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authorship/ethical question

Lena Ting ting at roses
Sat Oct 28 15:07:25 EST 1995

ravena at cco.caltech.edu (Karen Allendoerfer) writes:

: 	So, I'm wondering about authorship on the paper, which if all goes well
: could be published in a prestigious journal.  My three choices are:  Me, John,
: Boss; John, Me, Boss; or an outside possibility, John, Boss, Me (but I don't
: know how happy the boss would be about this one, since last author position
: is usually reserved for the P.I.).  Another solution that I've employed from
: grad school is to put an asterisk next to two authors names, and write "these
: authors contributed equally to this work."  John has spent the most person-
: hours on the project, I will have designed and implemented the technique and
: done most of the writing, as well as brought my boss' pie in the sky idea
: down to a do-able reality.  I will be looking for a job in the not too distant
: future and another first author publication could really make a difference.
: There are good arguments for either of us to be first author, and I want to be
: fair.  What do other people think?

My vote is for You, John, Boss.  Is anyone questioning your choice?
As an undergrad, I did get my name on a couple publications.  However,
I was last author (PI, sorta-co-PI, me), and really didn't have any
qualms about it.  Although I spent a lot of lab hours, I was basically
given the problem to solve, and some tools.  I did have to do some
technical figuring to collect properly and figure out how to analyze
the data, but I realized that fundementally, my advisor was the one
who wanted a question to be answered, as well understood as it's
implications in the larger scheme of things.  I wrote several drafts
of the paper, but I see that this was more of an educational excercise
for me, as my advisor had the final say in the manuscript, and rewrote
a lot.  I was delighted to be an author, especially since my PI
praised me a lot in telling me how great it was to have my name on a
paper as an undergrad.

I doubt that John will complain if he is second author. He shouldn't,
and he cannot argue that he came up with the idea, or the techniques
for the paper.  If he does, you need to explain to him that the
process of coming up with an idea, understanding the background and
significance, as well as a technique for answering the question is as
important, if not more important the actually carrying out the work.  
What he should get out of this is a huge learning experience, which
willl lend him to be a better first author in the future.


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