Are there any standard rules by referring to which you can claim authorship? Or do the rules differ from lab to lab and depend on the PI?

I have worked for almost two years in lab X on some project. After that I joined lab Y. After that the PI from lab X drafted a manuscript (based, in part, on my work) and submitted it for publication. When I inquired about my major role in that paper, they told me that "since you have left this lab, you cannot claim authorship"... Does this happen in every lab?

What is the ethically right approach in such situation?


I was involved in data analysis along with the first author of the manuscript. I agree that manuscript drafting and writing is major task for claiming an authorship.. But I was not even invited for it..

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    "since you have left this lab you can not claim authorship": They are being jerks, the role of an author in a paper should be independent of their current position. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 6:59
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    If they publish the work without listing you as a co-author, then that's blatant plagiarism.
    – user2768
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 11:12
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    @user2768: it's theft, but unless you actually helped write the paper, it's not plagiarism. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 11:50
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    @PeterShor, "Plagiarism is the 'wrongful appropriation' and 'stealing and publication' of another author's 'language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions' and the representation of them as one's own original work." -- Wikipedia. So, I believe my claim is valid.
    – user2768
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 13:24
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    Ethically right? Did you contribute to the research? Then you deserve either co-authorship or acknowledgement, depending on contribution quality and amount. There is no thing like "not in the lab, no longer a contributor". Utterly despicable. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:13

3 Answers 3


If you would have qualified as an author otherwise, the act of leaving a lab should not disqualify you. However, make sure you would have qualified as an author under normal circumstances before confronting someone about it. Most journals and universities have their own authorship policies. You could use these policies as a starting point to talk your lab mates about being included as an authors on this paper.

For example, the IEEE authorship policy: https://www.ieee.org/publications_standards/publications/authors/author_ethics.html

You can look up your own university's authorship policy.

However, be aware that most policies place a much greater emphasis on writing/drafting, and higher level design or analysis work than they do on low-level activities. Just working on a project for two years is not necessarily enough to qualify you for authorship on any paper related to that project. The kind of work you performed and it's relation to the published paper is what is really crucial here.

For example, simple data gathering is usually not enough to qualify one for authorship under most policies. Spending time doing tool-building or building an experiment that you did not design are also activities that probably don't qualify you for authorship on their own. Designing an experiment included in a paper does qualify for authorship. Spending time with the other authors comparing and contrasting competing explanations of data might qualify for authorship, depending on your overall role and contribution in the project.

In my experience I have seen people not have authorship when they spent a significant amount of time testing and validating an experimental setup that they did not design. In this case they were more of a paid technician than a researcher, even though they were working with research equipment and contributing to a research project.

I contrast, I know a guy who did get authorship for simply coming up with a really good idea and doing zero work. He was a graduating PhD student and had a great research idea that the others in his lab implemented and evaluated. Even though he did zero work on the project or paper his colleagues thought that the single original idea was enough of an intellectual contribution to grant authorship.

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    In my experience I have seen people not be authorship when they spent a significant amount of time testing and validating an experimental setup that they did not design. — This seems grossly unethical to me.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:02
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    @JeffE In this case the individual was validating and troubleshooting electronic components of a test apparatus that wasn't working correctly. He was applying undergraduate level electrical engineering- not doing research. The mere fact that he did his work in our lab doesn't mean he provided an intellectual contribution to our research. This is especially common in large projects that require a lot of technical staff to pull off. Does the crane operator get authorship? Does the electrician? Does the guy turning the wrench? Perhaps, but not usually.
    – David
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:14
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    Echoing @David, authorship guidelines typically can be distilled to having a contribution in 2 or more of: designing the research, collecting data/doing the research, data analysis, and writing the final paper. Writing software or maintaining equipment can be labor-intensive but it only qualifies as authorship if the other aspects are included as well.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 17:07
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    @David Did he get paid at a market rate for an electrical engineer? Or was he expecting to be compensated for his work in part by advancing his research career? In the former case, you are right; in the latter case, I agree with JeffE.
    – Boris Bukh
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 5:35
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    @BorisBukh The employment arrangement shouldn't affect whether someone is listed as an author or not, and that's certainly not the case according to the authorship guidelines at my university or the places I publish. I agree that a research position shouldn't be misrepresented- that researchers need to be given research tasks- but even as a researcher you're not entitled to authorship because you happen to have the job title "researcher" when a lab publishes a paper.
    – David
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 14:59

As pointed out in the other response, check out the legal / specific issues first, but take for granted that your role as an author, ethically and professionally speaking, does not depend on your affiliation but on your contribution. What they told you, honestly, looks more like bullying/retaliation to me than anything else.


This is an old problem. It happened twice to me as a postdoc, later when I had become a professor myself, I asked them why and if we could not fix it. But the answers were, there is nothing wrong and get over it. It is true I was quite ambitious and at times, I got my fat with people who do not like to be overtaken, or not liked me, or wanted not to share. I try today to involve people who left my lab in articles they belong too. It is true with some people you have not an easy stand and it is sometimes almost nobody's fault, we are all very different at times. I try nevertheless to work with all, also with those who leave the lab. Try yourself to be a giver in this matter and then you are better off in front of your mirror. The consequences of not accepting you as co-author can be as bad as many other unfortunate conditions. But there is a place for the hard working despite ugly things we have to phase from time to time.

  • Hmmm. Maybe "fat" should be "fight", or is there an idiom I don't know?
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 14:19
  • The struggle takes your energy or fat, in German language used may be in others too, one uses the term almost proudly later when things are over. Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 14:41

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