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I'm in the mid stages of my PhD, working on 3/4 of the components of a major project in our group. A post-doc has just started working on the remaining 1/4 using protocols I established (to keep our work comparable). My supervisor has now reassigned a lot of my original work to the post-doc, and let them re-optimise protocols independently.

Now it's looking like I will have no authorship for the majority of the project, as the post-doc modified my protocols (which were meant to be consistent between us) and has taken over the bulk of my project.

What can I do to ensure I still get first-author publications out of my PhD? I have spoken with my supervisor who does not want to discuss authorship 'at this stage' and has been known to publish in the past without consulting other members of the group.

Thanks

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First things first: I fully agree with Buffy and whoever else that this sounds like a very dodgy situation. A supervisor reassigning work and then 'not wanting to discuss authorship at this stage' takes an enormous amount of agency away from you as a PhD student. That has to be demotivating and frustrating. You could indeed look into transferring to another supervisor.

If you want to stay with this group, the project sounds like a co-first authorship to me. If you've done 3/4 of the project already, that seems fair even if the postdoc will optimise some of your results. Since taking it up with your supervisor wasn't really fruitful, talk to the postdoc and make sure they see this project as a shared first publication as well. After that, stay involved by discussing results, , asking what you can do to help, helping with troubleshooting etc. Make sure you know what stage the project is at and especially when writing starts, help with that. Obviously if you can improve on results, that's a bonus, but just staying involved should come a long way.

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I think that such behavior on the part of a supervisor is unethical for the following reasons.

It seems to me that some people regard the research as more important than the people involved in it - students. I think it is understandable, if not commendable, that people are driven by results, but it is wrong, IMO, in almost all cases.

There are some aspects of medical (and some other) research, however, in which the need for a solution is so great that the results dominate everything else, but I think that kind of research is rare. But yes, some problems demand solutions NOW.

If a person (faculty member) just wants to get the job done - people be damned - then he should do it himself with only like minded colleagues. In particular he should not take on the responsibility of shepherding students who will necessarily be slower to find results than he and his fellow "superstars" are.

As I say in this answer to a different question, a supervisor has a responsibility to the student that overwhelms most other considerations. There is no essential reason why someone needs to have students. If it is required, and you accept the responsibility, then don't abuse those students, especially by taking advantage of their work and then yanking away the prize. It is really a form of intellectual theft.

  • Fully agree with Buffy’s answer. I especially like this quote: “a supervisor has a responsibility to the student that overwhelms most other considerations”. Could you involve grad school and make formal arrangements about authorship? I do not see a reason why it is too early in this stage. Looks normal to me. You also may have an independent mentor you can ask advice from. – user93911 Jul 13 '18 at 7:03

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