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Statements of authors' contributions appear to be a standard practice in journal papers from experimental sciences or similar fields. Yet I haven't seen many such examples in mathematics.

I'm wondering if it will be appropriate to have a statement of contributions in a paper (algebraic geometry + some applications) that states the contribution of a coauthor who is my undergraduate student. If yes, will it be strange if the statement only explain the contribution of this student coauthor but not other coauthors?

The intended purpose for such a statement is twofold:

  1. To highlight the real (and nontrivial) contribution of an undergraduate student which may potentially be helpful for this student's career.
  2. To avoid opposition from coauthors who may question listing a student as an author. (EDIT: To avoid opposition from coauthors who may question the actual amount of contribution)

EDIT: One crucial detail was left as it was somewhat subjective. The student's contribution is small but nontrivial in my opinion. It is only a nice-to-have result. This paper can live without it. But I believe it adds some depth to this paper. So the necessity of this student's contribution is debatable. I'd hope to preemptively eliminate this debate --- why argue with someone you'll work with for a long time.

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    Author contribution statements state the contributions of all authors, so, yes, I'd find it odd to read a statement about the contribution of just one of the authors. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 17 at 6:20
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    At worst, the statement does no harm. At best, it encourages the student. Remove it if the journal editor objects. – Buffy Apr 17 at 12:18
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In mathematics, the default assumption is that all authors contributed more or less equally to a project, so the main reason I see to describe individual author's contributions in a mathematics paper is that the authors want to attribute credit of certain aspects of the paper to individual authors. (This can also be done with appendices by subsets of coauthors.)

It does not make particular sense to me to highlight someone's contributions just because they are a student. You are free to do so if you wish, but it will be weird if you only describe one of the authors' contributions.

  1. To avoid opposition from coauthors who may question listing a student as an author.

This is completely ridiculous. I have never heard of any co-author complaining that someone should not be listed as a co-author just because they are a student.

  • The contributions are definitely not equal in this case. Hence the question. – ssquidd Apr 17 at 15:33
  • @ssquidd In that case, why not discuss with your coauthors whether they want that to be part of the paper? Some other possibilities are the student's result could be included as a student-authored appendix, or the student could just write a separate short companion paper (or possibly these could be joint with you). – Kimball Apr 17 at 16:31
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    In mathematics, the default assumption is that all authors contributed more or less equally to a project — I would put it differently: In mathematics, the default public assumption is that the work was a team effort by all coauthors, and teasing apart individual sub-contributions is simply uninteresting/irrelevant. – JeffE Apr 17 at 17:36
  • I don’t think 2. is „completely ridiculous“. In my experience student contributions are often „forgotten“ or not credited appropriately. Maybe OP has supervisors that may question his decision to include a student as an author. – n1000 Apr 20 at 14:10
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You should include an authors' contribution statement if and only if the journal requires it. Follow the journal's style instructions.

The place to help a student's career is in a letter of recommendation.

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I think it would be very strange to have contribution statements:

  • in a magazine that doesn't normally have them
  • for only one of the authors
  • only for most junior author (often it's more likely the senior authors that didn't do much!)

Instead of contorting to preempt a debate, just fight it out with colleagues if it does come up (and offline, not in article). Confident assertion, and only addressing it if needed, will serve you better than this worrying pre-emption. After all, you can refuse to allow your name and probably defacto block the publication if it comes down to it.

Of course it's also possible you are overrating the person's contribution (we only have your version and no details) but then the details can be debated among the collective authors if they force a discussion.

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