5

I am a Computer Science Master's Student, currently working on my thesis at a research institute. I have multiple supervisors: A, who was my "theoretical" supervisor when I started my thesis 5 months ago, B, who is my "technical" supervisor, and C, who is my new "theoretical" supervisor, as A is leaving the company soon.

I will finish my thesis at the end of the month. My problem is the following: A would like me to publish my work as a 6-page paper in an upcoming conference, with me as the main author, and him as a co-author. The problem is, he is the General Chair of the track where he wants me to publish. He even mentioned how I shouldn't worry about the paper not getting accepted, since he has so much power there.

I expressed my worries to him about this being unfair. I've checked the website of the conference, but I did not find any policy explicitly forbidding this practice, still, I think it is not right. When I told him about my concerns, he waived them away, saying "Everybody does it like this".

Now, I am pretty sure that neither my other supervisors, nor the leader of the research group knows about A's plans, since he only discussed this with me, and didn't CC the emails about this to the other supervisors (as he usually does, because we discuss every question about my thesis together).

My question is the following: what should I do now? Should I contact the other supervisors about this? Should I just flatly deny publishing the paper in his conference? Or should I play along? As all of my supervisors will have an effect on my grade, I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. I have less than a month left until my thesis defense, but the deadline for the conference application is in a week.

  • 6
    He even mentioned how I shouldn't worry about the paper not getting accepted, since he has so much power there. — So it's a useless conference. Run for the hills. — "Everybody does it like this". — No, they really don't. Or rather, since I'm also a computer science professor: No, we really don't. – JeffE Sep 9 '17 at 20:23
  • @JeffE absolutely right, even if someone does, it can be easily pointed out by other chairs, as a result that 'someone' has to suffer the consequences. – Mithun Sep 10 '17 at 14:06
3

I think there would be a conflict of interest, if your co-author is also among the chair people of the conference.

Apart from that, you should not publish anything without your other supervisors acceptance and/or without informing them. That is: do not put their names on something you submit if they don't know or don't agree with being named there, AND (especially relevant in this case, it seems) do not submit something where you omit a contributing author. Author here doesn't need to be someone participating in writing a piece, but already being part of a research project.

Therefore, if you want to publish at this conference (independent of A's role in the conference), then send an email to all your supervisors and ask what they think about publishing/presenting your work there. If they don't know about A's role in said conference, and you worry about it, tell them (maybe omit A in this case, if you prefer) about the position of A in it.

  • Hey, thanks, so do you mean that the other supervisors have a right to know about their work being published? I honestly don't know if anyone apart from A has any idea about his plans. This might be a problem in itself, then. – Gaspard Sep 9 '17 at 16:58
  • 2
    They definitely have a right to know about their work being published, and it is your responsibility to make sure that everyone is informed and that everyone approves publication of the work. Have a look at "authorship guidelines"/"instructions for authors" or similar in a good journal in your field to learn more about it. It's a sensitive topic and doing it wrong can cause a lot of troubles. – Mark Sep 9 '17 at 17:04
2

The real problem here is that A can use his role as chair to ensure that your work gets accepted to the conference. In a serious scientific conference, work is supposed to be evaluated in a fair way, without conflicts of interest like this. This gives me a strong impression that the conference is not serious, and that the behavior of A is unethical.

If you trust your co-supervisors, I think it would be a good idea to ask them about their opinion on the matter, because they will probably be more able to judge the situation than we are. Depending on your relationship with them, you can try two possible approaches: (i.) directly point out your concern about A being possibly unethical (like you did here), or (ii.) be more diplomatic and ask innocently without assuming bad faith, e.g., "do you think it's OK for us to submit at this conference even though A is chair"? In addition, as they are your advisors, you should probably be getting their opinion anyways about where you publish your work.

This being said, if A uses his influence to get your paper accepted, I would say that he is the one acting unethically, not you. From what I understand, the rules of the conference allow you to submit something co-authored by A, and you have pointed out to A that you would not think it appropriate for him to use his influence to get the paper accepted. Hence, if he does it anyway, I think he should be the one to get the blame. In other words, I think the main concrete risk of this transaction for you is that you may be publishing your work at a worthless conference; in terms of ethics, I don't think you should be the one to blame if A does not handle the conflict of interest properly.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.