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I submitted a thesis to graduate as a Master's student at a European university approximately half a year ago. With my verbal approval, my uni submitted my work to a leading conference in the field of research, after having summarized my work and adding references together with some academic colleagues from another university.

The content, findings and conclusions remain largely identical to my original work, with large pieces of text remaining identical to the original. In my mind, this still makes me the significant author.

Yet, on the conference submission, I'm now listed as a third and last author. The order of authors was not discussed with me prior to submitting the updated paper and I did not receive any updated version up until the point where I was notified of the submission.

I feel this is incorrect, and while I fully acknowledge that the universities want to promote themselves by placing contributors high on the author's list, this is doing me injustice as it still is my work.

Am I in the wrong here? Are there any intricacies or nuances in academics I should take into account while engaging with my (ex-)university on the matter?

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    Your field and the country of your old university could be very relevant to this question and its answer. Aug 28 '19 at 14:32
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    Who, specifically, made the decision. It wasn't your university, but some person. Your advisor?
    – Buffy
    Aug 28 '19 at 14:33
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    Thanks for the comments, allow me to clarify. Yes, the paper was submitted by my advisor, and it is also my adviser who consulted a colleague at another uni to participate in refining the paper (adding references and summarizing it). Both of them contributed to it - the advisor in actually coaching my research, the academic colleague by actions mentioned. The field is positioned around management science and the uni located in western Europe.
    – Euro-Msc
    Aug 28 '19 at 14:36
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    Yes, they are. They both made contributions and, in that respect, deserve to be listed as authors. My specific concern is about the order of authorship.
    – Euro-Msc
    Aug 28 '19 at 14:47
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    @Euro-Msc Sometimes the first author is required to be the presenting author. In my field at least, the last author is usually the senior author and so gets more credit for the work than middle authors do. I could maybe see rearranging the authors this way to have someone else present but try to still place you in a position of credit. That's all speculation, though, and might not make sense in your field. I guess mostly this comment is just to caution you that it's possible there is no malfeasance here. You still should have been informed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 28 '19 at 19:53
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Unless authors are arranged alphabetically, it would indeed be expected that the largest contributor be the first listed, and from what you have written that would appear to have been you.

Except...

You speak about the submission entirely remotely. It sounds like you were not involved and did not ask to be involved in the preparation of the conference submission. Moreover, it appears that you did not have any discussion about authorship with your advisor. I still would generally expect an advisor to keep the student as first author, but if the advisor believes the student has effectively vanished and does not care about the publication, it is not surprising if a difference in perspective may have developed. For example:

  • Your advisor may consider the revisions to be more significant than you believe.
  • Since your thesis should be a public, citable document, your advisor may be viewing this paper as a derivative work.

You really need to have a conversation about this with your advisor. Start from an assumption of good intent---your advisor might just be a self-promoting jerk, but they also might have good reason for the choice they made, of which you just are not aware.

Finally, even if you don't end up as first author, consider this as a lesson for the future: stay involved in the preparation of any paper on which you expect to be first author!

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  • Your advisor may consider the revisions to be more significant than you believe. - For instance, right now I am working on finishing a paper now based on work with a student who graduated, and I am doing a lot work on my own in order to try to get better results. (Though fortunately I am in a field where we order authors alphabetically, so I don't need worry author order.)
    – Kimball
    Oct 6 '19 at 14:44

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