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order of authors and a little advice


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Hi everyone,

So, my question is embarrassingly novice, as I just started grad school and don't have any publications under my belt. My first question is about order of authorship. I understand that, depending on your field (mine is international health), the order you want your name will depend on what phase in your career you are. I know noobs like me want first or second...but why would more advanced folks, maybe tenured, want last author? It it to show they are advising student? Is it actually helpful in their career, or is it more that they want to see their students succeed? Any help understanding how this works is appreciated (i know it varies by field).

The other thing...I was offered to be second author by my advisor on some articles that I was not involved with writing, but he wanted to know if I would like to be involved. This seems too easy to me - what is expected? I'm not really sure how to navigate this situation. The problem is not that I don't want to be on publications (of course I do, that's the point) - I just feel odd contributing so little. Should I suggest to be last author? What is the etiquette here?

Thanks, sorry for all the uncertainties!

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Yes, typically the supervisor is given the last author spot on the paper (at least in my field). They typically will do all the editing and whatnot before you submit. If they're tenured, they are still obviously doing important research but their main goal is probably to show how well their group is doing, as indicated by the number of papers they have last authorship on.

Sometimes authorship can even come from just collaborating on a project. I did a research project with an outside institution, and they wanted a couple people listed as authors even though only one person did most of the experimental work. I would jump on the chance to be second author if I were you, but obviously do so ethically. You don't have to have huge involvement but you should know the papers well and be able to contribute to the editing process.

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The last author is usually considered the corresponding author and is responsible for providing guidance during research and editing of the written document. Last author is usually the PI. So last author is a pretty 'prestigious' spot. More so than first author at times.

As far as the second author offer, my first piece of advice is --- TAKE IT! :) Secondly, ask what will your contribution be. It may be a contribution that you've already given to the research effort. Coauthors are also responsible for reading the document and proving comments once the paper is written. The role of a second author is not always set in stone. Effort and writing responsibilities will vary by project.

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