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I am preparing a joint paper with my mentor. I am a math postdoc. How is the corresponding author generally chosen? What are the benefits of being the corresponding author? Is it better for a post-doc's career if they are the corresponding author?

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My experience as a pure mathematician in the US is that there are essentially no benefits to being the corresponding author. When I was a postdoc and in grad school I was often the corresponding author, but I get the feeling it was mostly because I was often the most junior of the authors and the others didn't want to waste time navigating editorial websites, receiving emails from the journal, mailing people tex files, etc. I would say that if someone is a pure mathematician in the US, the number of times they've been a corresponding author for a paper will have absolutely no impact on their career.

(I should add that I believe that in other countries the situation may be markedly different.)

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    More than in other countries, I think that corresponding authorship will matter in other fields of research. See here: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/10062/… . – Federico Poloni Oct 4 at 9:32
  • Or it depends on the institute culture. In my former university, the corresponding author was often one of the most senior authors (someone with a permanent position who's contact adress would most likely not change for a while). – skymningen Oct 4 at 12:37
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    @FedericoPoloni Sure, but the question is about mathematics. Ben's answer covers the US, while acknowledging that other countries might be different in ways that are relevant to the question. Other subjects being different is irrelevant to the question. – David Richerby Oct 4 at 23:33
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    One way to put it is that the benefit is the gratitude of your coauthors. – Mark Foskey Oct 5 at 0:21
  • Agreed. In my experience, I have no idea whatsoever who was the corresponding author on any multi-author paper I read, and I suspect that is the norm. It's hard for something to provide a career benefit when it's completely invisible to others! – Greg Martin Oct 5 at 1:42
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The only "benefit" that I can think of of being the corresponding author - if you can call it a benefit - is that it prevents underhanded actions by coauthors. Sometimes, people from different groups and motivations, who are possibly at odds with each other, end up co-authoring. Or - an estranged pair of advisor-advisee. Some of the authors might suspect the others of being willing to compromise the paper somehow (obviously I'm being vague since this is inspecific.) The corresponding author, however, has control over communications with the venue, so s/he can exercise effective veto power over steps s/he disapproves of.

  • At one point (though thankfully no longer) my university required us to be the corresponding author in order to count the article towards our tenure count (!). – Morgan Rodgers Oct 6 at 0:51
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    @MorganRodgers: Let us not speak of such atrocities :-( – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 6 at 16:52
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As Ben Linowitz points out, the situation can be very different in other countries. In many places in Asia, for example, the significance of a publication on one's CV goes like this:

     publication as first author ≥ publication as corresponding author > publication as any other author.

The assumption here is that the first author contributed the most, while the corresponding author is the PI. Obviously, this should not apply to most mathematical publications where the authors are listed alphabetically, but university guidelines often do not take this into consideration...

Some countries will even put a quantitative value to this statement, explicitly weighting your publications based on the authorship order (in addition to other factors such as the impact factor). Here's an excerpt from Taipei Medical University's promotion standards (PDF):

        Rank of author                       weighted points (A)
----------------------------------------------------------------
first author or corresponding author               5.0
2nd author                                         3.0
3rd author                                         1.0
4th or lower rank author                           0.5 

In some cases things get even weirder — here's an excerpt from the regulations of Seoul National University (PDF):

Score of each research publication stated in Paragraph 1 of this article is as follows:
1. Single author: 100 points
2. Two authors: 70 points
3. Three authors: 50 points
4. Four authors or more: 30 points
If applicant, however, is the first author or the corresponding author in a publication with three or more authors, he/she is entitled to 70 points.

Curiously, sometimes a corresponding author is worth more than first author. The Academic Ranking of World Universities, compiled by an agency in China and arguably one of the most influential international university rankings, uses the following scaling:

To distinguish the order of author affiliation, a weight of 100% is assigned for corresponding author affiliation, 50% for first author affiliation (second author affiliation if the first author affiliation is the same as corresponding author affiliation), 25% for the next author affiliation, and 10% for other author affiliations.

As you can see, there are often advantages to being corresponding author in such cases. Universities can offer additional incentives (e.g. monetary) for being first or corresponding author on high-impact publications, which often leads to more arguments and occurrences such as six "joint first" authors or, similarly, multiple "co-corresponding" authors on a paper.

Anecdotally, I would say that in non-Asian countries, such weighting is also frequently done but on an implicit basis, and is significantly more field-dependent. (For instance, the Korean university regulations do not distinguish between different fields, and I am unsure if different departments can have different rules — if not, I encourage every mathematician named Aaronson to apply for faculty positions in South Korea immediately.)

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    Essentially all the pure maths papers I've seen lists authors alphabetically. This is independent of what country the paper was written in. Any ranking system that ignores this is producing random noise or worse when applied to maths departments. – David Richerby Oct 4 at 23:31
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    @DavidRicherby: Absolutely. Nevertheless, such systems are used, and affect many mathematicians’ career prospects. – PLL Oct 5 at 9:06
  • I don’t think linking to an undated document on some web server in a language that’s not Korean provides sufficient evidence that this is how Korean universities evaluate their faculty’s work in the context of pure math, where (as @DavidRicherby pointed out) this data would produce a completely nonsensical result. Your extraordinary claim that Korea and “many places in Asia” are bureaucratic to the point of insanity requires extraordinary evidence. I’ll believe it when I see more convincing proof. Until then - downvoted. – Dan Romik Oct 5 at 16:04
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To answer your questions in order, and based purely on my own experiences (in pure math in the UK).

  1. Some reasons for choosing a particular person as corresponding author might be:

    • they are more experienced in dealing with journals
    • they are less experienced and so need the experience
    • they happen to be less busy at the time of submission
    • they are more junior and less busy in general
    • they are more senior and so their affiliation is unlikely to change (and they're not likely to leave academia)
    • they volunteered
    • it's their turn
    • they are the most organised
    • they know how to format the paper to the journal's requirements
  2. The main "benefit" is being in control of the process. The non-benefit is that it is extra work - even if it doesn't make much difference to who actually implements any changes the journal asks for, you probably still end up emailing the other authors to say what needs done, writing the response to reviewers, checking proofs, and various other small things.

  3. No. The reasons for being corresponding author or not are very varied, and either largely irrelevant or things that are more obvious from other factors anyway, so it's not useful information. IMO it would look very weird to specify on a CV which papers you were a corresponding author on, and I doubt any committee would bother to find this out. It would perhaps be preferable to have been corresponding author at least once, but in pure math people will generally have some single-author publications and so this isn't an issue.

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