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Did my ex-advisor steal my paper? - how professors decide the authorship? (Sep/29/2008 )

Sorry, this will be a long story. Hope you’ll have patience to finish it and give me some suggestions. I would appreciate any comment you give me.

I joined a lab in 2004 as a PhD student. My professor is a very emotional person, either extremely happy, or extremely angry. There is no clue to predict his mood. He used to insult me, yell at me, shout on me very often, and in public. He not only insulted my personality, but also my parents, my previous school, and everything related to me. He even threatened to stop my financial support (I was a graduate research assistant then). I thought if I worked harder, contributed more, he might treat me better, but it’s not the case. I was so depressed, so afraid to talk him, meet him and see him. It became a vicious cycle. The depression affected my performance in school, in work and my personal health as well. I failed few courses, failed my qualify exam. These gave him more excuses to insult me--- I am so stupid, I am not comparable to my peers, and all that. He even told everyone that I am the worse student he’s ever seen. So, I decided to quit my study for my own good (there will be another long story about how he tried to keep me in his lab when I told him I want to quit.). Anyway, I left the lab in 2006 and found another school to continue my PhD study.

Recently, I found that he published two papers without putting my name on them. I am very disappointed, frustrated and feel sad. I hope to get some suggestions from experienced people whether I should be in one of the author or not. If I deserve it, how should I fight for it?

The first paper is part of my master’s thesis. At the beginning, he told me what we were going to do, and asked me to proposed methods of how to collect and analyze data. I did write him a proposal, and we proceeded the experiment based on the method I proposed. I did the experiment and wrote my thesis. Before I left, he told me he will add more data and publish the paper, and will contact me if he needs my signature. I check the published paper. The sample size doesn’t increase a lot (maybe from n=3 become n=5). They didn’t add too many more data, only change the way the present data. I think even though I left the lab. I still contributed a lot to that experiment. I don’t ask for the first author, but at least I deserve to be one of the authors. There are only four authors on that paper. One of them only provided opinion on image processing.

The second paper is not my project. When I first joined the lab in 2004, I didn’t have my own project to do. So, he told me there was a paper that he submitted few months ago but the reviewers asked them to add a control group and some other data. The person who was in charge of this project already left the lab. So he asked me to redo the experiment and re-analyze the whole data. I finished the experiment and analyzed the whole data again. But before I left the lab in 2006, he never resubmits this paper until recently. There are only three on this paper. The first author is the person who designed the software program to analyze the data. However, he left the lab before I joined the lab, so I never met him. The second author is another professor who got the grant to fund this project, and the last/corresponding author is my previous advisor.

So, I need your opinion on what I should do. I am not so experienced in this ethics issue. Do I deserve to be one of the authors in these two papers? If I do, should I fight for my right, and how? As I mentioned before, I am currently studying my PhD in another school. I have to be careful not to ruin his or my own career.

Thank you for your patience. Any comment will be appreciated.

-ah do-

These jerks should not be allowed to do science, but we are not in a perfect world.

And I don't know if there is something you can do about it, except to write to your old PI and ask for his reasons. Authorship is the way we get evaluated, and adding your name on the paper will not harm him, and would benefit you. So I suggest you write to him, and see what he thinks.

Good luck bro!


what a mean guy he is! I think you should write him about this rip-off. He may or may not correct it, but you have nothing to lose.


Wow did we have the same advisor!!??? I recently finished my Master's under a very similar situation. The guy I was working for had me finish an abstract and poster for a meeting, make hotel reservations, the whole nine yards then took my poster, made himself first author, printed it, and had a great trip. His rationale was that going wouldn't benefit me at all since I was changing labs for my Ph.D. Strange how that revelation occurred after 6 months of hard work getting data and setting up the presentation...

P.S. his parting words to me following my thesis defense were "Maybe you should find a second to third grade grammar book and read it before writing anything else." Me rekon he am write...


If you submitted your Master's thesis, is it not the property of the University, and thus they would have a copy? This would be a dated paper trail, easily comparable to the first paper you spoke of, and you could bring your grievance to the University Dean's office. Your standing on the second paper is weaker -- I would have put you as an author, but many labs would not have, so you don't have much of an argument there, IMHO.