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Image-sharing etiquette - (Sep/05/2012 )

Hi everyone,

I need some advice on what to do. I've been working in this lab for a while, and I've made some beautiful images and time-lapse captures. My time here is done, I'm moving on to another lab. My PI wants these images before I leave. How can I tactfully ask for credit for them, without coming across as too pushy? Not academic credit. I mean, if he puts up those time-lapse captures on the lab website, I'd really like it to say I made them. I know I made them using his microscope and his facilities, but I still made them. I'm sort of tempted to just inscribe my name at the bottom of the videos. Is that OK etiquette-wise? Or does he automatically own all my work?


You should not be afraid to say it directly to your PI. He must understand that in Science it is very important to estimate the work and contribution of everybody. So, go ahead, be clear and do not be afraid, simply tell him that you would appreciate if he could indicate that you did the pictures, or that you would like to include your name on them. Be clear, sincere and go ahead. All of us want to be appreciate for our contributions including our PI.


As Akdor says, with the addition: talk to him; better talk openly than just inscribe your name without asking. Even though he wouldn't mind giving you credit when asked, he might mind that you took credit without giving him any other options. Nobody likes to be put in a corner with no other options. Especially PIs.


Thanks Akdor and ascacioc, I think you're right in that talking to him directly will be the best. I don't think he will listen, but at least I will have tried.
Could anyone tell me the general policy on this? If someone takes images in a lab, whose property are they? The lab's, or the image-taker's?


I do not know about other countries, but in Germany we sign a document saying that our work is the property of the institute. It is the same for companies, especially for companies. However, there is an understanding that if you want your work, there is room for discussion.


Thanks ascacioc, I talked to him today and said I would like to be given due credit if he used any of those images. It took some assertiveness on my part, but he finally agreed that if anything is used in a paper, or in presentations, or on the lab website, there will be an acknowledgement to my contributions. We agreed that I would leave behind one copy of all data and take one copy with me. I haven't signed anything, I don't think any of the other students have either. Maybe it's only the PIs who have to sign something like that?

I'm sorry to seem so negative about this guy, but I haven't had a great experience working for him. (This is the venting and counselling forum, yes?)
In general, he is so dismissive of student work, and has very little positive to say about anything shown to him. It's not even like he's particularly demanding or a perfectionist, or that he does pathbreaking work. He's unable to appreciate the good work that others do in the lab. All his grad students seem to dislike him too! (They didn't even want him in the group photo. Geez.)


The copyright of the images is of the lab but you always have to get credit for your work. Especially when it is used in papers. He doesn't do you a favor for putting your name next to the images, you know. He sounds like... a PI (check PhDComics for relief :) )


hey hogthehedge,

It's a good thing that you were assertive enough to ask credit for your work bec oftentimes, if you don't ask, people won't give it to you esp if you're considered to be at the bottom of the totempole ...and you're also lucky that your PI agreed, albeit reluctantly...however, you might still wanna get that in writing. So what's to stop your PI from reneging on his promise once you're gone from his lab? I know a lot of cases like this and even more serious like authorships. You can of course inscribe your name on the video but taht can still be edited out and what about the still images? In a perfect world, you don’t need anything written (and just trust that the other party will do what is right) but intellectual property is still a grey area, the ethics governing it are quite clearcut- in principle, that is, but in practice, it can be a very different matter.

It may be difficult to ‘ask’ him to put it on paper but you can be subtle or even crafty about it. Perhaps when you give him the electronic version of your files, as a sidenote, you could 'thank' him for the discussion that you had and his agreement to acknowledge your work?? Or you can directly ask him for a confirmation that you will be acknowledged for your contribution. And hopefully in the end he will do as he promised. Good luck.


I think you're taking the right step here. I had a similar experience with some photographs I took. What happened is that one day a labmate asked me if I had seen the most recent paper by my supervisor, what I found was my pictures on that paper without even acknowledging me. I contacted the first author (who I know and am friends with) and he said he had no problem in including me either as an author or in the acknowledgements, but the supervisor did not agree saying that was not convention and that it would only affect the first author's career if I contacted the editor of the magazine.

In the end I agreed not to contact the editor, then my supervisor was more supportive with the thesis writing and rather focusing on my work to get it published (still on the way). It can be quite annoying when you see your pictures published without any previous warning...