Advice needed re paper authorship


I've been working on my PhD for about 16 months now, and have just finished some experiments which are ready to be written up into a paper.  These experiments aren't directly part of my PhD, but were done after a postdoc, who had been doing them, left about 15 months ago, just after I started my PhD.  However, my sup says that they'd be useable for my thesis in the event that my main work doesn't yield as much as we hope.

So in the past 16 months, I've spent the majority (around 70%) of my time doing this "side project" rather than my main PhD stuff.  I reckon that I've done around 55-60% of the work that will be included in the paper, as well as all the data analysis (graphs, stats etc).  I communicate regularly with the postdoc (she's not in the UK now) and have asked several times about authorship of the paper.  My position was that I was happy for her to be the first named author on the paper, but I wanted it to be marked as "equal contribution" so that I can use it more easily for my thesis, and also because I feel that the amount of work I've done has justified it.  These questions were always unanswered.

However, now that I've finished the experiments, and done most of the analyses, the postdoc says that she's not happy for me to be marked as an equal contributor, and that she doesn't want me doing any of the writing for the paper either.  I've remarked that I need to write it up for my transfer thesis, in 6 weeks' time, because I've spent so long doing it that it's formed the major part of my year. I've arranged to go home for a week so that I can get away frm the lab and distractions, and write the paper there, but she's not having any of it, and won't even enter into discussions about what I can write.  Therefore, it looks like we're going to end up with two versions of the paper on the same results, and still with her wanting to demote me to second author.

On the positive side, my supervisor thinks that I'm well warranted in wanting equal authorship, but the postdoc claims that this will "dilute" her contribution and make it hard for her to get grants in the future.  It seems like she's been happy for me to do all this work over the part year and a quarter, ask for all the graphs to be done, suggest more things that I could do, but now I've done it, she doesn't want to let me get the credit for it that I feel I'm due.

So, I go home today, a bit confused as to what to do about the writing process, and more than a little angry at the situation.

Does anyone have any advice on what else I can do, or whether I should have done anything differently?

Thanks :)

Avatar for sneaks

I'm guessing the postdoc's surname would go after yours in the alphabet, meaning it would look like you were first author if given the 'equal contribution' tag.

Its a tricky situation, is there any way you could take all your analysis and write up a separate thing without her on it? or just an acknowledgment? GIven the threat of that, she may well back down and let you go on jointly.


No - for equal authorships, I think you can have either way round, but her surname is first alphabetically anyway, so it would be her name*, my name*, other authors (*these authors have contributed equally to the work). I've emphasised that it's ok for her name to be first, just that I want equal first authorship status. It would still be referred to as "postdoc et al", but the paper would make it clear that we contributed equally.

Avatar for sneaks

oh dear, how petty. so basically she's getting in a huff about a tiny footnote that says you did work on the project, that no other employer of hers or probably funding institution will ever care about!

Given that this is important for your PhD and you have your supervisors support I'd suggest bringing it up again with her. Is there any way you can produce your own paper and say something like 'building on the data provided by a study by....' or something?


Correct. A couple of postdocs I know and with whom I've discussed this have used a word equating to what comes out of a male cow's backside. As a result, she won't let me know about how I can contribute to the writing, and seeing as I need to get it written in some form anyway, there will be two forms. The paper itself has a lot of stuff in it, and some quite important and novel findings which other groups don't have the facilities to replicate, so if it's published intact, it'll be in a really good journal. I'd rather sort it out and have one great paper rather than accede to pettiness and get two mediocre papers. In fact, I'm not even entertaining the idea of the second one because all the work on it is finished and I'm trying to get on with my actual proper PhD work while this is happening.


You could of course be equally petty to her in return and say that you are not happy for her to write a sole author paper using the work that you did. She would be rightly 'twisted' then!

Avatar for sneaks

I like Ady's idea, although presumably it comes with the risk that she could pull her data (or what she's contributed) making your work un-usable (is that a word?).

I would identify the journal its going to and looking through their rules, they're bound to have a 'contribution of each author' rule - which you could spout back at her and say you feel its unfair that you're not equal contributers.


Hi Ady and Sneaks,

Yes, I suppose I could pull my work, which would leave her with not enough to do anything with (n number too small), but then this is a bit like cutting off my nose to spite my face and, if the truth is told, I would slightly prefer to be second author than no author at all, even though both of these options would leave me rather cheesed off. The journal does indeed welcome "equal contribution" footnotes, but she still claims that this would dilute her contribution, which as far as I'm concerned is total nonsense. Even if it reduced the impact it has for her by about 10%, being a second author would have considerably more impact for me.

Perhaps I'm being cynical, but now I've completed the experiments, it just feels like she's trying to screw me (she just asked for me to send all the graphs and stats I've been doing, so that she can write the results section), and that I'm almost being treated like her personal technician.

Avatar for sneaks

hmmm, maybe she needs a bargaining chip (which doesn't necessarily have to happen later on) i.e. you let me be an equal contributor and I'll add your name to my PhD publications.

And when it comes to PhD publications maybe more "oh, well my postdoc sup is so mean, he won't let me add anyone elses names to the publications, even though they're from my PhD! so sorry, I'll add you in the acknowledgements though"


I wasn't really suggesting that you pull your work from her; just really taking her [petty] argument to its logical conclusion. It's certainly a cheek particularly as you say your work on it started after she left your uni. It's a tough one for you 'coz as you say you do want to have the paper written with you as a co-author. I don't know - does her then supvervisor still work where you are? Could you tactfully ask his/her advice?


Thanks for all the useful tips so far :)

In response to the points above - I wouldn't add her to my PhD publications as they're not in the same field really, certainly no real overlap, and for my PhD stuff, I'm already collaborating with two other groups, so they probably wouldn't be too pleased with another name on it.

Ady - my sup (who was also her sup) agrees with me. In fact, I got the impression that she felt that my work warranted "equal authorship" with MY name first, but we agreed that this might be pushing it a bit. My sup's name will also be on the paper, so if she agrees with me, then it's something in my favour. It's just that the postdoc's behaviour regarding getting it written up is doing me no favours whatsoever.


Hi 4matt,

difficult situation.

Could you specify what the contribution of each of the authors has been? I had a paper published in which four authors had been involved. At the end of the paper, in the "Contributions section", it was indicated who had done what. For example A and B wrote the protocol, A did the field work, A, B and C the analysis etc.

That would make it clear for your PhD what exactly you have done, and for your "somewhat difficult fellow author" what exactly her contribution has been.