I am a graduate student in pure math, namely graph theory and combinatorics. I have recently been nominated by my department to be the math department candidate for a university-wide research award. In the award application materials, it asks for my CV and is very specific that the authors names need to be in the same order as on the published paper so that the level of my involvement can be judged.

I am in a field where the convention is to put all names of co-authors alphabetically, regardless of input. It is clear to me that I need to mention this on my CV, but I am worried that if I just say that that the order of the authors is irrelevant in my field, the people judging my CV will be unsatisfied because then they won't have any information about how much I contributed to each paper.

Is there a tactful way to deal with this issue?

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    AFAIK, the authors are in alphabetical order because the contribution is expected to be equal by all authors, right? Can't you mention that somewhere? Feb 5 '18 at 16:27
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    If they are actually judging research contributions from a CV by people not familiar with each field, this sounds like a horrible way to assign an award. Authorship order is only one of many things that vary across fields. Some fields publish primarily peer-reviewed journal articles, others conference presentations; in some fields 1 paper gets you a PhD, in others you might be expected to publish several. In some fields you publish as sole author, in others you have dozens or hundreds of authors.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 5 '18 at 21:47
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    @AnderBiguri I worked in a field that used alphabetical author ordering, and the contributions of different authors to papers I worked on were often very unequal. My understanding was always that we used alphabetical order precisely to avoid fights over the first/second/last author position, although to be fair I never got any "official" confirmation of that.
    – David Z
    Feb 6 '18 at 8:50
  • Do you have the possibility of explaining what your actual contribution was to each paper on the CV? When listing employments, it's very common to include what your specific responsibilities were within the team - and not just write "Researcher at X" - it might be possible to do the same here.
    – Bilkokuya
    Feb 6 '18 at 11:57

If you are concerned, you may want to include more information about the culture of coauthorship in mathematics. For instance, you could enclose the following updated AMS culture statement.

As a mathematical "lifer," I want to be honest: the way that we handle coauthorship in mathematics does sometimes obscure the individual contributions of the authors. On the job market, this is often circumvented by getting letters from one's senior coauthors describing the contributions you made. You might consider doing that here, or that may be too heavy-handed for this case.

You could also talk to a mentor in your department and see what they think. They may have more experience with what happens at the university level.

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    I appreciate the input. Unfortunately, the award application only allows for the submission of my CV and a short letter from my mentor, so this either needs to be clear from my CV or from the letter. The letter we have is already too long just detailing the required points from the application, so conciseness is important. Feb 5 '18 at 17:39
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    @Sean: In that case, you should just be clear about it in your CV, and you can include a link to (e.g.) the above culture statement. Feb 5 '18 at 19:55

Unless the CV has a fixed, required format, such as in an NSF proposal biosketch, you are free to include any additional information you judge to be pertinent.

Since they require the author order to match what's in the paper, then you should preface your list of publications for this CV with a quick note stating: "Mathematics publications use alphabetical order when listing authors because [reasons]." That will allow you to explain the issue concisely.

(Note that a number of other fields have similar issues—such as economics.)


I worked for more than a decade in a field where authors are always listed alphabetically, and the typical author list includes 500+ names. Individuals do get awarded in this field.

As it has been suggested, the contribution of a single author in such a paper is not officially recognized on a paper in this case, but it is unofficially recognized by the community. Most people in your field will know the work of somebody worth an award, either through letters of recommendations and word of mouth, or presentations, posters or seminars on the same topic of papers you published.

As you can afford only one letter for this award, all you can do is to highlight the public talks you have given related to the papers you list on your CV, and count on your reputation in the field. Good luck.


Another idea is to include something like an annotated bibliography for you papers. Included in your annotation will be a description of your contributions to each paper.

Doing this will have the added benefit of helping prospective employers understand what roles you played in each paper. It will also help if you are in academia and are going up for rank advancement.

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