A colleague at my university was told the other day that a paper had been written and she was to present it at a conference. Her name is listed as the first author. She had never seen the paper before and it contained precisely zero of any of her work. It was researched and written by the other two authors (one of which is her supervisor), neither of which want/can present the paper at the conference.
If this were me I think I'd tell them to b*gger off. She will have to learn the content of it, present it and answer questions on it knowing full well she had nothing to do with it. I'm sure there must be rules against doing this and if she were caught there could be repercussions. On the other hand, she gets a free publication so to speak for very little work.
I don't feel that I should really do anything (is it even any of my business really?) but I feel that she is being used and would like to advise her. What would you do A) in my position and B) in her position.
Although I don't agree with it, and I wouldn't feel comfortable doing such a presentation. Another way to look at it is you may think her supervisor is putting upon her but she'll get full credit for this and can put it on her CV.
It's only your business, should you decide to make it such...
Yeah, I kind of agree. The trouble is that I feel a little that I'm turning a blind eye to something that I know is wrong. Her supervisor is essentially asking her to "cheat" intellectually. I'm not at all comfortable with it, but as you say - she gets a benefit for doing little and she is my friend. I don't want to disadvantage her or get her in trouble.
I mean this in a nice way, with what you've said, you would be best keeping out of it as you don't know what can of worms you would be opening. There is a power imbalance between your friend and her supervisor and, very sadly, it does not go in your friends favour. She shouldn't have been put in this position but meeting in the middle and helping to solve the problem, could she not present this on behalf of the other authors (acknowledging it's their work but she presenting due to their absence) and she gets a share of the credit?
Well that's the thing, it's been submitted and accepted and she is the first author so she can't really say "oh actually I did none of this". Thing is, the first she heard of it was when she was told by her supervisor that he wanted her to present it, so he has submitted it in her name without telling her, gone through the correction process without telling her and then accepted the offer to present it without telling her.
If it was just being submitted I would advise her to drop down to say third author, but she can't really do that if it's been accepted I don't think.
OK, given what you've said, your friend is entirely innocent and the best thing you can do is let it go as to do otherwise may only harm your friend and she is an innocent in all this. Her back is against the wall through no fault of her own. I actually feel very sorry for her.
The one thing I'll add to this is she should have been asked rather than have been put upon. I'd be tempted to bow out of this one by saying I had other arrangements for that period I couldn't get out of (wedding, job interview, etc.). You could suggest this I suppose.
I witnessed a conference presentation some years ago where the girl had no idea about what she was presenting. When it came to the questions at the end, she repeatedly said "I don't know." I actually intervened and tried to help her out with some leading questions as I knew a little bit about her area. I actually made it worse as she didn't pick up I was trying to help. In the end, I just said "It doesn't matter" and shut my mouth.
She'll probably have plenty work of her own to do without her supervisor imposing this on her and it will probably be necessary for her to do some other background reading as well as trying to understand the paper. Yes, ask but to impose?
However, there's the proverbial can of worms as Delta says and it's probably better to back off and let her deal with this herself. The nature of academia is such that bad practices lie this will keep happening, as the tendency of academics not to interfere and close ranks means there is no accountability when things go wrong.
I'll observe that being listed as first author whilst on face value is a consolation (i.e. CV, publication record, etc.), also means if all goes wrong it's her name that will be remembered (I'm thinking future job applications, etc. - less of a problem if she intends to return to the real world though). Can she not make a remark that it's her supervisors that have done all the work and therefore their names should go first (i.e. butter them up)? She can then put across a stronger argument that she was brought in to cover rather than being centre stage and perhaps be lost in the 'et al' nomenclature that appears in many reference listings.
As someone else said, there's nothing wrong with presenting a paper on behalf of other authors if you're open about it. I've done it before, was at a conference, supervisor didn't come, and I presented a paper for him and others, as well as my own.
However, it's a dick move to put someone's name on work and drop it on them to present. It's easy for me to say now that I am through the process but I would outright say I was uncomfortable with it and that I'd be prepared to present it if my name was last or (as it was in my case) not on the paper at all.
In my case, before I presented I said that I was presenting on behalf of the other authors who unfortunately could not be present, that the work pre-dated my commencement of study but with that in mind I would be happy to field questions as best I could. I got asked a few, nothing too grave, but having briefly familiarised myself with the work I was able to provide brief but reasonable answers. It seemed like the only solution to me.
If this is the only reason she's going to the conference, I think my suggested solution would be to re-jig the order of the authors. Stick her name last and learn it a bit. Of course there's other factors, like does she have another paper to present at this conference, how long has she got, how closely related is the work to her area of expertise etc. If her name goes last and she is responsible for preparing the slides or revising the paper at all then it's not especially misleading.
The trouble is that the paper hasn't just been put forward, but accepted for the conference. It's been through the corrections etc all with her name at the top and without her knowledge. How do you go to the people in charge and say "oh yeah, we put the authors in the wrong order" without coming across ridiculously stupid? It's not like they are in alphabetical order and they can play it off as a genuine mistake unfortunately.
As it stands I'm not getting involved. Mainly due to the can of worms that would be opened. She is really stressed and has decided just to do nothing about it because she doesn't want the stress of challenging her sup. She'll leave it as it is, learn the material and hope no-one notices.
OK minding own business yada yada yada...
If it was my friend I would give advice along the following...
-Read the paper first. See if it's any good. If it's crap as first author, retract it.
-Don't do the presentation. If she doesn't a crap job or can't answer questions because she doesn't know the topic then it's her reputation at stake.
-Talk to supervisor. If they don't know it's a unethical thing to do, they are likely to do it again. Ask supervisor to retract the talk application.
-If it comes down to it, just don't turn off and plead being sick.
This is just plain wrong. No workplace would expect someone to do this.
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