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I am a post graduate engineering student(Computer Science). I have only one conference (not very good) publication in my name as a first author. One of my seniors labmate, 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 literature survey and elaborative explaination of results. I have been offered co-authorship(2nd author) for this paper. Now, though I can dedicate some time to do that work, but is accepting 2nd authorship worth.

I would like to ask in general as well, that is it worth to put effort in papers and get 2nd authorship given that the paper is not related to my primary area of research or rather work and dedicate time on one's own research and get 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 at least X no of papers as first author.

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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 Sep 16 '13 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.

15

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.

3

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.

1

It always depends on ho wmuch 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.

  • You can have collaborators even if you are first author, so I don't understand what you mean here. – Faheem Mitha Sep 17 '13 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 Sep 17 '13 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. – Faheem Mitha Sep 17 '13 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 Oct 9 '13 at 17:35
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I see the OP has done "experiments" and "drafting". This case differs from what I wrote above. Then he is eligible for authorship, unless "few results" mean really few results and literature review was somehow ready from the paper his/her colleague had already drafted.

  • Hmm. Is the offer merely "extremely generous", or is it far enough beyond the usual criteria that it would be unethical to accept it? – Nate Eldredge Sep 16 '13 at 15:53
  • Unethical to accept is the right term, but the original poster did not question this. Rather they wanted to know is being a second author without any effort is worth it or not! So the "unethical" kind of answer does not even the case here. I once had a student who when was asked to proofread a paper for my colleague, she asked if she can be the first author lol! – Vic Sep 16 '13 at 17:59
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    Um... generating more results (I'm presuming, running potentially time-consuming experiments), writing a literature review section (which is usually the most time-consuming to write in my experience) for the paper and doing the extended analysis and interpretation of experiments does not really seem like insignificant/negligible contribution to me. Proofreading plus suggesting giving a second interpretation of the results doesn't sound like much, but the OP claims he did much more than that! – penelope Sep 17 '13 at 9:00

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