Last summer, I had a temporary job which lasted 3 months (not more, not less) as a research engineer.

It was decided that if my work gave promising results, my superior would write an article about it (To be published in research papers). Actually, it would have been nice for me to write the article if I had the time. This was an oral agreement between us: writing an article was not in my goals.

The contract goal was to develop a piece of software, and I did, but I didn't have the time to write the article.


Months after I left the company, my superior contacted me by email and told me to write the article, because there was a big conference coming up and that my work was worthy of publication (hence the demand ages after the end of my mission).
I say he "told me", because he was not asking, he was saying that I needed to write the article and give it to him. I was very upset because he never believed in me by the time I was in the company and repeatedly insinuated that I had no talent. My mission was over, I had no obligation to write this article. If he'd been nice with me, I'd surely have written it, but since he was very unpleasant to me, I had no will to do what he wanted me to.


How could I have tactfully let him know that I didn't have to write this article, since my mission was over and that it was not a goal of mine in the first place? He's been awkward with me the whole time but I'd have liked to tell him in a polite way.

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    Would you be willing to write the paper if you were compensated for your time? Or are you absolutely not willing to do it? Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 1:06
  • Have you considered the option that he could write the article and steal your work(take the credits) if you won't do it?
    – lukuss
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 13:52
  • 1
    @lukuss He actually already asked colleagues of mine to write papers about their work, which they did. He then submitted them with himself as the first author. So he'd have stolen the work anyway.
    – avazula
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 12:33

7 Answers 7


As you have already indicated, you do not owe your former employer anything outside of any official contract you have signed. If you look at it from the other perspective, you could certainly not expect your employer to pay you for work that you did not do. In order to politely indicate that you are no longer available to perform tasks for him, you could say something like:


I appreciate you reaching out! I would like to say that I greatly value the time I spent with Company X and the experience I have gained there. Unfortunately, I have moved on to other opportunities and at present I do not have the available time to complete external tasks. I wish you and everyone at Company X the best!



Something like this clearly and succinctly communicates that you have no hard feelings towards your old supervisor or company, but also that you are no longer available to complete any projects he may have for you. Also, labeling these tasks as "external" separates them from you and makes it clear that you have no responsibility towards the completion of those tasks.

I am sorry you experienced this unprofessional behavior, I hope you are able to resolve this in a way that preserves everyone's feelings on both sides.

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    @doritostyle There was never an oral agreement for the OP to complete the report if I am understanding the OP’s post correctly. In the contract the supervisor was supposed to complete it, and he is now trying to coerce OP into doing it for him (for free)
    – Link0352
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 23:02
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    @DoritoStyle There is a cultural context BTW. From my own experience in French workplaces, oral agreements don't worth much. An agreement is written or does not really exist.
    – Berthim
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 10:19
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    @DoritoStyle there was an oral agreement, but that agreement did not mandate the OP writing the article, as was explicitly stated.
    – barbecue
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:24
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    +1 but lose the punctuation please. You're not a schoolgirl writing to her girlfriend, you're a professional responding to a professional request.
    – rath
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 12:08
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    @rath "professional" does not always have to be formal and cold... also that "request" was not very professional.
    – Link0352
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 12:52

Give him a quote (as in, a cost estimate), based on how many hours you'll need to write it.

I'm not kidding. Writing the article wasn't on your job contract. So he's hiring you as a subcontractor to do some work (ie, write an article for him). Well, in his mind the words "hiring" may not sound exactly like that, more like "exploit" since he wants you to do it for free... but you get the idea.

Sending him a quote means you'd do the job, no problem, it doesnt sound like "I won't do it because I don't like you" or anything of the sort. On the contrary you'd be happy to help... while at the same time delightfully rubbing his face into the fact he wanted to pressure you into doing it for free...

Of course this answer is applicable only if you're willing to follow through if your quote is accepted, in other words treat it like a normal job. As for the amount to quote, as Arcanist Lupus mentions in the comments, "make sure to quote a cost that's high enough that if he accepts your offer you don't mind doing the work. Your price should be a fair one for you not for him."

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    And if he says yes you'll have to explain to your employer that you're doing contract work which maybe you may not. And you'll have to pay taxes and ... This sounds funny, but it's a nightmare to go through the administrative trouble just for a laugh.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 7:18
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    Rather than quoting in the initial response, I'd suggest a meeting to discuss the scope, requirements, and then spend some time making a quote. "Do you have time to meet so we can discuss the scope and requirements of this project so I can provide a quote for it?"
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 14:40
  • Never having been academic or published (except for the letters page in a motorcycle magazine) I don't know if this is appropriate - but could be OP write the article in their own time and publish completely independently of the supervisor and original company..? Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 14:43

No one else has answered the true question yet.

How could I have tactfully let him know that I didn't have to write this article

The other answers are suggesting ways you can avoid doing it - or do it and invoice him - which is not the same as what you're asking. You asked how you can tell him that this is not your responsibility (which it isn't).

I see no reason to skirt around the facts here. This is a company you no longer work for. You are under no legal obligation to complete any more work for them. You were provided a salary in exchange for your time and you are no longer receiving that salary so they are no longer receiving your time. It's as simple as that.

Stating the facts does not preclude being tactful.

Hi X

As you're aware, my contract at MyCorp terminated in September so I'm not available to complete any more outstanding tasks.

Best of luck at the conference.


If he replies to this then I would just ignore him.

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    I understand your point of view. However, I think that your answer could seem a bit arrogant by the "as you're aware". But it's nice to have different ways to approach the matter.
    – avazula
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 10:25
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    @avazula Perhaps, but I can't think of a way to say "I don't work for you anymore" any more gently than that. At the end of the day, you're telling them 'no' in no uncertain terms so however you say it they'll still be somewhat dissatisfied. As long as you're polite and professional I don't think the specific phrasing really matters.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 11:14
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    This does not sound tactful at all. Condescending and borderline passive-agressive, maybe. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:57
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    @MadPhysicist The definition of 'passive aggressive' is "indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation". This is the exact opposite.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:59
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    @MadPhysicist Passive aggressive would be "Hmm, I didn't think I still worked for you, so I went and checked, and yep, my contract ended in September." Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 17:36

The gall of some people! Not only does your ex-supervisor express discontent with your results during your internship, now that it is useful to him he demands you to write an article for free for which he will take all credit. Or so it appears. I can think of all kinds of expletives to say to this person, but you want a tactful and polite response, so here goes:

From my understanding of our verbal agreement at the time, you would author any article about my work. During my internship, I would have gladly contributed to such a paper if there had been sufficient time.

Repeat your understanding of the agreement but also point out that none of this is in writing. Now, in academia, it is quite customary that the author of an article is not the person that actually did the work. In fact, interns and collaborating students frequently aren't even mentioned. The oral agreement as you wrote in the question leaves that possibility open and there is no need to close it now.

In those months of my internship, it appeared to me that you were not impressed by my work.

What you sow, is what you reap. Contrary to popular belief negative feedback does not make people work harder.

Since then I have moved on to more rewarding endeavors that demand my full attention, so I am sorry to say that I cannot comply with your request.

Which basically means 'no' but leaves a tiny little opening for your ex-supervisor to make you an offer you cannot refuse if he wants your contribution badly enough.


In short: someone is making an unreasonable demand, but you want a less harsh response than "That's unreasonable". Deliberate misunderstanding is one way out. Interpret the unreasonable demand as a reasonable one and respond to that in a way which makes it clear what your interpretation was.

Here the unreasonable demand is for you to write the paper in your own time and for free. But unless the other party has been so unreasonable as to explicitly say that, you can interpret the request to write the paper in a more reasonable context. So you reply along the lines of

I'm glad that you consider the work worthy of publication, but I'm not currently available for a second internship at your lab.

Add sweeteners, fluff about reviewing the paper he writes in your capacity as co-author, etc. according to personal preference.

If he replies to that by angrily saying that he wasn't offering a second internship, you can reply that you were responding to what seemed to be the only reasonable interpretation of the request (not explicitly saying that the actual request was unreasonable, but the implication should be obvious), and that a fortiori you're not available for free work either. If he keeps replying after that, you've done all you can and there's nothing to be gained by continuing to answer.

  • The discussion should not be about a second internship, but a full blown contract at that point. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 15:58
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    @MadPhysicist, irrelevant, because there's no intention to discuss either. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 16:39

The fact that your ex-boss is chasing you up for this after he was so negative about your work and after you left the company suggests that its publication would be more to his benefit than yours. You likely considered this already, but I would probably have weighed up any possible benefit against the effort involved. If such an article could help your future career, it may be worth doing, even though you are not obligated. You know best on this.

Your question asks "How could I have tactfully let him know that I didn't have to write this article", but actually you would be better simply stating that you are no longer obligated to work for them rather than getting into whether or not you were obligated to (which you evidently were not if it was only discussed verbally and not in your written contract of employment).

My advised initial response to his request (which is somewhat similar to some other answers) would be:

Sorry but I am now in new employment and am not able to complete any further work for [former company].

I suggest naming the company rather than saying for you as it makes it less personal (you said there was friction between you), also you don't know who else in the company may see what you write.

As your question implies a potential debate about your obligation to do this, in the event that he responds again with this argument you could follow up with:

I am happy that I fulfilled all my obligations whilst under contract to [company name] and am pleased that you found my work worthy of publication. I do not believe that writing such an article was ever part of my contract of employment.


Not responding is all the tact needed here. Your old boss is no longer relevant and doesn't require anymore of your time.

There's a valuable life skill to be had here and that's the ability to separate out that which doesn't matter and move on. If nothing else, a no response is an answer in and of itself and communicates the appropriate gesture.


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