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How rare is it for an undergrad to get first author on a paper?


InquilineKea

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And what about a grad student? Or someone in between undergrad and grad school? I'm just wondering. It seems that a lot of professors do think that I do have the skills and experience to get first-author on a paper in a year or so.

Edited by InquilineKea
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And what about a grad student? Or someone in between undergrad and grad school? I'm just wondering. It seems that a lot of professors do think that I do have the skills and experience to get first-author on a paper in a year or so.

I would think it really depends on the field. In some fields it would be a bit more difficult for a student to acquire the requisite skills to do research primarily on their own.

However, in general I think its quite rare for an undergrad to have first author on a publication. The only situation I can think of where an undergrad would have first author is on their thesis, but I'm doubtful that many undergrad theses merit publication in a peer reviewed journal. Conference presentations are foreseeable though.

I do not think it is very rare for grad students to have first author on a publication (I am in my second year of my M.Sc. and have one, and another in press). It depends on the professor you are working under quite a bit. For example, there are some professors at my university who have a policy where if they are working with a student they always give the student first authorship. This is because it helps the student much more than it does the professor (since he/she already has tenure and isn't too worried about research output). Others are sharks and strive to get maximum credit in every project they have their hands in. I know of one professor who convinced first author of a paper to tack his name on the end just for giving an hour or two of advice with the statistics that needed to be run.

That being said there are Master's students who make it through their two years with not even a conference presentation on their resume (these individuals typically have no interest in pursuing a PhD though).

I think that if you're between undergrad and grad school you're in a great position if you have something in the works already and plan on publishing in a year. Definitely ahead of the game.

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I don't think it's common for undergrads to have first author papers, but I don't think it's all that uncommon either. I have a number of friends who had them.

And I think it's quite common for graduate students... We're expected to have several first author papers before we graduate, and really need a nice bunch to be competitive on the job market.

But then, in STEM fields (other than pure math) the usual convention is First Author is the grad student who did most of the work/wrote it up, and the Last Author is the PI who edited/led/funded the project.

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Oh okay I see. Thanks for all the replies!

I was just particularly surprised over all the hype that surrounded Amelia Fraser-McKelvie (http://www.scienceda...10524094515.htm) - the student who got in the news for the astrophysics related discovery[1]. Certainly, her work is quite interesting, and I'm sure that she's a very bright student with a bright future. But the paper itself isn't that groundbreaking or exceptional. A lot of other astrophysics undergrads could have done the same work (or so I believe), if they were in the right place at the right time

[1]"She has managed to get a refereed publication accepted by one of the highest ranking astronomy journals in the world as a result of her endeavours. I cannot underscore enough what a terrific achievement this is. We will use this research as a science driver for future telescopes that are being planned, such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, which is being built in outback Western Australian."

^But maybe it's not as common in astronomy because the sample size of astronomy undergrads is very low to begin with.

Edited by InquilineKea
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A lot of other astrophysics undergrads could have done the same work (or so I believe), if they were in the right place at the right time

Serendipity seems to be involved in a lot of the most prominent scientific discoveries. Fleming discovered penicillin inadvertently. Kary Mullis was on psychoactive drugs when he invented PCR. Mendeleev saw the periodic table in a dream (or so he says). Right place, right time?

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Another variable is the venue. For instance, there are more and more journals out there dedicated to advanced undergraduate writing; it wouldn't be rare to see an undergrad as a first author in such a venue, though it would be odd in a flagship journal.

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It seems to me like plenty of students from my undergrad school got a first author publication, mostly shortly after graduating, though, because it was based on their independent research in senior year. it's probably more common at undergraduate schools, where the students can do their own research rather than help out with a grad student's. I'm publishing my undergrad research, but not in a top ranked journal (to put it mildly)- it's just a good opportunity to learn about the peer review process, and make my research available to others, even if it's not exactly ground breaking.

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Kary Mullis was on psychoactive drugs when he invented PCR.

And after he won the Nobel, he retired to become a surfer dude. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the insanity that is Kary Mullis. :)

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It seems to me like plenty of students from my undergrad school got a first author publication, mostly shortly after graduating, though, because it was based on their independent research in senior year. it's probably more common at undergraduate schools, where the students can do their own research rather than help out with a grad student's. I'm publishing my undergrad research, but not in a top ranked journal (to put it mildly)- it's just a good opportunity to learn about the peer review process, and make my research available to others, even if it's not exactly ground breaking.

Oh yeah, that's true.

http://www.quora.com/Are-tenured-professors-more-likely-to-give-a-student-first-author-position-on-a-paper

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I know in many undergraduate departments, the senior research can lead to first author papers, but there are still a number of circumstances that can effect that. For example, in my undergrad department, several undergrads in my lab were continuing research done by previous undergraduates, so when the research was finished, they were given first author due to the fact that they wrote it up. At the other end of the spectrum, when I did my honors thesis as an undergrad, I started a brand new subject of research in my research group, and a year wasn' sufficient enough to acquire the data to warrant a publication. The previous poster who mentioned conference presentations is absolutely correct when saying that undergrads can present, and I would encourage all those who haven't done so to try during their senior year. It's a great chance to practice your public speaking skills to knowledgable people in your field, as well as possible graduate school/job networking.

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