If the supervisor does not actually write anything for or contribute to the paper, can a PhD student submit the paper as a single Author?

Would this be a faux pas and cause a strained relationship with the supervisor? I know they expect their name to be on all papers related to the PhD.

Also, does using their lab mean they have a right to have their name on the paper?

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    What field? Is this a field with a “last author” convention? – Noah Snyder Nov 4 '17 at 11:54
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    You ask two very different questions: if one can do it and if it will cause a strained relationship. Sure, yes, and depends on person, but can easily. – Greg Nov 4 '17 at 18:13
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    The thing that causes strained relationships with supervisors is doing stuff that relates to them without discussing it with them. No reasonable supervisor will object to you asking them, "I was thinking of doing X -- would that be OK?", unless X is something so egregious that any reasonable person would know it was deeply wrong. Ask your advisor. Their job is to provide advice to you. – David Richerby Nov 5 '17 at 23:26
  • Note: make sure your advisor is really not meeting the criteria for authorship before you consider this at all! See discussion on, e.g. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/12030/… – AJK Nov 6 '17 at 4:36
  • Thank you all for your comments. Definitely supervisor discussions must happen. I just needed to hear from all what their views are before I discuss this with supervisor. I'm mostly an independent researcher on this. No funding no intellectual input from anyone. No lab support. Etc. – Rain Nov 6 '17 at 5:07

If the supervisor does not actually write anything or contribute in the paper, can a PhD student write as a single Author?

Yes. If for no other reason than I did, which suggest its possible

Would this be a faux pas and cause a strained relationship with the supervisor?

It depends on many, many factors. Is this a side-project that's been taking away from your actual work? Then it probably will. Have you talked to your supervisor and decided that it's the right way forward? Then it probably won't.

I know they expect their name to be on all papers related to the PhD.

This is not universally true. While I expect to be an author on most of my graduate student's papers, that's because I expect to have done work on most of them. With an upper, and potentially likely bound of "all of them". But if a student wrote something independent, then no, I don't expect my name on it.

Also, does using their lab mean they have a right to have their name on the paper?

It depends on what you mean by "using their lab". Generally speaking, just providing equipment isn't enough to warrant authorship, but if I did use someone's lab, I'd take a long look at the "did nothing" assumption and make sure it's true.

That's also potentially the source of a strained relationship - if you're using my space, equipment, and potentially reagents for a project I'm not participating in, I'd be less than thrilled unless it was discussed ahead of time.

  • Thank you very much Fomite for your detailed answer. I'm using equipment I designed in his lab which I wrote a paper on with his name too. If I use this same equipment for a different paper related to my PhD, but a branch which my supervisor doesn't specialize in - would this warrant their name on the paper for each time I use this equipment? – Rain Nov 4 '17 at 6:18
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    @Rain Something like that is a conversation to have with your supervisor. – Fomite Nov 4 '17 at 6:19
  • Basically the question becomes, if I published a paper including his name because he intellectually helped in the design. Does this mean every time I use this design for another paper, I have to put his name? (Although the topic is different and he will not contribute intellectually) – Rain Nov 4 '17 at 6:21
  • ok. I guess this is where I will start. Thank you. I just needed to know before I open the topic, and accidentally offend him. – Rain Nov 4 '17 at 6:22
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    @Rain In theory the answer is "Probably not". In practice, whether your supervisor is alright with you heading in a different direction, or whether or not they believe there is no potential for him to contribute intellectually, are functionally unknowable without talking to him. – Fomite Nov 4 '17 at 6:22

Generally speaking, providing funding/equipment/space does not warrant authorship. Authorship is granted based on intellectual contributions to the work. It is somewhat rare for a student to conduct research and author a paper in which his/her supervisor contributes nothing, but if that were true, you could make a case for single authorship. But, such a proposal can be a faux pas, if it suggests you do not appreciate or even acknowledge your mentor's input.

  • I don't even get funded. No intellectual contribution to the paper. But, worried this strains the relationship.. – Rain Nov 4 '17 at 4:38
  • If there was truly no intellectual contribution, I don't think you can even call that person a mentor. Are you sure that there have been no lab meetings, no private one-on-one meetings, or any interactions about the topic that could be considered 'intellectual'? Think broadly. – HEITZ Nov 4 '17 at 4:45
  • for this paper, the answer is no. It's in general a new topic I introduced to my supervisor. Not really his specialty. He did contribute to another paper which I put his name. But for this paper, it's a branch on its own. He doesn't have knowledge in. I'm only using his lab for it. – Rain Nov 4 '17 at 4:49
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    Did you use a tool that was designed as to your supervisor's specifications? You seem to indicate that? – Captain Emacs Nov 4 '17 at 11:52
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    You would at the very least have to cite your supervisor's previous papers. – Captain Emacs Nov 4 '17 at 18:08

Short answer:

Yes, if the supervisor has not contributed to the scientific work.

No, if the supervisor provided the specific question or direction of research.

And, yes, it may cause some resentment from the supervisor. Though this depends on the supervisor, the area, and the past work and relationship between you two. In your case, you explain precisely why it will cause such a resentment.

My conclusion then: unless you have an extremely strong reason not to, you should consider including the supervisor as it does not detract in any significant way your credit.


At least at one math department in Finland, an article PhD thesis must include at least one single-authored article or preprint by the doctorand. Since people graduate from there, it follows that it must be possible to publish a paper without the supervisor's name.

This mostly certainly depends on the academical field in question.

Also, asking the supervisor if their name should be included sounds like a good choice. Presumably, they are a reasonable human being (you being their student), and will answer honestly and not take any offense on you asking.

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