Professional ethics: Publishing a student's project

Charles T. Faulkner ctfaulkn at
Tue Jun 27 12:10:18 EST 1995

On Tue, 27 Jun 1995, Michael Torok wrote:

> Samuel M. Scheiner (sam.scheiner at wrote:
> : Here is a question on the ethical treatment of a student. I have a MS student 
> : who completed a research project almost a year ago. In the last nine months he 
> : has done almost nothing to complete analysis of the data or write up the 
> : results for his thesis despite repeated discussions with me and his committee. 
                             (stuff deleted)	 

> : 1. How long should I wait before I simply take the data and publish it myself, 
> : with him as co-author of course? What sorts of ultimatums are reasonable?
> : 2. [Just to broaden the discussion] Does the extent of my imput matter? In 
> : this case I provided the initial idea, much of the detail on experimental 
> : design, and a fair amount of labor both directly and indirectly by hiring 
> I would argue that despite your input into this student's project, it is 
> not your work to publish without his approval. If this person was a lab tech 
> that was hired to simply perform the details of an experiment under your
> direction, the situation would be different. The fact that you advised 
> (something you are supposed to do for your graduate students) do not make 
> his project yours. Unless there has been clear negligence on the part of 
> this student in carrying out the experiment I would say you are stuck do 
> what you can to convince him to publish.

	I disagree.  As major professor, it is your data. The idea was 
yours, and you have supported the work economically.  It is arguable if 
the student has contributed anything more than the labor for performing 
the experiments and recording results.  I believe that you are being more 
than fair by considering giving the student co-authorship.  It seems 
professors are often sucked into this ethical vortex by students who burn 
out on their graduate research... what should the prof do with this work 
they have supported creatively, and economically when the student fails 
to follow through with publication. It is a disservice to science...and 
it is a waste of the prof's resources.  I suggest that each new student 
be briefed concerning their obligations to science and publication of 
their work before starting the research.  Professors can avoid this 
situation by stating up front that if the work is not submitted (or 
progress being made) for publication within 1 year of graduation... it is 
his/her's to publish with the student's effort being recognized through
co-authorship.  I imagine many will feel that this is too harsh, however,
it is one way to protect oneself from having an unproductive career due to 
immature and unresponsible students.  

*      Charles T. Faulkner       *   Get your facts first and then you
*  Univ of Tennessee, Knoxville  *   can distort them as much as you please.
*   (ctfaulkn at     *                   Mark Twain

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