Hi to all.
I would like to ask some opinion of yours, because I am in a "don't-really-know phase in my postdoc".
In 2020, started to work on a grant proposal for a 2-year postdoc. After 2 months, I was told by my prospective mentor that the proposal was so good that it could become a 3-year project and give a grant to a Ph.D. student. I accepted, and even reduced my own salary by 20% to help that student, allowing my prospective supervisor to act as the principal investigator. Three days before submitting, without my consent, my prospective supervisor put his name as first-author of the proposal (in the version "Final 3" of the document).
Weirdly enough, the prospective supervisor did not change the name of the file. So, the name of the file is as follow:
Name A et al.pdf
While, within the text, it is reported:
Author: Name B | Co-author: Name A
All the above things are recorded, and there are also 4 letters attached to the proposal by external advisors that report my name first.
The pdf with his name was sent to my email in two occasions (showing the comments of an external reviewer, and sending the final submitted version to the whole board)
What do you think about it?
On one side, I believe that here there is a serious and quite clear breach of law. On the other, now I am working for this person (and, on top, this person is also boycotting my research - but I am fighting back -, and half of what is written in the original proposal has been completely abandoned).
I report here also the response from my current supervisor, that makes everything difficult, making it sound as if it was not an official document, while it is a 400.000 euros grant:
"I don't think you can cite the proposal in the same way you cite a publication as it is no published document. Where did you find the citation form "Name A et al." referring to the proposal?
As the proposal was submitted by me, I guess that I should be considered the first author of the application; the form "MitautorInnen" in the application includes the following statement: "Name A developed the thematic core of the project and basic aspects of its methodology; Name C added specific aspects of structural and performance-related analysis."
It is also fine for me, however, if you place your name first when citing the proposal, if you think, it actually makes a difference. As it is no published document anyway, I don't think, it will matter much in the end..."
Your supervisor is not wrong in that, unlike for scientific publications, there are no generally accepted fixed rules for authorship sequences on grant proposals. In many cases (depending on country and funding agency), only faculty members or similar may _officially_ serve as PI and sign grant proposals anyway, regardless of who prepared the text. I can understand your frustration about the uncoordinated edit, but look at the bright side: You have a funded post-doc in your area of interest, a Ph.D. student you may well get to co-advice, and get to claim co-authorship of a major grant in your C.V. If you play your cards right, you may be well on the way to a junior faculty position in a few years's time.
Hi Walter, thank you for trying to cheering me up. I believe that authorship and author order is a deal particularly in a grant proposal, and surely authorship is governing every type of documents. It is relevant because if I am able to demonstrate that I originated the idea, wrote the whole procedure and references, and basically being the first author with major responsibility, that is interesting to employers because it means you are able to get funding for your institution. The third co-author (the PhD student) joined just 2 weeks before, and wrote hardly 1 sentence: are we on the same level of contribution? She could easily say that she provided important contribution to that grant proposal, and people may actually doubt it, as they could doubt me in my current position.
However, I already communicated that I am resigning from my position. I believe that changing the order of the author just 3 days before submitting without discussing it with the author or even proper communication is unacceptable, even though it's a common practice among professors. The application did not demand the PI to be the author, so there was no real reason to demote me without letting me know.
To this, we should add of course that after inducing me in giving my project to him with the promise to let me work on the project, he changed the project. The "publish or perish" should not be our motto, and we should not continue accepting everything only to write publications.
In my view this shows the PI putting themselves first and having little regard for you. I have been treated badly by people like this in my first postdoc in the EU and regret not walking away sooner. It was also not a good sign when you had to accept a pay cut. From my own postdoc experience I see red flags here that I likely would not have noticed before.
It seems that sometimes postdocs feel like they have to put up with unfair treatment in the belief that this will help them to progress their careers, the reality being that eventually people in such situations end up quitting academia. Where I have been a PhD student and later postdoc (different places) I noticed selective mentoring of PhDs and postdocs. I got on fine with little mentoring but it seemed to me that academics were selecting who they would support in developing their academic careers and if you weren't one of those having this level of support it was best to move on.
Hi Cat123, thank you very much for your contribution. This P.I. and my previous supervisor are not related.
I agree with your words. This is why, at 34yo, I understood that it's not really healthy to keep struggling for a career in such an environment. In this case, the misconduct is not a hard barrier, as in the past 2 years I worked a lot on multiple projects and I will surely find a solution for my future so to live happily - which is the only important thing.
I contribute to this post by saying that what you mention is somehow excused by other professors as a standard practice in the academic field, in which it seems "normal" for senior researchers to get undeserved credits for the work of others: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/184286/is-it-appropriate-to-change-author-order-before-submitting-grant-proposal
I found this interesting article on reporting plagiarism in academia, where they suggest to contribute to the journal Ethics & Behavior, and I think that I will try to find the time to write one article on this, because it really sounds a standard practice which is fairly wrong for everybody.
Yeah, I'd agree. It's basically a reasonable thing that a group lead/supervisor/whatever PI's a grant on the basis they have the best (longest) track record, and therefore it benefits the success chance of the grant in highly competitive environment.
That said, there are people out there that unreasonably exploit this. However, I'd have take the salary-cut thing as the big indication this institution/group is on the wrong track, not the authorship thing. It is not unusual for postdocs and PhDs to do a lot of work for a PI for minimal academic credit, when the successful grant results in posts for them. It is highly unusual for a pay cut in whatever circumstances, as pretty much every university has a system where this isn't a thing.
On that basis, you're 100% right to get out asap, since they're either institutionally mismanaged or horrendously broke.
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