I am a PhD student in computer science and have enjoyed my time very much so far. I just finished my 4th year and I plan to graduate in a year. During my degree, I worked on a few papers that became well cited. Throughout my PhD, I consistently worked with another student, let's call him Mike A. My name is Lilly M. and my advisor is Timothy Z. (all names are made up). On all of my papers, Mike A. and I are listed as “these authors contributed equally”. However, my advisor is adamant that he publishes in alphabetical order (this is becoming less common, as far as I can tell), so all papers are Mike, Me, our advisor. I have noticed that this has more and more of an effect, as fellow researchers tend to know Mike or my advisor but rarely know me, even though I contributed half of the work.

I have spoken to my advisor about this and he assures me that (a) he does not think it is a big deal and (b) he does not want to change it because he consistently publishes in alphabetical order. Most papers in his group are with him and a student, and in these cases it always means the student is first, and then him.

Is this something I should be concerned about? Do you have suggestions on how to approach this with him?

Note: The reason I ask is that in the last few weeks, Mike was asked by three separate institutions to come and give a talk about one of our papers. I was never asked. In this case, Mike told me and we worked it out. However, it suggests that there is a different perception of my work than I would like. I plan to graduate soon and apply for new positions. Are there things I should do this year that you would suggest?

  • 3
    Prepare papers with just you and your advisor...
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 1, 2019 at 16:56
  • Do the papers contain a description of the contributions of the authors, or a statement like "all authors contributed equally and are listed alphabetically"? Jul 1, 2019 at 17:01
  • 1
    I have noticed that this has more and more of an effect, as fellow researchers tend to know Mike or my advisor... Is this really because of alphabetical ordering? You mention, Mike was asked by three separate institutions to come and give a talk about one of our papers, do you know (or can you ask Mike) why he was invited?
    – user2768
    Jul 1, 2019 at 17:23
  • 4
    This is something I've wondered about, when hearing about fields with alphabetical listing - surely there must be a career advantage in people seeing "A et al" everywhere, and coming to know A's name...
    – Flyto
    Jul 1, 2019 at 18:57
  • 2
    CS is big. In some areas of theoretical CS, alphabetical ordering is still the norm, while practical CS generally seems to prefer contribution-based (and sometimes, seniority-based) ordering. There can be fun discussions when you have a mixed group of authors collaborating on work that is theoretical and practical. Jul 2, 2019 at 9:01

1 Answer 1


In some fields, alphabetical listing is strongly preferred. Doing it differently would be seen as odd. Because of my actual family name I'm often "first". But I also frequently publish with more prominent people and no one ever thinks that I dominate the research in any way.

But the work in such fields tends to be highly collaborative (as I suspect it is in yours) where it is difficult to say who contributed "more".

But if a paper results from your doctoral research, it should say something about that in a note, perhaps the ack section. People will assume that you (and perhaps your advisor) did the driving.

I find the fighting over authorship position on some posts here to be very saddening. I understand that in some fields (lab science, say) that there are lots of things going on in a give lab with one person primarily responsible for some part of the research and should therefore get more "credit" for the papers even though others in the lab contributed something. But the fights make it seem like, to them, research is a zero-sum game.

Be happy that you work in a field that values collaboration and joint success. But if Mike doesn't ack you and suggest you as a co-speaker (or as the actual speaker) then there is a problem (his) that you can address with him. Be nice, of course, but be firm. "We built this together." Get your advisor on board. "Help me out here Z, I can use the exposure and experience." He knows that, of course. Don't let him forget.

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