I am a PHD student, finishing my candidature in a year's time. The environment of my lab is slightly different. My prof (owner of the lab) does not supervise me at all and I received supervision mostly from a post-doc in the lab. Her role in the lab is more of a PI's role, giving instructions to the other lab members, but not really doing any experiments and data collection. When I first joined the lab, I took over the one project everyone in my lab is working on (a very small lab), planning, doing and getting data from all of the experiments for the project (except for those that were done before I joined the lab, which is only like about 5% of the entire data obtained). While she initially guided me for the project's direction in my first year, for the past 2 years, I did not receive much guidance from her.

Now, she is writing a paper with the results I generated over the past few years, not giving me a chance at typing my own manuscript. Is this normal in the academic setting? She listed herself as the first author and me as co-first, and I feel like I have been reduced to the likes of a research assistant, who generates data for her to use. I am worried this will affect my employment chances in the future when I graduate. This will probably be my only paper at the end of my PHD. Does the number of papers/ or amount of contribution listed in the papers matter to PIs who are employing potential post docs?

  • 2
    you're lucky enough she listed you as author. I myself have experienced, in almost all groups where I worked, authorship exclusion on data and results I had contributed to, just because I had left.
    – Anon
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:16
  • 2
    I once heard a story, perhaps apocraphyl, that a math professor once said to his student "I don't mind writing your dissertation, but I'll be damned if I'll explain it to you when I'm done."
    – Buffy
    Jul 16, 2019 at 13:39
  • "When I first joined the lab, I took over the one project everyone in my lab is working on" - Do the other people have other projects too? This makes it sound like there is one project for the whole lab (perhaps just you and the postdoc?) - is that the case?
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 16, 2019 at 15:35
  • I have a question. If you actually write the paper or if your advisor actually writes it, will the authorship be the same? I think you are in a field in which advisors are normally always co-authors and maybe where the position of names in the list of authors has some imputed meaning. But if it is the same, no matter who puts the words to paper, what do you miss if the most experienced person actually does it? And how is their a difference between two "co first" authors? Help me understand this. My field is different.
    – Buffy
    Jul 16, 2019 at 16:36
  • 4
    what do you miss if the most experienced person actually does it? — Practice writing papers!!
    – JeffE
    Jul 16, 2019 at 21:08

4 Answers 4


Supervisor takes my results to type a manuscript. Is this normal?

I don’t know about normal, but certainly not helpful in making you an independent researcher. Perhaps they want to make sure you see how it’s done right, perhaps they really need a paper fast, but I can see why you’re frustrated. I suggest you politely suggest that you help write things that you contributed with: like the data analysis, or the experimental setup. Ask her if she’d like a draft by a certain time.

She listed herself as the first author and me as co-first

This is tentatively good though author order importance greatly varies by field. Contribution is a tricky thing to establish. You say you generated 95% of the data; even if this is true, maybe your PI and the rest of the lab managed most of the grunt work allowing you to generate so much. What do other lab members think of you getting first co-authorship?

Does the number of papers/ or amount of contribution listed in the papers matter to PIs who are employing potential post docs?

Very much! When I hire postdocs I want to be sure that they’re “fully baked” and able to conduct research independently, so they can help drive the lab forward, and perhaps advise students (as you were advised).


A supervisor writing their student's paper is far from unheard of, see e.g. this question. I suspect it isn't the overall norm in academia, but it might change from field to field. Anecdotally, I'm sure it isn't the norm in physics, but I've certainly heard of some supervisors who are more controlling than others, or who consider their student's English so bad that it'd be a waste of time to let the student write the first draft. Of course, the advisor isn't necessarily wrong in thinking it might take them more work rewriting a rough draft, than writing the full paper would, especially if they aim at a higher impact journal.

Yet, whatever the reason, I consider it a bad practice. If a PhD degree is supposed to show that the degree holder is capable of independent high-quality research, and eligible for an academic career - surely having written a paper and seen it through the publication process is a valuable experience? These are skills and experiences you can pick up later, of course, but it isn't ideal.

As for them claiming the first/co-first author spot too, well, that strikes me as a bit much. I suppose that, Depending on the details, it might be appropriate. Now, the meaning of first authorship varies between fields, so I don't want to speculate how this will be perceived in your case. (Maybe your supervisor even has a reputation for doing this, that people who might hire you as a postdoc are aware of...) Anyway, in the physics cases of the supervisor writing their student's article mentioned above, the supervisor remained last author. I think that is more normal, but again, it's not like I have access to any statistics on this.

The number of papers can matter in a post-doc application, yes. It's obviously not the only factor (recommendation letters, skills, quality of the work etc.), but it is a sign of productivity. All other things equal (not that they ever are...), why not pick the more productive candidate? There's been a number of other questions about this on the site, including this one and this. Everyone's circumstances will be unique, so at the end of the day you'll need to apply to a number of jobs and see what happens.


In bio-molecular fields, there are generally two important positions on the authorship list: The first author, and the corresponding(senior) author . Usually the corresponding author came up with the idea, got the money and trained/supervised the first author. Usually the first author is the one that generated the largest amount of actaul grunt work (be that data collection or analysis). In the end, it is the corresponding author who is ultimately held responsible for the content of the paper (i.e. it is their neck on the line if something in the paper is, for example, fraudulent).

It is not unusual for the senior author to draft the paper, practice varies from lab to lab (personally I think it is best for the first author to at least take a stab at it, but thats just my opinion), and I would not be worried about that. I would be more worried that you are not being listed as first author if you did 95% of the work.

In the ideal world you should probably be first and the postdoc corresponding, that would actaully be best for both your and the postdocs career (the postdoc will benefit greatly from a corresponding position) but I have a feeling your PI is going to want the senior position, even if they had little to do with it.


The solution in my opinion is to speak out. You can approach your actual supervisor, explain the situation to him, ask for a meeting with the post-doc. The may consider the authorship as you have done all the work. Or at the very least, indicate a mark in the authors list saying that you both had equal contributions. With equal contributions, employers can consider you as a first author too.

In these cases, the earlier you speak, the better. If you have learned she started writing a manuscript, you could have spoken earlier and reached a resolution that allows you to write the manuscript or a decent part of it. However, from your question, this stage seems gone now.

You still have a chance to write your own thesis. So do not worry too much about practicing writing. But I am certainly against silence towards some selfish self-centered people who hijack other people's work and ideas. I know how sad that feels quite well from a personal experience. If everyone will stay silent against such people, they will increase.

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