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I am a post graduate engineering student (computer science). I have only one conference publication (not very good) as a first author.

One of my senior labmates worked on a very good research project a few months ago and wrote a paper. I have been approached by him to generate a few more results for his paper and proof reading and extending his paper with a literature survey and elaborate explanation of results. I have been offered co-authorship (second author) for this paper.

Now, though I can dedicate some time to do that work, I wonder whether being the second author is worth it.

I would like to ask in general as well, that is: Is it worth it to put effort in papers to become the second author, given that the paper is not related to my primary area of research or rather work, as opposed to dedicating time to one’s own research and getting papers as a first author?

Note: I have seen that in academia (where I want to go), usually advertisements call for applications from people having some number of papers as a first author.

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    Any lessons on this from the last eight years you picked up and can share? Probably valuable advice for someone else. Commented Jul 14, 2021 at 0:02

5 Answers 5

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If the paper is well-written, contributes non-trivial knowledge to a particular field, is peer-reviewed, and you contributed significantly enough to the paper to be listed as an author, you should put your name on it. In the case of fields where pre-prints are common (i.e., it won't be peer-reviewed, at least initially), it is also worthwhile.

What you don't want is to be an author on a poorly written paper. In other words, you should be proud to list a publication on your CV even if it isn't exactly in your primary research area. Especially at this stage in the game, having a few good papers will help your case, even as a second author (and keep in mind that some fields, such as theoretical computer science, should have the authors listed alphabetically and all authors are considered primary).

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    I think the question was whether it's worth doing the work, rather than accepting the credit having already done the work.
    – Random832
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 16:46
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In my opinion, I would evaluate the quality of that paper (so far) first. If the quality is good, I would join him and become the second author. If the quality is poor, then walk away.

You have only one publication thus far. Have another one, even the second authorship, is definitely better than nothing. Not to mention your first authorship paper is not very good by your own evaluation.

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In the end, each paper counts. I would not hesitate to get second authorship unless I felt I deserved to be first author on the paper. What you need to consider is if the time you spend is worth it. If the paper is going to a good journal then is more acceptable than if it goes to a low rank journal. When your cv is evaluated, number of papers, journal impact, and citations on the papers are most frequently looked at. First authorship is an important factor as always but having second authorship (I am assuming among several co-authors) shows that you have been instrumental in the paper (I am again assuming authorship order reflects contribution). As long as you have first authorship on a sizable fraction of papers no-one will think twice about coauthoships, particularly not early in ones career.

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I think you have to do a cost/benefit analysis. It's always good to have another paper, even if you are second author. A hiring or review committee may ask you to describe your own contribution to the paper. As long as you can do that honestly and point to some substantive contribution to the paper, it will be to your benefit. If it will take you a significant amount of time then it is probably a substantive contribution. The fact that it is not completely aligned with your own research may be an asset...it shows that you can collaborate and are willing to get outside your comfort zone.

So, what would you be doing instead if you did not contribute to your colleague's paper? If you have another paper that is at a critical stage then it may be reasonable to turn down your friend. Otherwise, I'd say go for it. It's hard to say what will catch the eye of a hiring committee.

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It always depends on how much effort you need to put relative to the quality of the paper. HOWEVER -

This may be an urban myth, but I keep hearing from faculty that not having any second author papers is seen as a slight negative (this is in biology). Both in academia and in industry, the ability to collaborate and work in groups is seen as important. The only method they have of guessing what your teamwork skills are is - second author papers.

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  • You can have collaborators even if you are first author, so I don't understand what you mean here. Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 16:23
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    As explained to me, it's the ability to BE a collaborator. Being willing to be second fiddle to help a project become better. Y'know, all that team-player stuff. Institutions supposedly like that because it increases the total available knowledge (say, you want someone who can help other labs do qPCR or something. Then there's qPCR for all!)
    – user8645
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 21:28
  • Ah. Ok, I see what you mean. Though I don't see how one can conclude that (or much of anything really) from being a second (or n for n>1) author. You could just be putting your name on something you haven't really contributed anything to. Happens all the time. Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 21:43
  • Am also working in a biology department currently, and have been told the very same thing (i.e. second authorship papers are considered valuable for different reasons than first) from more than one source. In this field at least then, it sounds like something people really do look for.
    – Pat
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 17:35

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