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I recently finished my masters degree and co-authored a lengthy paper (It was my idea and I took the lead on the research and writing). The paper is not for publication but provides valuable information and research for the the department faculty and dean.The paper is a program development proposal that our academic department would like to implement. Our group discussed sending the paper to the Dean in conversation with her, and one of the co-authors brought it up with her again at the end of the semester and offered to send it to her individually without consulting our group.

I'm okay with her sending it, however, I felt that she acted independently and did not consider the time-lines of the other co-authors for doing final edits, or offer to CC us when she sent it.

My name comes last on the paper (alphabetically) even though I wrote and researched more than the other two authors combined. I have the sense that my co-author is taking more credit than she is due on this project since her name comes first and because she acted independently.

I requested that I be provided an opportunity to review the paper and to be CC'd on any future sharing of our work with others.I think my co-author was offended.

I am interested in asking my two co-authors if it is okay to have my name as the first author on this paper (then she can send it).

Please advise if I am being petty or if this is a reasonable concern on my part. I would like for the Dean and faculty to remember my contributions. The co-author who offered to send it has already made her mark on the program in other ways and I am not sure I have stood out as much.

  • I should add that I am in the field of Occupational Therapy. – karina Jun 1 '13 at 20:41
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    Our group discussed sending the paper to the Dean in conversation with her, What was her response then? – scaaahu Jun 2 '13 at 4:45
  • Dear scaaahu, I'm not sure who you mean (the Dean?). The Dean wanted the paper. I have decided how to handle the situation. I am not going to worry about having my name first. The pros do not make up for the potential cons of seeming petty or offending my co-authors. I think I will be asking for a recommendation from the Dean, and if she wants to know what I contributed to the paper I will tell her then. – karina Jun 3 '13 at 19:17
  • Yes, I mean the dean. You did not explain why you and other coauthors did not act soon - send the paper to the dean. Had you sent the dean the paper right after the dean wanted, none of this would have happened. Why waited until the end of the semester? – scaaahu Jun 4 '13 at 2:18
  • @karina, seems like a reasonable plan to me. One suggestion: if the Dean agrees to write you a letter of recommendation, I suggest that you be proactive about telling the Dean about all of your accomplishments and contributions, including what you contributed to the paper. Don't wait for the Dean to ask; give her all the information up front. (I usually suggest you give recommenders a "brag sheet" or a short summary of some of your accomplishments you are proudest of. This helps them write a stronger letter for you. It is one time when you should not be humble.) – D.W. Jun 4 '13 at 15:35
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I understand why you are a little peeved that she offered to send it to the Dean without checking with you first, but I think you need to swallow your frustration on that point.

Instead, you need to figure out what your goals are. Right now you are reacting: you are letting your emotions control your reactions. Instead, you should figure out what end goal you want to achieve.

Do you want to make sure that the paper is in good enough shape, before it is sent to the Dean? Then negotiate a timeline with your co-authors. This might mean you both have to give a little: you might have to work extra hard to get your revisions in; and they might have to be willing to delay sending the paper a little bit until you've all had a chance to revise to your satisfaction. That's a perfectly reasonable request.

Do you want to be listed as first author? If so, why? You said the paper is not going to be published. So why do you care? If you think your contribution means it is appropriate for you to be first author, and you care about it, then raise the point with your co-author. But approach it with humility and gentleness. Remember that we're human; we have a tendency to overestimate our own contribution and underestimate others, so you need to correct for that. Also, definitely do not ask to be first author as a way of getting revenge; that is petty and beneath you. Take the high road.

And, take this as a lesson. Generally, it is best to discuss authorship early in the project, not wait until the very end. In my collaborations, there is often an understanding from the start about who is the lead on the project; the expectation is that the lead has the overall responsibility and will most likely put in the most work, and in return will likely end up as first author. These discussions about authorship are often easier to happen earlier than later.

Anyway, bottom line: Figure out what you want to achieve (what you want the end state to look like). Then, figure out how to ask for that. Set aside your emotions and your negative reactions to your co-author's initiative in moving things forward without checking with you first, and focus on what end state you want to achieve. I suspect you might find that you share pretty much the same goals as your co-author, and there's no need to get upset or strain your relations with her.

  • I think this might be one of those cases where it wasn't clear up front who the lead would be. However, if the coauthors aren't in the same group, it would be good for the coauthors to copy each other regarding future dissemination of the proposal. – aeismail Jun 2 '13 at 6:24
  • @aeismail, that's perfectly reasonable -- but reading between the lines, it is possible that her co-author was offended not by the perfectly reasonable request to be Cc:ed, but by other elements of the communication (e.g., tone, allowing frustration to show through, etc.). – D.W. Jun 2 '13 at 6:30
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    That's also possible. How you say something is just as important as what you say. – aeismail Jun 2 '13 at 9:43
  • @D.W. that is entirely possible. I was unemotional but in retrospect I could have softened the request had I made the effort to do so. Thanks for your feedback! – karina Jun 3 '13 at 19:21
  • Thank you for your responses. The paper has been turned in but I have not heard anything back. – karina Jun 5 '13 at 17:41
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D.W.'s answer is great advice. I just want to add something for the (your) future.

What counts in the end if you intend to continue in academia are hard publications. Since this seems to be a soft "publication", I think you should ask yourself; can the material be re-written and actually published? If the answer is yes, then you have to ask yourself, should you take on the job as first author (you have already done a lot). Most often the one who takes the initiative will be spearheading the work.

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