Can you switch the position of the first co-first author with the second co-first author of an article after it is published?

Full story: During my PhD, I published two articles, both as the first of the two co-first author. In both articles, the second co-first author is my colleague. My colleague is highly career-driven and ambitious. Although he did not do much work to contribute to either paper (I did 90% of the experiments and analysis and writing, since these are my main projects for my PhD), but he has a good relationship with our supervisor, and managed to convince our supervisor that he did a lot. Our supervisor then spoke to me and insisted that I included him as the second co-first author. I am ok with this, since my name still appears first.

Now, I have finished my PhD and is going to leave this research group soon. I am worried that my colleague, being career-driven and has a good relationship with our supervisor, may try some means to switch his name on these articles with me, and becomes from the second co-first author to the first co-first author.

  • 4
    Seems pretty unlikely. Let it stand. There will be other papers.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 13:34
  • 2
    Generally, changing the order of authors after submission of the paper (but before publication) sometimes happens but usually requires consent of all of the authors. Changing the order of authors after publication is unheard of. Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


Journals generally don't want to change things after publication - especially things like authorship order that would cause havoc to past citations. It thus seems unlikely that your coauthor will even try, and even less likely that the journal would acquiesce to such a request. I think most (well-run) journals would also try to contact all involved authors if there is such an unusual request, so you're likely to be informed if your coauthor were to try something. Finally, even if such a change were to somehow go through, usually people take the idea and statement of co-first authors ("these authors contributed equally to the work presented in this paper") at face value, so it'd be unlikely to affect either of your careers to any significant extent (with certain exceptions). Though of course, there's the usual caveat that conventions in your field about co-first authorships might be different.


It’s completely impossible to change author order after publication. I have a paper where the journal messed up the alphabetical ordering of authors in the bibliographic data (it’s a 4 author paper, and the print version formats the names in a square, and somehow they confused whether they’re read row-first or column-first). There was nothing we could do about it. Once the bibliographic data goes out into the world it’s unchangeable. If you can’t fix a simple alphabetizing error, there’s just no chance at all of what you’re suggesting happening.

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