I was recruited as a PhD student but the work turned out to be only observational on field data collection including a very tiring and time consuming recruitment, design of the protocols as well as typing and processing of the data.

After the work was done, 2 years, part of the for my future articles crucially important data were handed over a postdoc. I was told to find further funding for myself since there was no more left in the project. However, as I later found out the postdoc was offered a payment for writing an article as the lead author.

Postdoc worked on raw data because I was never consulted. However, already before and parallel to her writing, I had shown my plans and article descriptions to my supervisors and they were accepted. In addition, I had the possibility to stress the fact that I need these data for my PhD to the postdoc and project PI. Somehow that was ignored. I was and my PhD.

Nevertheless, she analysed the data and drafted a manuscript. I was shocked. I got the possibility to comment, though. I hadn't been appreciated before as the only one knowing these data, the limitations and strengths. I was puzzled about the approach and analyses but did not have the power/energy/courage to question anything in the amazingly large group of co-authors: 4 profs, 2 adjunct profs and the postdoc. I had to stay silent and appreciate the chance of being a co-author in a paper which should have been entire mine.

The manuscript came back completely rejected. Referees shared my views, which was great to hear, but did not really get me any further. Analyses were judged completely inappropriate, the conversion of variables, results, discussion, conclusions - each had their share of the criticism. In addition, the manuscript was way too long, confusing, had too many tables etc. Nobody in the group had ideas how to proceed other than submitting to another journal without doing anything and just hoping the referees in another journal would only have substance knowledge, no statistical requirements. I could not accept that since it was all so wrong.

I worked very hard as I sort of got my data back. I processed the raw data and finally came up with an approach&focus and research question to which these data could answer. I analysed them, plotted figures and drafted tables. Wrote materials and methods and results. Understood that this completely new study would need both new introduction and discussion sections, too. I wrote a complete manuscript. The one from the postdoc and mine have 1-2% in common based on plagiarism check.

Who is the lead author, and why - in the latter paper? In my opinion, the first manuscript can and should be revised and analysed in a correct way.

One reason that I have been given is that the postdoc deserves to be at least at a shared position because she was paid to write a paper based on these data and that she invested some time to analyze them. I do think thank hurry shows in her manuscript and definitely the fact that she did not know where the data were coming from. The journal I would like to submit the paper to wants to have a special author contribution section. What should I write: postdoc once analysed the data and failed badly? That is her share in mine.

  • Has your professor commented on the latest work? Is it possible to publish separately from your group?
    – Buffy
    Dec 23, 2018 at 15:28
  • It was her project but it is an undeniable fact that I did all the field work as well as everything thereafter. I learned R and all the analyses. She knows Excel spreasheats but hardly uses them. I had the right to do my PhD articles based on the data I collected. She has implied 2 years ago that I will never be able to publish without her approval. I do not know if I could. It would be ethical, though because the paper is my "creation". Dec 23, 2018 at 15:44

1 Answer 1


I have trouble understanding what happenend. Did you write an article based on data you gathered, and then without considering your article, a postdoc from your group was assigned to write a paper based on your data in parallel? which version of the article was rejected? Are you asking about authorship of your or the postdocs' version?

In any case, authorship issues should probably be approached in personal conversation first. Maybe there is some kind of consent you and your co-authors can reach? Some journals in my field have a section at the end of the paper where each task (e.g. Data gathering, editing ...) is listed alongside the authors who participated in it. This might be a way to appropriately differentiate who did which kind of work for the publication.

I strongly recommend not burning any bridges with your supervisors, professors or coworkers. Only if there is no hope for a constructive solution left, consider publishing for yourself (in case you own the intellectual property of the data) or escalating this issue to a higher instance (contacting a journal/your coauthors' superior) This is all the advice I can give based on your question.

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