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I am composing this question on behalf of someone but as a first person. I am a postdoc at a top university in the US. I had recently been requested by my PI to help with setting up experiments and getting data for the latter part of a research that was to be submitted as a paper.

I spent 3 months aggressively working on it along side my own work towards other projects. The first author went ahead and submitted incomplete work without notifying any of us and without my name in it.

I had, thereafter, spoken to my PI and it looks like he is defensive of her submitting the paper because 'she was in stress and had to graduate. Not in the right frame of mind.' Between the two of us he said that he's going to insist on adding my name when they submit the revision (the paper already, as I expected, has request for data/corrections).

EDIT - I have indications that he is giving excuses and is currently passing the buck/lying to get the work done. Personally I have had no papers since I started this postdoc and I am afraid if I sound reluctant the PI will take away my work in my projects. This stresses me, but I also am not getting credit for where I worked. This is like a lose-lose situation for me.

The first author agrees to send the paper and review comments but doesn't. They expect real time work as though this is my only project. I am happy to spend time with some urgency if I at least get my recognition in the paper.

How do I word my emails or communications or speak to them and politely, yet clearly establish that this work from me has to be recognized in the form of addition to the paper?

  • 4
    Sounds too much like your PI is too weak - and you will do the work for nothing. – Solar Mike Jul 27 at 20:23
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    If there's more work needed from you to complete the revisions, you can insist that the authorship issue be resolved before you work on it. – Brian Borchers Jul 27 at 22:03
  • I'm unclear about whether there is now more work that they're expecting you to do for this paper? If so, that is your only negotiating leverage. You should use it. – Daniel R. Collins Jul 28 at 1:07
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If the situation is as you indicate and the original manuscript was submitted without the consent of all authors, then you have a case with the editor, although you should do your utmost to resolve this first with the thesis director.

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From what you say, the PI is on board with adding your name. Work with and through him to get it done. Presumably he has some authority.

But you may need to be careful with personal issues if the first author is under a lot of stress. That isn't a reason to back off, but just to handle it gently if possible. What is right is right. But let the PI say that.

  • Thanks @Buffy - to be clear (and I will edit my post to make it clear) that was a verbal communication between PI and me. I have a feeling he is soft and is not asserting. I don't see the PI stepping in and clarifying confusion when needed. To me there are indications that this is just their (PI) way of lying to get work done. To my credit I did put the work in but it was not recognized. – perennial_noob Jul 27 at 19:48
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    Maybe you need to arrange a face-to-face with everyone present. – Buffy Jul 27 at 19:54
  • I thought about that, but how do I make sure I am asserting without sounding rude? I am looking for what to say/write and how to address the individuals. In a normal world it is fair to expect to be compensated appropriately for work but if I say it that way, won't it sound dramatic? Not sure if I made sense. – perennial_noob Jul 27 at 20:04
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    In the end you will need to be able to trust the PI. You could try to firm up their support before the all-hands meeting. Make sure he agrees. You also need to consider whether it is necessary to maintain a good relationship to this PI in the future. But the bottom line is "we worked together, we should succeed together". – Buffy Jul 27 at 20:07
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I had recently been requested by my PI to help with setting up experiments and getting data for the latter part of a research that was to be submitted as a paper. I spent 3 months aggressively working on it along side my own work towards other projects. ... I had, thereafter, spoken to my PI...

Oops --- you have made the rookie mistake of beginning work on a research project prior to discussing authorship with the leader of the research group. That kind of mistake always has the potential to blow up in your face like this. There are a few things you should do here:

  • Begin by looking up documentary standards on academic authorship. There are a few of these floating around, and they give general principles for when a person should (or should not) be included as a co-author on a research paper.

  • Have a think about how far you are willing to take this matter in the event that the PI is unwilling to back you up. If you decide you want to do so, you can make a complaint within your university, seeking for a review of the conduct of the PI and the other researcher, and seeking to be added as a co-author to the paper. You could also write to the journal if you wishes, and claim that you are a co-author of the paper. These things are obviously escalations to a more formal mechanism of complaint, so you will need to consider whether you want to do those things, or whether you are willing to just lose out on authorship.

  • Armed with the above knowledge and consideration, have another talk to your PI, and the other researcher, about authorship of the paper. Remind the PI that he had promised to insist on your addition to the paper when the revisions came in. If you are willing to escalate the matter to a university complaint, or to a complaint to the journal, let them know that this is your next step, and tell them that you would like to resolve the matter amicably without resort to a formal complaint. Try your best to be as amicable as you can, but be firm about what you expect, and your next steps if you are not included as a co-author.

  • Whatever the outcome of the present dispute, most importantly, resolve never to get yourself into this situation again. Whenever you are invited to work on a research project, the first thing you should do ---before starting work on the project--- is to have a conversation with the other researchers about expectations for authorship, and make a clear agreement on what work you will do, and whether you will be recognised as a co-author on the paper. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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