PhD, Discipline, University of Somewhere" you can write on the line below: "Dissertation/Thesis Title. Advisor, Dr. V. Smith." Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 20:05
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    To the point of only having single-authored papers, this is also discouraged, because it is unclear if you can conduct and write research in a collaborative setting, which is how most research is done today. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 20:08

TL;DR: Don't list her as an author, because: 1. She isn't one. 2. It's ok for you to be the sole author.

First it must be said that the question of what benefits you is the minor consideration in listing the authors of a paper. A scientific paper needs to be attributed to the people who performed the research and/or writeup, and that's that. While there are many cases in which it's not clear whether a person should or shouldn't count as an author because the weight of the contribution is debatable, this is not one of them. So even if it were to help you somehow to list your advisor as an author - it would be inappropriate. Unethical even.

Irrespective of that fact, it's perfectly common and acceptable, and often appreciated, for PhD candidates to write papers of their own. So you're not even risking anything.


I advise clarifying with the supervisor whether "go ahead and publish it yourself because I cannot contribute more to it" meant that you should submit it with only your name in the author list, or whether they meant that in their opinion it was ready for submission and that they had no suggestions for improvement.

At the University where I completed my PhD, and at others Universities of which I have direct knowledge, it was the norm (i.e. expected) to include supervisors as co-authors independent of direct contribution to a paper.

In the case where you are the (otherwise) sole author then the author list would read < self >, < supervisor1 >, < supervisor2 >, ... . And in the case where you were the lead author and had contributions from others then the author list would read < self >, < co-contributor1 >, < co-contributor2 >, ..., < supervisor1 >, < supervisor2 >... .

Additional commentary:

I have not been able to find anything which states this explicitly. I have since found this, which to me indicates that supervisors should only be listed as coauthors if they directly contribute, contradicting what was communicated verbally to me:

List the authors on the title page by full names whenever possible. Please be absolutely sure you have spelled your coauthors’ names correctly. Be sure also to use the form of the names that your coauthors prefer. Include only those who take intellectual responsibility for the work being reported, and exclude those who have been involved only peripherally. The author list should not be used in lieu of an acknowledgments section. (Additional Information for BSc Honours Dissertation and MSc Research Projects)

On reflection, this suggests that early papers will normally have supervisors as coauthors (assuming intellectual or tangible contributions to the papers) as the PhD candidate develops as a researcher, but that later papers would only list supervisors if the supervisor has clearly contributed in the same way as would be considered for any other person to be listed as a coauthor.

(Independent of this, I have also seen academic environments where it is politically expedient to list supervisors as coauthors - to keep them happy, so to speak...)

  • Could you provide anything official from said schools on this policy? It goes directly against most academic principles of what authorship means. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 14:19
  • Mick, I take "publish it yourself" and the fact that the poster asked this question to suggest that it does indeed mean "without advisor as coauthor". Just because it was practice at your institution to include as courtesy doesn't mean it is universal. I too had one paper as a PhD student where my advisor said he didn't contribute and shouldn't be included. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 14:48
  • I have added some additional commentary. In my opinion there seems to be often cases where academic principles and internal politics are not aligned. ;-)
    – Mick
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 17:19

My advice is to ask your supervisor. If she really does not want to go on the paper, ask other colleagues who might have helped you. If she hints otherwise, include her. Being alone on that paper might raise your reputation in a way, but it might also give the impression that you are grandiose and ungrateful and not a teamplayer. And that you don't recognize a situation where you can indebt other people to you at no cost. If in your group, everybody writes their papers with ten co-authors, chances are that being a sole author on a well-published paper will invite bad feelings from your peers.

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    But the OP clearly already asked their supervisor, so does this advice make sense? Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 19:50
  • Honestly, I think this answer is mostly nonsense. Authorship is an important thing, and it's important that every person listed as an author made actual contributions to the paper. Advisors often contribute (e.g., through general discussion) more than the student thinks but, in this case, the advisor has already said that she doesn't feel she should be an author. Looking around for other people to list as authors is even worse. And no reasonable person is going to come to judgements or jealousy because of one paper. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:03
  • In any case, it's very unlikely that somebody would write a single-author paper in an environment where most papers have ten authors. In that sort of environment, almost all research begins as a group project, so there are multiple authors from day one. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:04

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