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What are people's views on this? To be specific: suppose a PhD student has produced a piece of original mathematical research. Suppose that student's supervisor suggested the problem, and gave a few helpful comments, but otherwise did not contribute to the work. Should that supervisor still be named as a co-author, or would an acknowledgment suffice?

I am interested in two aspects of this. Firstly the moral/etiquette aspect: do you consider it bad form for a student not to name their supervisor? Or does it depend on that supervisor's input? And secondly, the practical, career-advancing aspect: which is better, for a student to have a well-known name on his or her paper (and hence more chance of it being noticed/published), or to have a sole-authored piece of work under their belt to hopefully increase their chances of being offered a good post-doc position?

[To clarify: original question asked by MrB ]

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It is my impression, somewhat confirmed by the first answers, that the situation is quite different in different subfields of mathematics. (Also, in different subfields the average number of authors on a paper in general is also quite different.) In view of this I would find it helpful if answers indicated to which subfield they refer / are most applicable. – user9072 Mar 4 '11 at 11:29
Why did this get closed? Please consider this comment a vote to reopen. Any advice or career question will be subjective, and possible argumentative. Nevertheless, this is an important question on which it would be very helpful if the mathematics community should have a standard etiquette. There are already several replies that (while ocf course none for them can be authoritative) all give a worthwhile viewpoint that anyone who has to consider this question may find helpful. – Arend Bayer Mar 4 '11 at 13:22
This a much better quesion that "What is your favorite..." because one can imagine the answers to this question being useful to somebody. – Mark Meckes Mar 4 '11 at 19:38
When in doubt, please leave questions open. I voted to reopen because I can see this as useful in many situations, including for students, their advisors, and those evaluating papers to try to judge how much was done by the student versus the advisor. It is useful to see what expectations others have for the meaning of authorship, the ordering of the authors, etc. since these do not follow from first principles. – Douglas Zare Mar 4 '11 at 22:14
When the adviser is the dual of an author. – Spice the Bird Oct 10 '12 at 4:17

19 Answers 19

In my opinion, as a rule the supervisor should not be a co-author in the main paper taken from a student's thesis, even if he has contributed substantially to it, and even more so in the circumstances you suggest. The student needs to publish much more than the advisor does.

If the advisor him/herself is a junior person and has given a lot of help and a very good idea to the student, then I suppose that an exception might be reasonable. Also, a thesis project might spawn more than one paper, of course, in which case it's fine if the advisor is a co-author in some of them (always assuming that he has done much more than suggesting the initial idea).

Of course, it may happen that the student is weak, is given a good project, and needs to be guided step by step, so that at the end the advisor has contributed much more to the thesis than the student. Then a joint publication is in order. Such a student will most likely not pursue an academic career, so it does not really matter.

[Edit] Let me try to clarify my thought, and perhaps be less radical. What I am going to say applies to pure mathematics; I am very much aware that in other fiels things may be completely different.

A good thesis project is one that is both interesting and feasible. Devising such a project in pure mathematics is hard; most beginning students, even very bright one, need guidance, particularly in countries, like Italy, where the PhD program is 3 years. A student has a lot to learn before getting to a level to understand and appreciate a research project; it is clear that a student in a short program does not have a lot a time for trying and failing (which is, of course, very educational, but also time-consuming). Now, some students come up with their own problems and solve them, but in my experience they are exceptions.

I consider it part of my job as an advisor to suggest a problem, or an area of investigation that can be profitably mined from the student. After that, I follow the student, teaching her (let's say she's a woman, purely to avoid the "him or her") whatever I can, trying to dissuade to pursue lines of work that seem barren, uninteresting or risky to me, and also giving ideas. Sometimes she will get stuck; and then I'll think about the problem, to see if there is a difficulty that seems unsurmountable, or if there is an approach that she can try. After some time of this, if she is good she will take off on her own, and understand the problem better than I do; then I will consider that I have done my job. When she writes the paper, I will not be a co-author, even if I have obviously contributed a lot to the project.

Of course, different students require very different levels of involvement; but in my experience, it is not necessary true that the best student are the ones needing less help. Also, a lot depends on the problem.

Now, some people tend to give students substantial parts of their research agenda; in this case the advisor is directly interested in making progress, gets more involved, and is more likely to be a co-author. This is another case in which joint authorship is perfectly reasonable. I would not want to conclude anything about a student from the fact that have published the main paper from their thesis with their advisor.

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I second this opinion. – Sándor Kovács Mar 4 '11 at 19:30
This is almost identical to my own opinion. On the other hand, in Croatia the council of chancelors of the Croatian universities has adopted the rules for professor promotions and one of the criteria is the mentorship work; according to the rector's rules, the success of mentorship imust be proved by a joint publication with a student. This is a barbaric rule which only academically retarded rectors can accept as a criterium. A success in mentorship is, on the contrary, developing a student who is an independent researcher in the end of the story. – Zoran Skoda Mar 4 '11 at 20:03
Angelo's suggested rule certainly expresses the most nobel intentions but it is not a good rule. If adopted we will be able to infer from a joint publication that the student is likely to be weak and that the supervisor contributed much more to the thesis than the student, and even in a case of a solo publication by a student we will have reasons to think that the supervisor contributed substantially to the research. – Gil Kalai Mar 5 '11 at 12:20
Gil, this is not a legal scene to have "adopted" rules. It is about a feeling of proportions; it is very wrong to judge anything according just to the titles of publications, names of authors and journal in which it is published. Only detailed descriptions in recommendations, CVs, interviews, acknowledgments, research proposals and so on make sense and the formality of counting predominantly only the list of authors, impact factors and titles of officially published papers and journals is a plague which should be opposed by math community. – Zoran Skoda Mar 5 '11 at 18:22
Zoran, the purpose of my remark was to point out that a rule (formal or informal) may lead to undesired consequences. Let me add that a major question arising here is "how to supervise a student." There are many styles and many possibilities. There are cases, for example, that students came to graduate school already as mature strong mathematicians, collaborated with their supervisors as equals, and together solved major open problems. A famous example from theoretical phusics is the QCD prediction and I am sure there are analogous examples in mathematics. – Gil Kalai Mar 6 '11 at 10:44

This thread should be community wiki.

The AMS has adopted ethical guidelines regarding co-authorship; see

The most relevant paragraph says

"A claim of independence may not be based on ignorance of widely disseminated results. On appropriate occasions, it may be desirable to offer or accept joint authorship when independent researchers find that they have produced identical results. All the authors listed for a paper, however, must have made a significant contribution to its content, and all who have made such a contribution must be offered the opportunity to be listed as an author. Because the free exchange of ideas necessary to promote research is possible only when every individual's contribution is properly recognized, the Society will not knowingly publish anything that violates this principle, and it will seek to expose egregious violations anywhere in the mathematical community."

The questions remain: when has an advisor made a "significant contribution" to the contents of the paper, and when should an advisor agree to be an author on the paper? My rule of thumb is that if I suggest a problem and react to discussions with a student by giving suggestions and helping with background and helping with proofs, then I will not be a co-author. If I do work by myself on the paper, doing important technical work, then I must be a co-author. There is of course a large gray area...

The tradition of advisors as co-authors differs a lot by discipline. In experimental sciences, the advisor is essentially always a co-author. I think that Angelo and I reflect common practice in pure mathematics, while the practice in applied mathematics is between that in pure mathematics and the experimental sciences.

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True, JBL, but when my students are funded by my grant I don't co-author their papers. I – Bill Johnson Mar 5 '11 at 4:48
The other difference in the experimental sciences is that the order in which authors are listed matters. As long as the student is first author, they will be given almost as much credit as if they were the only author. – Oliver Mar 5 '11 at 5:18
@Bill Johnson, I'm not particularly interested in defending the norms of a culture I'm not completely familiar with, but the research your students do would presumably be possible whether or not they were funded by you; this is not true in fields that require routine access to million-dollar pieces of equipment, expensive reagents, etc. – JBL Mar 5 '11 at 15:13
@Bill Johnson, well, as long as you're asking, yes, I happily endorse that claim. For example, I personally come home from work in the evening and often put in a couple of hours of mathematics research on one side or the other of dinner, or over the weekend; this is something I would still be able to do if my work didn't also involve mathematics research. Of course, my research would be slower and more difficult if my job were unrelated. (continued below) – JBL Mar 7 '11 at 14:37
Meanwhile, if my girlfriend (an immunologist) wishes to get work done in the evening or on the weekends, she stays late at lab or goes into lab for Sunday afternoon to work with mice that are kept under strictly-maintained conditions by a paid full-time staff member; with antibodies that cost several hunded dollars for fractions of a milliliter; and on specialized equipment (freezers, microscopes, centrifuges, etc.) whose total cost exceeds a million dollars. – JBL Mar 7 '11 at 14:37

"When should a supervisor be a co-author?" One situation is when the paper wouldn't get published otherwise. For example, yesterday (literally) I submitted for publication a paper that I coauthored a paper with my Ph.D. student, which we contributed to equally. I asked him a few months ago if he was going to publish this section of his thesis, and he said he wasn't since he was too busy with his current job as a software engineer at Google (he left academia). I then suggested that we coauthor the paper, and I would do all the (substantial) work of getting it into shape for publication.

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Thank you for doing this! It's so frustrating when students obtain good results but don't write them up. – Thierry Zell Mar 8 '11 at 21:48

My suggested rule is:

1) A supervisor should be a co-author in a paper taken from a student's thesis if she has contributed substantially to the research

2) A supervisor should not be a co-author in a paper taken from a student's thesis if she has not contributed substantially to the research

There are different styles of supervisions among different people. (And also for the same supervisor in case of different students.) A style where the supervisor and the student conduct joint research is certainly legitimate and it has various advantages. In such a case it is more likely that there will be a joint paper written. (But also in such cases, if the supervisor's contribution to the actual research is not substantial then the supervisor should not be a coauthor.)

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@André Henriques: Gil probably expressed it better than I did, but there is still the matter of defining "substantially". – Bill Johnson Mar 5 '11 at 20:45
Dear Bill, If I knew how to define "substantially" I would deserve to be a coauthor as well! – Gil Kalai Mar 5 '11 at 21:10
@Gil: Interesting, in a non-mathematical way, is the fact you treat the supervisor as a female... :-) – Asaf Karagila Mar 5 '11 at 21:39
Well, it is a bit ackward to write he/she, or she/he, or he (or she), or she (or he), so I think both he and she can represent all genders. – Gil Kalai Mar 7 '11 at 8:30
The "substantially" takes on additional complexities when you're an adviser. As I noted in another answer, the work that falls under the "educational" role of the adviser should not be considered a substantial contribution, but where does one draw the line? – Thierry Zell Mar 8 '11 at 22:00

As a non-mathematician, I am somewhat mystified by the prevailing norms of the mathematics community as I understand them from this thread. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like:

  • Supervisors make important intellectual contributions to the thesis work of their students.

  • Typically, the name of the supervisor does not appear on the work.

For example, the most upvoted comment at the moment says "as a rule the supervisor should not be a co-author in the main paper taken from a student's thesis, even if he has contributed substantially to it." (emphasis is mine) Other comments echo the sentiment.

This seems problematic, both morally and practically. In other scientific communities, the author list is supposed to reflect the people who contributed intellectually to the paper. Manipulating it is an ethical offense. For example, the practices described in this thread appear to violate IEEE policies on authorship which state (Section 8.2.1)

Authorship and co-authorship should be based on a substantial intellectual contribution ... the list of authors on an article serves multiple purposes; it indicates who is responsible for the work and to whom questions regarding the work should be addressed.

Finally, I would just like to add that as a student, I would feel horrible submitting a paper authored only by me if the paper was based in large part on the insights of someone else.

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-1: The ethical implications of authorship depend heavily on community standards. Our obligations are to communicate ethically--and how we communicate depends on to whom we speak. So what might be unethical in zoology might be perfectly acceptable in mathematics. – Daniel Litt Mar 4 '11 at 19:47
Bill Johnson's answer to some extent address the issues you raise. (Also his answer strikes me as less extreme than Angelo's, which you quote.) Here's another situation to think about: if Prof. A writes a paper which makes a conjecture and proves partial results, and then I write a paper which builds on A's techniques to finally prove the conjecture, few people would suggest that I offer A to be a coauthor. This is not such a different situation from a rather independent grad student, whose advisor suggests the problem and provides some key insights. – Mark Meckes Mar 4 '11 at 19:51
I think it is standard that when a student publishes a paper based on their thesis, that they will say early in the introduction that the paper is based on their thesis, and state the name of their supervisor. This does mean that the information is clearly visible, although presented differently from the way that is usual in other fields. – Neil Strickland Mar 4 '11 at 19:52
@angela: Another practice in mathematics that you might find unfamiliar is that of always listing authors alphabetically. There is no notion of "first author" in mathematics. – André Henriques Mar 4 '11 at 19:53
@angela: Mathematics has a long and glorious tradition of misattributions and rediscoveries, and one must get used to it. Who would guess, for instance that the Picard–Lindelöf theorem and the Cauchy–Lipschitz theorem are one and the same? (A theorem, which, funnily enough, will never be referred to as, say, Picard-Lipschitz, or by all four names). So when you write: If I want to justly attribute the proof of conjecture X, mathematicians tend to shrug and know that the story is more complicated. – Thierry Zell Mar 4 '11 at 20:58

I actually wouldn't worry too much about coauthorship affecting a student's chances at a postdoc. For that, the advisor should just write in their letter that it's really all the student's work; I would say people don't tend to pay a lot of attention to whether graduating students even have publications, unless there are many of them or they are in very good journals. What matters is what the letters say about the person's research.

Where I have seen this hurt job candidates severely is if they are still coauthoring all their papers with their advisor a couple of years after they graduate and are applying for tenure-track positions. I think people see that and they wonder if the candidate is ever going to be independent.

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The second paragraph is absolutely correct. About the first, maybe you are right, but my experience is that people always remember the name of the senior and better established author; so if you publish with your advisor you may have an easier time getting your paper accepted, but might not get full credit for it. – Angelo Mar 4 '11 at 19:39
On the other hand, if you publish a paper with a senior author, people are more likely to look at it when it comes out than if you publish it by yourself. – Peter Shor Mar 4 '11 at 23:32
Yes, it's great to publish with a famous coauthor. "Just" don't have it be your advisor. – Allen Knutson Mar 6 '11 at 20:34
Well, it's fine to coauthor some papers with your famous advisor (if you happen to have one); just have some solo papers (and maybe some with a famous person who isn't your advisor for good measure). – Ben Webster Mar 7 '11 at 19:46
"I would say people don't tend to pay a lot of attention to whether graduating students even have publications, unless there are many of them or they are in very good journals." I think this used to be quite true not so terribly long ago: e.g. when I got my PhD in 2003. In the current job market I think it is much less true: people pay attention to everything now. In particular having a publication coauthored with one's advisor and then having a rec letter from the advisor say "It was all student X" is a bit of a mixed message. Mixed messages are not competitive in the current market! – Pete L. Clark Jul 16 '13 at 7:33

I fail to see the difference between a supervisor and anyone else. To decide whether a supervisor should be a co-author, you should apply the same rules you would have applied in any other case.

I generally prefer to be inclusive and if someone was involved in the project, then I think they should be offered to be co-author (unless it is obvious that their contribution is very minor). It is up to them to decide whether to accept or reject the offer. If you do not like their answer, next time do not talk to them about your work.

Also we are moving to a world where academic work in measured and rewarded very precisely by criteria which are very narrow. For example, in the UK the REF, which measure the performance of departments, in the individual level looks mainly on the quality of papers. So there is little incentive to individuals to supervise students (department as a whole do have some incentive). Now, in most cases supervisors put a lot of work into the supervision. So morally and to encourage people to keep supervising students I see no justification not to give supervisors credit when they deserve it.

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You fail to see the difference between the supervisor and anyone else??? – André Henriques Mar 5 '11 at 14:28
Dear Yiftach, there are various differences. One of the differences is that there is no symmetry between the supervisor and the student. In my opinion, if the supervisor was involved and the supervisor's contribution was not substantial then he or she should refrain from being a coauthor. You can have more relaxed policies when it comes to academics who are roughly of the same stature and can have equal involvment in setting uo the rules of engagement and coauthership between them. – Gil Kalai Mar 5 '11 at 14:31
Andre, in terms of being given credit for contributation, I see no difference. – Yiftach Barnea Mar 5 '11 at 14:34
"If you do not like their answer, next time do not talk to them about your work." This, for example, is not really an option in a supervisor/supervisee relation. (Just to demonstrate the difference.) – Gil Kalai Mar 5 '11 at 14:38
Yiftach, yes, in my opinion supervisors should be more careful not to be coauthors in a paper representing a student's thesis when they did not make significant contribution to the research compared to other situations of collaboration. – Gil Kalai Mar 5 '11 at 16:10

I guess my viewpoint is rather parochial, but when I saw the question, I wondered where OP got such ideas of politeness. Reading the previous answers, though, I realized that different practices may be current, depending on the national culture, or even the culture of the university in question. Speaking strictly for myself, I would have considered it quite improper to have my name on a student's thesis, in effect robbing the student of the credit that was deserved.

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One anecdote ... Serving on a university-wide committee, I found that in one field (I think zoology?) the norm is having the advisor as co-author; and when the advisor does not appear as co-author it is taken as a sign that the advisor has a low opinion of the thesis.

During my career, there are only two Ph.D. theses that were published with me as co-author.

One case (Yuri Dimitrov): After the degree was completed, the thesis had to be abridged for publication. Dr Dimitrov would come to my office once or twice a week and show me his progress (much as he had done before the degree was completed). In the end he suggested joint authorship for the paper. Subsequently, we wrote another joint paper extending the work.

Another case (Jeff Golds): This guy, upon completion of his degree, was raring to begin his career in the software industry. It was clear he would never publish the work, but I thought it deserved publication. So I wrote it up for publication, and it appeared as a joint paper.

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It really depends: I had two doctoral advisors, I wrote papers under the direction of both (separately): my first supervisor did not have her name on the paper; one of the papers I worked on with my second supervisor is joint, another has just my name (and yet a third has both our names plus a co-author).

The details are boring and not very enlightening, so I won't go into them, but the important thing in that in every case, there was a different, rational and very good reason why the supervisor name did or did not appear. It had to do with the cultural differences between France and the US, publication medium, and how the work was conducted.

In that respect, the etiquette question is similar as what happens when a colleague chats with you about your current research, or even better when they provide a crucial lemma or idea for your research. You should definitely acknowledge, but when do you offer co-author credit? In that case also, hierarchical considerations can easily come to the fore (if a person is clearly higher then the other in the pecking order, they can easily pass for a bully if they're not careful).

Even the area of math you work with is relevant (I've heard stories of people solving a problem in a group and the paper being published under a single name simply because the culture in that specific field does not give rise to many joint papers).

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Another hierarchical consideration could be coattails. – Spice the Bird Oct 10 '12 at 4:21

well, that depends :)

For my own students I usually do not insist on being a coauthor. However, in most cases it just happens that one works together on a project which, by accident, is the thesis of one of the persons. In my experience, I had students who worked very much on their own and then they published their stuff alone. Perfectly fair to me. On the other hand, I had students which did not just ask some questions but we really worked together as I would do it with a collegue. So in this case, there was no question that we all are on the paper, sometimes even with a third person. In these cases, the student gets already some flavour of (partially international) collaborations which I believe to be worthy.

For a diploma student (that is a sort of master thing in Germany...) I'm happy if there is a good enough outcome leading to a little paper. Usually, these students are quite happy if they don't have to do it all by themselves.

For PhD students, I have the "rule" that there is a big global project for the thesis which is worked on, essentially in a collaboration. But I strongly encourage the students to tell me that there is some aspect, where s/he wants to work more alone and publish also alone. In fact, for a student aiming at a very good mark in the thesis, I almost expect that s/he has a paper published alone before the thesis is finished.

So, as I said, it depends very much on the situation. I think both ways have advantages and disadvantages. Important to me is that all involved persons feel good about the policy and that things are said in the beginning. Supervising students is always a matter of trust, and this aspect is certainly one of the most delicate ones...

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In my situation (in Iran), it is obligatory for a PhD student to publish one or two papers to graduate. Thus, I have a personal and strict rule: I won't be a co-author since I'm getting paid to help my PhD student to graduate. For that reason, I am not looking for any other excuses and/or reasonss (e.g. weakness of student, my substantial work, and so on) to be a co-author. To put it simply, that is my job to help! Obviously, I try to do my job well!

I'd like to ask a related question that I think as a separate MO question has a great chance to get closed: Do you know any other country (or institution) with such obligation for PhD students?

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I do not think it is a good idea to use the answer to ask a separate question, but it is true it might get closed (it is however not certain), since it asks for facts. A still better question could be to generalize it to requirements for graduation regarding publications (formal and informal ones) as opposed to a direct comparison. Moreover, there is also a site specifically dedicated to such questions It is not just for mathematics, but there are quite a few mathematicians there; also people from related fields (eg, theoretical CS). – user9072 Apr 19 '13 at 17:03
Sorry. It might be obvious, but still: the parenthesis in my above comment is of course misplaced. What I meant to say is that since the question would just asks for facts one main objection, it being subjective or likely to cause dicussion, would not apply; so that it is not certain it will be closed. (In particular if you phrase it in a neutral way.) Still the risk is high, and in my opinion the site I mention would be a much betetr fit. – user9072 Apr 19 '13 at 17:15
quid/ Thanks for your advice. I'll try the site you mentioned – Amir Asghari Apr 19 '13 at 20:24
"To put it simply, that is my job to help!" This expresses in a nutshell my feeling. – Denis Serre Dec 26 '14 at 21:41
@AmirAsghari Dear Amir what is a good and reasonable alternative for such obligation(obligation of publishing paper for PHD students). – Ali Taghavi Jun 15 at 6:27

The meaning of your question depends very much on who YOU are: a student or a supervisor:-) My guess is that you are a student.

In which case, my advise would be: just do what your supervisor suggests. Just trust him/her.

Various supervisors have various policies. Some never co-author papers with their students, even in the case when the supervisor did all work. Others sometimes do, sometimes not. But my advise is: just do what your supervisor tells you.

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First of all, this question must be decided by the adviser, not by the student. The student must accept any decision if his/her adviser.

Most advisers that I know (mathematicians) will not co-author a paper with a student, if the contribution of a student is substantial. But this depends on a person of course, in particular on the adviser's own experience when s/he was a student.

For example, the first paper of Ahlfors was not written by himself (though the main idea was his). As a result, Ahlfors established a rule to never co-author his PhD student paper. (He mentions this is his comments to his first paper in his Collected papers).

Myself, I try to follow this rule, but exceptions are possible.

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Do I understand correctly that you’re talking only about coauthoring a paper involving the student’s thesis research? – Lubin Dec 27 '14 at 3:17

Both the ethical and practical sides of the question rely on conventions, and that is the first thing to be aware of. The tricky point is that not all people involved have the same conventions: for example, mixing other answers and comments, an Iranian student and PhD advisor submitting to a French mathematical journal, whose article is read by Gil Kalai will have the authorship question interpreted in three different ways.

I do not have a good way of solving this (except math could start following the path of some journals in other fields, and have a description of each author's contribution mentioned in the paper), and my answer below will be an account of the situation around me. However, as far as hiring is concerned (be it postdoc or tenured or tenure track), it is tremendously important for everyone that an advisor who co-authored with his or her student writes a precise, honest letter stating what are the student's contributions and his or her contributions. I have witnessed recently that the lack of such letter can leave hiring committees in too much doubt to actually consider the applicant strongly. I should add that this advice also applies to famous co-authors who publish with younger colleagues.

In France, in pure mathematics, the convention is exactly as another answer (which is currently the highest-voted one) states: the advisor is supposed not to co-author the main papers of a PhD thesis, except when he had to contribute more than what is expected (which leaves some room for interpretation, but usually suggesting the question, a rough possible angle of attack and relevant literature and having weekly mathematical discussions where the advisor listens and guides not too closely is part of what is expected).

In term of rewards, the PhD student is rewarded by authorship and the advisor by mentioning a advised a (publishing) student in his or her CV (which is sometimes a very important line of CV to have, an unfortunate state of affairs in my opinion, but that is another matter).

One of the points which might explain this convention is that in France it is not exceptionally rare to hire young colleague for a tenured position the year after PhD defense (I can see at least 5 of theses cases this last round of hiring, among 25 new positions attributed). We thus need to have a good confidence in the independence acquired during the PhD, and the co-authorship convention above contributes to that purpose.

To answer Gil Kalai's objection that this convention have unintended consequences, I would say it is true whenever conventions varies or are not uniformly understood. If one wants more precise and reliable information, recommendation letters and talks about the work should give some.

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Often "suggested the problem, and gave a few helpful comments" can be enough to merit a co-authorship. The student should probably ask his or herself: could I have written this paper without my supervisor's input?

When the student writes on a problem they have suggested to themselves, then the issue is more thorny. I think the standard etiquette is that the supervisor should be offered the option to be named as co-author (and as you rightly mentioned, it may increase the chances of publication, not least because the senior person knows the system better).

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In my opinion the standard etiquette is that the student asks the advisor if he wants to be a co-author, and the advisor declines. – Angelo Mar 4 '11 at 11:14
"Could I have written this paper without my supervisor's input?" If the answer to this question is yes for every paper a student writes coming directly out of her thesis work, then I would say that their supervisor has not in fact been of much help. This can happen -- and it can be a reasonable strategy for especially strong, independent students -- but on average I think it is the supervisor's job to provide somewhat more help than this. Conversely I think that the community looks at the student's "thesis paper" at least partially through the lens of the supervisor's expertise. – Pete L. Clark Mar 5 '11 at 4:06
If you were a journalist at a reputable publication and I complained to your editor, I think the editor would take my side. Subsequently a retraction of the quote would be printed in small print in a hard-to-find corner. More seriously, my point is that "input" doesn't necessarily take the form of the kind of "contribution" which merits coauthorship. – Mark Meckes Mar 5 '11 at 15:03
Mark Meckes, I know an advisor who knew a solution before he gave the problem to a PhD student. And he was just behaving as you quote: "Now that you've proved A, maybe you should try next to prove B," or "If you're stuck there, I think there's a paper by C that might be helpful for you to read." Only experience can judge the true value of the advice, and not the style of words. These words may hide the control behind the scene hiding the steps advisor already made in detail, can be a vague educated guess, or even misleading. The amount of talk is not the measure of the value of the advice. – Zoran Skoda Mar 5 '11 at 18:38
@Zoran Skoda: If an advisor really KNOWS how to prove a theorem, he should NOT suggest it as a problem to his advisee. IMO, that is unethical and against the interests of the profession. – Bill Johnson Mar 5 '11 at 20:56

I think that we should apply the same common sense rules as for any other collaboration (essential contribution - yes; inessential - no).

However, the question is whether a supervisor should contribute substantially to a thesis. I think that normally they should not. Again, there is a bit of a grey area here.

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I think things may have changed a bit over my career. When I was young, I felt and I think a few others did too, that it was part of a supervisor's job to guide the research of their students, and naturally this would involve suggesting ideas and directions- at the same time, it being necessary to give the student freedom to develop independently and pursue ideas to conclusion. It was generally my view ( and still is) that the supervisor would not expect credit in the form of co-authorship of papers. Nowadays, I think many supervisors consider the normal expectation to be coauthors. – Geoff Robinson Jun 16 at 15:09
Geoff, I think a few things changed: Firstly in the UK there is a strict time limit on the length of a PhD, so supervisors might have to be more involved to accelerate the natural process. Secondly, there is more pressure on supervisors to publish (REF etc.). Finally, joint publications are just much more common and there is a lot less expectation that anyone will work on their own. – Yiftach Barnea Jun 16 at 17:21
@YiftachBarnea : Yes, I have observed all those phenomena, and I understand the reasons to some extent. – Geoff Robinson Jun 24 at 20:52

When he can honestly claimed that he's substantially contributed in the research undertaking; not merely in the conceptualization, and design but in sharing worthwhile literature, and intelligent suggestions in the analyses of data. In the case of a "serious" supervisor or adviser, I think he would not allow himself to be deprived of such credit. For a beginning thesis-writer, he would really need someone who can assist and provide him proper guidance, and assurance that his work within the University or institutional standards.

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In my opinion, from the purely ethical point of view, within the framework of mathematical research, the authorship is of a secondary importance. The issue of the position of the potential authors, e.g. a student versus a supervisor, is, in my opinion, irrelevant. What counts is only that the contributions of everybody, including the potential authors, as well as bystanders (writing/authorship wise), are adequately presented.

If needed, I can say in more detail what I mean by adequate.

REMARK There is, of course, the other question under what circumstances a student, i.e. the student's contribution, should be awarded their degree.

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