stilllooking

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I recently worked on a team with a faculty member (the lead author) and three other doctoral students. The project was a very in-depth meta-analysis and ended up taking about 16 months from start to submission and about 9 months from submission to full acceptance. People's contributions to the project waxed and waned over time, and the tentative authorship order of the student authors changed several times to reflect this. Before initial submission, the lead author decided on the authorship order that they thought was fair based on overall contributions to the paper, but at least one if the co-authors was extremely upset by their order (they were fourth when they felt that they should have been third). The student more or less ended up cutting ties with the faculty member as a result, which seemed extreme for one authorship-order place, especially below second author.

What are some good strategies for determining authorship order and addressing authorship order conflicts? Is the leader author's decision more or less final?
 
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stilllooking

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Best advice, authorship order decided before even starting the work.
We did that, but levels of contribution changed substantially, so much so that the lead author felt that the proposed authorship order would no longer be ethical or fair.
 

Wendi22

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Once order is selected....people need to contribute accordingly and consistently. For example, if it is agreed that I will be first author and I agree to the commitment, then I need to step up and contribute the most. If at some point my ability to contribute diminishes, I need to bring that up in the next meeting and see if someone else wants to be first author and contribute more. Keep talking about it throughout the project, especially if it is clear effort is shifting.

You mention that author order changed to reflect shifting effort in your group. I'm curious why the lead author then ended up ordering people in a way that was clearly a surprise to some if they got angry.


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Pragma

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Best advice, authorship order decided before even starting the work.
Agreed and stick to that. Divvy up the work accordingly. If someone did more work when it was agreed on that they were fourth author, then that was their decision. If the one who got dropped down a spot did their work as agreed, then they may have a reason to be upset. If they did NOT pull their weight, that's a different story.

Clear communication is always a good policy for authorship. Changing the order a bunch of times seems odd to me.
 

Justanothergrad

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As others have said,authorahip order up front is the first rule- not just order but what jobs that match for your authorship. I think another important thing is to talk about how changes will be handled. I've been on several projects where they changed (life happens) and my general rule is that people need to discuss/renegotiate the order as they see responsibility about to change but BEFORE the work is done. Based those discussions on the changes in the job list originally created together as a team.

If authorship order changes that much there is some other problems imho.
 
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AcronymAllergy

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Agree with the above. If the person completes work in accordance with what was assigned and/or agreed upon, then if others do more work of their own accord, it still shouldn't change the ordering. If a person wasn't meeting their obligations, then the lead author should continually communicate with that person to let them know what's going on, and what might occur as a result (e.g., changing of authorship order).

Changing the order after the fact, even if it seems fair based on work done, doesn't strike me as a great way to go about it if some type of feedback hadn't previously been provided to the person being bumped down.
 

WisNeuro

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We did that, but levels of contribution changed substantially, so much so that the lead author felt that the proposed authorship order would no longer be ethical or fair.
Sounds like a cluster**** of a manuscript. If changes are made to order after the fact, it should be widely known to all authors. I've only changed order once after the fact and it was because someone was just not able to put in the work. I agreed to take on their part in exchange for being bumped up. These agreements need to be in place before the extra work is done. I'd chalk this particular incident up as a valuable learning experience and move on.
 

Ollie123

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Agree with all of the above. Lead author generally will be the one making the determination, though it may be made on conjunction with the senior author if there is one (given first or last are generally the preferred positions). Group discussion can help, but its not like there is an appeals board. I suppose an ethical complaint is possible, but I can't imagine anything you described being worth elevating to that level and the resulting consequences (demolishing your relationship with the individual). That's more reserved for things like "I wrote all of it for my dissertation and my advisor stole it and left my name off." Short of something like that or an equally extreme issue - I can't imagine anyone (university, journal, APA, etc.) actually intervening.

That said, I think its worth remembering in these situations that its really first and last that matter. The rest might as well be determined by random number generator as no one cares and there are a million different things that factor into it, no clear guidelines and no clear way to make those determinations. As picky as academics can be, I highly doubt anyone's hiring decision/tenure review ever came down to how many 3rd vs. 4th author publications they had. I understand as a grad student presumably working on one of there very first pubs it can seem like a big deal to be 3rd vs. 4th vs. 5th. Reality check is that it doesn't matter even the tiniest sliver of a bit - even at that stage. Adopting a first author/senior author/everything else categorization schema early on will just make life simpler and less stressful.
 
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MCParent

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Sounds like a cluster**** of a manuscript. If changes are made to order after the fact, it should be widely known to all authors. I've only changed order once after the fact and it was because someone was just not able to put in the work. I agreed to take on their part in exchange for being bumped up. These agreements need to be in place before the extra work is done. I'd chalk this particular incident up as a valuable learning experience and move on.
TBH I'd wonder about the overlap between "a person who has a complete fit about 3rd vs 4th author order" and "a person who doesn't do all the work they agreed to or who needs more oversight than others." Not that I'd know this specific situation, obviously.
 

PBCocce

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Agree with above posters.

The identities of the first author and last author are the most important names.

Feel free to review this APA note concerning Publication Practice and Responsible Authorship:

http://www.apa.org/research/responsible/publication/

Thank you.
Yes, this may be the most important names (emphasis mine). But it doesn't mean that the less important names don't matter to some people (like this student).
 

AcronymAllergy

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I'd agree that I personally wouldn't be very passionate about a 3rd vs. 4th author spot; however, I can see how someone might be irked if things were changed after the fact, without the issue having been previously addressed with them, and without them then being able to respond to feedback accordingly.

In some ways, it'd be like hiring a person for $15/hour, and then telling them after the job is done that they didn't work hard enough, so you're only going to pay them $13/hour instead. Even if it's true, most people would still be upset.

Edit: Although after Ollie's post below, I'd agree that it'd probably be closer to changing the pay from $15/hour to $14.75/hour.
 
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Ollie123

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Yes, this may be the most important names (emphasis mine). But it doesn't mean that the less important names don't matter to some people (like this student).
Without completely invalidating their feelings, I suspect that their point is just that this is ultimately a pretty trivial matter and not worth gearing up for a significant fight over barring some other issues we are not privy too. If I leave my wallet in my office and I think one of my co-workers snatched it...I'm going to raise hell. If I drop a nickel on the floor and I think one of them scooped it up, I can't imagine saying something. The point is that this is professionally closer to the latter....so folks need to be careful in the response that they choose.

So yes, its upsetting to be bumped down the list. I can see how it might happen. This may be a mess or it may be a case of one or more people with very poor interpersonal skills and/or poor time management making a mountain out of a molehill. Ideally, authorship order is determined in advance. I could also very easily see a situation where someone agrees to do something, gets busy with a dozen other things, doesn't follow through and gets bumped down the list because of it (sometimes even if objectively they may have been justified removing them entirely). We can't really say what it is in this situation without getting into wayyy more detail than I'm sure the OP would be comfortable disclosing.

Upon re-reading the OP, the original question was how to handle these issues. For me, I think the take away would be to choose who you work with very carefully. That sounds like the biggest issue at play here.
 

Pragma

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I would say authors 2 and 3 can be meaningful designations depending on the type of pub and the number of authors. First and last are most important of course. But in a big pub with lots of collaborators, 2 and 3 are good positions, especially for students.

Occasionally I see 1 and 2 share first author as well.

I agree with all that has been said about this being a minor issue. But some students don't know and depending what their cv looks like and what they are going for, it could matter. In academia it doesn't much.
 
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WisNeuro

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Yep, when I am reviewing internship and postdoc apps, whether or not you are the 3rd, 4th, etc, it all looks the same to me. You're better off spending your time trying to get at least one or two 1st author pieces than fighting needlessly over 3rd and 4th.
 
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madeincanada

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Yep, when I am reviewing internship and postdoc apps, whether or not you are the 3rd, 4th, etc, it all looks the same to me. You're better off spending your time trying to get at least one or two 1st author pieces than fighting needlessly over 3rd and 4th.
Though I would argue that if you are applying for, say, graduate school, and a 3rd looks better than a 4th. I know these are minor details, but we all remember how obsessed we were over the details!
 

WisNeuro

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Though I would argue that if you are applying for, say, graduate school, and a 3rd looks better than a 4th. I know these are minor details, but we all remember how obsessed we were over the details!
It's been some years, but I don't remember this ever being the case when we were reviewing apps as a lab for admission. Applicants are by and large much more nitpicky about the details than any admissions committee.
 

MamaPhD

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Though I would argue that if you are applying for, say, graduate school, and a 3rd looks better than a 4th. I know these are minor details, but we all remember how obsessed we were over the details!
Nah. Even if it mattered a little bit (which it really doesn't), burning bridges with a faculty member over 4th versus 3rd authorship is next-level drama.
 

Ollie123

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Though I would argue that if you are applying for, say, graduate school, and a 3rd looks better than a 4th. I know these are minor details, but we all remember how obsessed we were over the details!
Not really. We do obsess over the detail because the prototypical psych applicant is extraordinarily perfectionistic even about things that ultimately do not matter. This is one of those things, which has been mine (and others) points.
 

madeincanada

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Nah. Even if it mattered a little bit (which it really doesn't), burning bridges with a faculty member over 4th versus 3rd authorship is next-level drama.
I'm saying that I can remember when I, as an applicant, stressed out over these types of details. Not the admissions committee or a faculty member.

In the same way that many of us stressed out when we noticed a slight typo in our personal statement that we noticed after we had already submitted the application.

During the process, a lot of applicants are hyper stressed. We can empathize with that a little, eh?