Who Should be an Author

Alyssa says: Ben is a professor of computer science. He is serving as program chair for a conference with refereed publications. Ben suggests to his graduate student Alyssa that she submit a paper to the conference because, even though he cannot support her trip to the conference (being held abroad), he will be there and can present her paper. Alyssa writes the paper and gives several drafts to Ben, who does not comment on any of them. All the research is original work done by Alyssa while she was funded by an external fellowship. She submits the paper listing herself as the sole author.

Alyssa's paper gets accepted. The conference informs her that she is required to attend to present her paper. Surprised, she asks Ben about this policy, seeing as he had made no prior mention of it. Ben replies curtly that Alyssa will have to make him a co-author on her paper. Alyssa finds this unreasonable, particularly since Ben did not provide her with any feedback on the submission. Alyssa cannot afford to attend the conference on her own.

What should Alyssa do?

Postscript: Alyssa considered withdrawing the paper. On the advice of another professor not to risk a major rift with her advisor, Alyssa eventually added Ben as a co-author. He presented the paper at the conference.

Ben says: Ben is a professor of computer science. He has a promising student Alyssa to whom he suggests a fine problem. He encourages her to write a paper on the problem to submit to a conference he will be attending whether or not he gives a paper. Thus, even though he cannot afford to send her to the conference, he can deliver their joint paper if it is accepted.

She gives him a draft of the paper to read. He is pleased to see that she is solving the problem along the lines he expected would work. On the other hand, he is irritated by the fact that she has listed herself as sole author. He expects an unpleasant, or at least embarrassing, scene when they discuss this, and so he says nothing. Other drafts follow still with Alyssa as sole author, and still Ben says nothing. He reasons that the conference is very competitive, and if the paper is not accepted, there will be no need to address the issue.

The paper is accepted, Alyssa is upset to learn that the paper must be delivered by one of the authors, so she reluctantly adds Ben as a coauthor. Their relationship is seriously damaged, and both feel wronged.

How should Ben have handled the situation? Is it reasonable to have expected Alyssa to have behaved any differently?

This case was written by John Dennis and Kathi Fisler.