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I've completed a project in computational physics. 100% of the code and running of the code completed by me and the introduction, theory and code description in the paper written by me. Results section written by supervisor with some feedback from me.

When we put the latex together I was listed as first author on the paper, since, as my supervisor stated, I did 95% of the work. However, when the paper was submitted my supervisor listed themselves as first and corresponding author in the online submission fields (I was still first in the author list of the submitted paper - ie. in the actual latex document).

When I pointed this out to the supervisor they denied it, so I logged in to the journal account and sent a screen grab showing the status, They said that they must have made a mistake and would correct later when resubmitting (flagged for some missing documents).

Later on I got an email from my supervisor stating that they had submitted the documents but 'forgotten' to correct the author status but not to worry because I'm listed first in the submitted latex paper.

I'm not sure what to think here. Perhaps my supervisor is correct and it will make no difference (since I'm listed first in the latex paper) and is just winding me up. Either that or not I feel that I need to push back here, somehow without damaging the relationship.

Addition: I think perhaps the author list inputted in the online fields may be used for citations but the paper itself will have me as first author. So perhaps my supervisor wants their name to be that cited?

  • How seriously do you think they are actually trying to rip you off? Can you not change authors yourself? – Azor Ahai Sep 10 '18 at 22:46
  • No, only the corresponding author can change. I was happy for them to be corresponding author but I expected myself to be first. I'm not sure if they are trying to rip me off or not. – JibbityJobby Sep 10 '18 at 22:48
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    Sounds to me like an application of Hanlon's razor. You'll likely have to sign a consent form before the paper can be published, and you can insist that it be fixed before that point. Your last paragraph about citations doesn't really make sense, that isn't the way things work. – Nate Eldredge Sep 10 '18 at 22:57
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    I suspect a polite email to the editor forwarding your supervisor's comment and just saying "my advisor forgot to swap us" would be the easiest way to save face. – Azor Ahai Sep 10 '18 at 22:58
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    "I was still first in the author list of the submitted paper - ie. in the actual latex document" I think this is the list that matters. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 11 '18 at 4:26
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The first answer to this question suggests that this might be incompetence rather than malevolence. A second (and to me more likely) possibility is that it's neither malevolence nor incompetence, but simply bureaucracy.

Your description is confusing and it seems possible that you misunderstand what's happened here. With many journal submissions, there's a series of boxes where you enter authors' names and information. These boxes are not necessarily related to author order! You can enter names in any order you want and it's completely irrelevant to the actual published author order. Often the first box is for the corresponding author, who is not necessarily the first author.

From your description, it sounds like this has happened. If so, probably the reason your advisor is so casual about this is that it's completely trivial; it has no bearing on your concern. The author order is the order in the manuscript and you're worrying about something that's not an issue.

It's also possible that the advisor thinks this has happened but the order is relevant, but from the way you've described it that doesn't seem to be the case.

A bigger issue, to me, seems to be your relationship with your advisor. Even though your advisor promised you first authorship, reiterated the promise, and assured you that the issue would be corrected, you've leaped to the conclusion that they are trying to "steal" your authorship. If you mistrust your advisor to this extent, is this a healthy situation? Has the advisor done anything to justify this immediate and very harsh reaction, or is this a case of paranoia? It seems to me that the answer, either way, is likely to have a much bigger effect on your career than an apparent minor misunderstanding.

  • I wasn't really leaping to that definitive conclusion, just want to keep myself right and correct mistakes that were made. I have been burned in the past when I let things like this slip and have now adopted the approach that mistakes like this should be addressed earlier rather than later, even if awkwardness involved. This is perhaps my personality here and I don't think there are any other concerns with the relationship. No, the supervisor hasn't done anything else to specifically make me distrust them. – JibbityJobby Sep 11 '18 at 13:02
  • This is closest to how things turned out and I think I was being paranoid. – JibbityJobby Sep 11 '18 at 13:13
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I would apply Hanlon's Razor here: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

This sort of mistake is easy to make when filling out journal forms: there is a lot of information to keep straight. In particular, the UI is not always designed so as to make it clear how author order will be interpreted (some forms might always want the corresponding author entered first, even if they will not be the first author). So it's not too hard to believe that someone could innocently mess it up twice.

It would also be an ineffective way for your supervisor to try to "steal" first authorship. For most journals, if the paper is accepted, every author will eventually be asked to sign a consent form agreeing to publication, and in particular, agreeing to the author ordering. You'd eventually find out and make a fuss.

But it would be fine to ask your supervisor to contact the editor and request the change, "just so that we don't forget later," or, as Azor Ahai suggests, to do it yourself. After all, your supervisor has agreed, in writing, that you are meant to be the first author.

Addition: I think perhaps the author list inputted in the online fields may be used for citations but the paper itself will have me as first author. So perhaps my supervisor wants their name to be that cited?

No, it doesn't work like that. The journal is going to want one and only one author ordering, to be used both on the paper itself and for all metadata and citations. They should always match. If there is a discrepancy between the manuscript and the online fields, the journal will insist that the authors resolve it before publication.

  • Thank you Hanlon's Razor perhaps makes sense but it would have been nice for the supervisor to state that they will sort out the double mistake ASAP. Also, it states in the journal guide: ""Only in exceptional circumstances will the Editor consider the addition, deletion or rearrangement of authors after the manuscript has been accepted.", so I don't think it's a good idea to sit this one out until perhaps too late. – JibbityJobby Sep 10 '18 at 23:15
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    @JibbityJobby: I agree it would have been nice for him to just do it, but in the big scheme of things, it's really a minor bureaucratic issue, which I think may seem more significant to you because you haven't been through the process so many times. And I would view "corresponding author screwed up the form" as an exceptional circumstance, especially since the discrepancy between form and manuscript will make it clear that something is not right. – Nate Eldredge Sep 10 '18 at 23:18
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    @JibbityJobby: That clause is mean to dissuade people from offering "gift authorship" or renegotiating ordering after the fact. If there was already clear agreement among the authors and it was simply miscommunicated to the journal, the journal has an ethical duty to make it right. – Nate Eldredge Sep 10 '18 at 23:20
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    Honestly, if your prof just messed up because they were busy (likely) they will appreciate you fixing it over you making them do it. – Azor Ahai Sep 10 '18 at 23:21
  • OK, my supervisor likes to keep a tight rein. I sent a polite email to them stating that I'll contact the editors tomorrow. If I hear no objections I'll go ahead and let them know. Yes, I'm inexperienced here and your advice has relaxed me. Thanks. – JibbityJobby Sep 10 '18 at 23:22

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