Does supervision mean co-authorship?

By now, I have came across this question many times. Just because your professor supervised you in the bachelor, master or PhD thesis, they can claim co-authorship when publishing the work in an academic journal at a later stage. Below I present three stories, that I have observed very closely, and then I present my opinion on this. For anonymity, I use pseudo-names and countries in the stories.

Story 1

Jhon finished his Bachelor in 2012 from a Indian university. In the last semester of his Bachelor degree, he wrote a thesis while most of his peers opt for internship in companies. He wanted to pursue a research career and thought writing thesis would be more valuable for future career in research. Upon submission, he received the highest grade on his thesis, that is, A+. Later, he was interested in publishing the thesis in an academic journal but according to his supervisor the quality of the thesis not publishable. But Jhon did not listen and communicated with another professor and some of his peer in the department. Together they lifted the quality and submitted to a journal in 2014 for publication. Soon after, the paper was accepted for publication and Jhon was very happy.

Later, he pursued his masters, and as of 2019, he is doing his PhD in Singapore. After seven years, in 2019, Jhon suddenly received an email from his bachelor supervisor regarding the publication. His ex-supervisor claims it is unethical that Jhon published the paper without informing him. To be noted, his supervisor did not write a single sentence in the thesis neither gave him the topic to work on. In most developing countries such supervision in the Bachelor level is very common.

Story 2

Sarah did his masters in Germany.

Story 3

Michael did his PhD in USA.

My opinion

Who Is an Author?

The ICMJE recommends that authorship be based on the following 4 criteria:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

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