I independently wrote a number of math articles, and published some of them in refereed journals. I wrote the draft of the thesis, and contacted a Prof., and started a PhD program under his supervision. After being accepted, the supervisor

  1. Asked me to change all notations and terminology. I hesitate, because I used the terminology in use in the domain, I kept at minimum new terms, and I already used these terms in the published papers.

  2. Asked me to make him coauthor of some of the papers I haven't yet published, and which I wrote previously, without any suggestion or discussion with him. He motivated his request by saying that my articles need to be polished (ie terminology changed with an invented one), and that even when they will be ready, nobody will accept them with my name only (although I already published some articles as single author).

He is very assertive with these requests, and I feel like he is putting pressure on me. Normally, I would like to have him as coauthor, and maybe it will be good for my career. But I am affraid that he will make my results unrecognizable, and incompatible with the other papers in domain, including my owns. And, frankly, his only contribution is that he suggested to change the terminology.

What should I do?

  • 10
    Say no. If he insists, find another advisor.
    – JeffE
    Apr 6 '13 at 14:37
  • What is his justification for asking you to change the notation and terminology, if what you have used is standard?
    – Tara B
    Apr 6 '13 at 14:55
  • 3
    In my field, it is very bad manners to ask to be a coauthor like that.
    – Ben
    Apr 6 '13 at 16:41
  • @Tara B. There is a well known theory X, and a generalization, less known, Y. There is a small number of papers in Y, and all use the terminology of X. He says that the reader may get confused because I use the terminology of a more particular theory (X), to a more general (Y). Normally, I would agree, but all other papers in Y use the same terminology and notations as X, so I did the same. He wants to rename every term.
    – user6695
    Apr 6 '13 at 17:07
  • You say "Prof.", but this situation makes me think that the prof. is not yet tenured. Apr 6 '13 at 22:48

We cannot tell you what the best decision is, but I get the feeling from your post that you already have some course of action in mind: politely decline, with your arguments, and if he insists too much, find another advisor. I would agree with that being the best solution for you, but only assuming that your assessment of the situation is correct.

Don't take it badly, but I have seen it happen before. An established researcher gives advice to a newcomer (or more junior researcher), who disagrees and concludes that such bad advice can only be motivated by self interest. That sure is one possible explanation, but another might be that the advice is (partly or fully) correct, but the student doesn't recognize it (yet). Take a second look at his advice... There can be good reasons to suggest nonstandard notation: trying to make the paper more appealing to the community of another field, by using their notations. Or making the case that existing notation doesn't properly cover the cases considered. Or maybe what you consider standard notation actually isn't, and you are currently using a notation used by a prolific research group (bias in your reading list).

I am not saying that it is your case. I'm only saying that you should seriously consider it before taking any action.

  • Thank you for your balanced answer. He does not propose to use an existing terminology, just to invent a new one. But I see your point.
    – user6695
    Apr 6 '13 at 17:34

From a purely objective point of view, I would say that co-authorship should be granted only if someone has a scientific input to the paper (such as significant reworking, polishing (whatever that is) is not enough) or if the prospective co-author is the originator of the ideas in the paper (also a scientific contribution).

In your specific case I can see that the professor could be part of a paper if he puts enough work into it. I think it is very unattractive to force oneself onto a paper the way it sounds in your case. On the other hand, you could consider whether having a "big name" on your paper could benefit you in the long-term? I know co-authorships are viewed differently in different fields so I dare not say what would be appropriate in your case.

The nasty part of the story is of course what might happen if you do not put the Professor on your papers. That is something which only you can assess. But, you could possibly get some insights by talking to others who knows the situation in your department/research group.


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