PhD-students’ views on honorary authorship – MSc-student internship

Last modified: May 25, 2017

by Azam Jahangier


From April to July 2015, I did an internship under the supervision of dr. Fenneke Blom and prof. dr. Lex M. Bouter about the topic honorary authorship from the perspective of PhD-students. Honorary authorship occurs if a scientist is enlisted as an author while not fulfilling the criteria of authorship. Eleven PhD-students from both biomedical and social sciences were interviewed about their opinions of and experiences with honorary authorship.


Authorship criteria

When asked about the minimal contribution of a co-author, some argued that the co-author  should actually write and think along the complete research process. Others mentioned that merely giving feedback to the PhD’s work is sufficient to be counted as a co-author. One of the ICMJE criteria of authorship is that the co-author should contribute substantially to the work. Some criticized this criterion for being too vague and subjective. While there was general agreement that the rules for authorship were clear, some argued that the rules for authorship should be more flexible.


Benefits and disadvantages of Honoray authorship

Benefits and disadvantages of honorary authorship from both the perspective of the first and the co-author were asked. Honorary authorship is useful for the PhD-student if the co-author has a high status, which leads to the article getting more exposure and the PhD-student possibly having better access to a relevant professional network. Yet, putting such a name on one’s article might lead to people thinking that the ideas and content were mainly a fruit of thought of the supervisor. For the honorary author the benefit is to invest little effort to get another publication, while there is the risk of putting one’s name on an article of which the content is of low-quality which in turn harms the reputation of the scientist.
Finally, some mentioned that this problem should be discussed on the level of the PhD-student and the supervisor, whilst others were more in favor of sorting out authorship and other issues on the aggregate level.

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