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Is second author on a research article worth anything?


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Hey everyone,

I recently switched labs after a year of working on my own project that is almost ready to publish. I was to be the first author of the paper and my undergraduate student would be the second. After I have switched, my previous PI decided that some experiments should be redone and that large aspects of the paper should be rewritten. She recently informed me that she would like to make the undergraduate the first author on the paper now since I am not able to do the experiments in the lab and put as much time into it. I understand this to some degree and agree that some experiments should be repeated. I am quite busy with my other work anyway but I'm wondering how much I'm losing by dropping down to second author. She has given me the opportunity to be co author if I do most of the writing and play a bigger role but I don't know what to do since I have an obligation to put most of my time into my current work. Is second author really that bad? It hurts my pride a little bit since I came up with the idea for the project, designed the experiments, ran them, and wrote the paper myself with little assistance from the undergraduate to have them be first author and me second. But maybe its not that big of a deal, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Thanks in advance!

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I haven't been hired yet post-dissertation, but I list all of my authorships on my CV. I've known a couple of professors--advisor included--who graciously set up (and ended up writing) the majority of a paper we worked on together, but gave me first or second author. This as well as your experience suggest that seniority doesn't necessarily mean being first author: it may mean setting others up to be. But both of my professors are established in their careers, so they don't need first author on a review or couple of papers like you might. I have also written 50% of a paper but put someone else's name first; not of the person who did a comparable level of work that I did. Authorship, like a lot of aspects of publishing (I'm looking at you, peer review!), is not always as objective as we might expect at first...there are overriding reasons for the exceptions. Also, second (or fourth; ...) author on today's project could open the door to first author on tomorrow's. Moving up like that does happen.

Edited by Suraj_S
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