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I performed some research and submitted it to a congress of biomedical sciences. Many professors told me that my research is very advanced compared to student work and that it could easily be my specialization one day.

I am an undergraduate student (sixth year veterinary science). My mentor tells me that no journal will accept me as a first author although the entire research is mine. I did everything except the statistics, because by the rules, the mentor must do it. I spent four months on the field, alone, taking samples, and an idea of gifting my own blood, sweat and tears is very painful.

Do you think I should wait for a year or a bit more to publish it as a graduate or should I let them take credits for my work. The research is about horse welfare in my country and it has never been done before. This means a world to me. I want to devote my life to this area and publishing my paper as mine would be only right thing to do, right? Should I accept publishing the paper with someone else’s name as a first author?

Update

My mentor yesterday late night sent me a message informing me that they (she and her head of the department) discussed my work and agreed that probably I will be named as a first author, since I did all the work. Thank you all for answers, I wouldn't be so confident on this matter without your advices.

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    @CJR: Beware that the meaning of corresponding author strongly depends on the field, journal, etc. On most, if not all, of my papers, the first author is the corresponding author. – Wrzlprmft May 1 at 14:32
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    Absolutely putting my mentor as a coauthor is a MUST. Just she is not the FIRST author. Absolutely did contribute. The idea, research, funds, time, peiple, animals, collecting dana, writing it down, writing abstract, introductionc, discussion, conclusion, literature, everything was mine work. She did dthe statistics becaus by the rules of Student research center, she has to do it. Btw, during rh time, she told me that she rill not even maybe have time to do it. So I started lookg for ideas to ask for help fron other professors. – Visnja Jovanovic May 1 at 21:42
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    @Visnja Could you please explain what you mean by “She did dthe statistics becaus by the rules of Student research center, she has to do it.”? Because that makes absolutely no sense: what statistics are we talking about, and what do the rules state? If students weren’t allowed to perform the statistical analysis of their own research that would be completely insane. – Konrad Rudolph May 1 at 23:14
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    Tom says "only way to avoid this situation is to write alone and be the sole author of the paper." Having a competent, ethical mentor is an alternative. – Anonymous Physicist May 2 at 2:35
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    What surprises me most here is that this is in a biomedical field, so the last position which the mentor is trying to avoid is normally interpreted as the PI/senior author, and carries just as much importance as the first - I have seen professors argue over who should be list further back, or have co-last-authorship with asterisks. Mentor's insistence on swapping normal roles makes me suspect that they are short on first-author papers for some academic promotion rule (I have encountered such in Eastern European universities). – juod May 4 at 1:07
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Update: She has revealed in the comments that the "mentor" is a Professor at the Docent level, which makes me more inclined to advise her to take advice from the mentor. "Mentor" on its own sounds like it could be a grad student, in which case the answer would be different. Furthermore the Professor is suggesting more co-authors to save costs on publication, this suggests to me that it is going to a very good (expensive) journal or it could be going to a pay-to-publish journal, so I have asked for clarification. If it is going to a good journal that has for example $3000 publication fees and more authors are added, there's lots to say about that, but papers in "top" journals do not come by very often for people from every country, and adding co-authors can help: working together with several scientists that are more senior to you, is also in my opinion the best thing about doing science, as they often provide far more insights and improve the paper.


I agree with a lot of what the other answers say.

I will respond separately to some of your specific points though:

I performed some research and submitted it to a congress of biomedical sciences. Many professors told me that my research is very advanced compared to student work and that it could easily be my specialisation one day.

I very much believe that they said those things, but also keep in mind to try to take everything with a slight grain of salt. Since the mentor was involved in the work (you said they did the statistics), your mentor will know some things that random professors at a conference will not. At the moment I would recommend to try to remain modest, as this is indeed your first time on the verge of publishing, and PhDs with 10 publications worth of experience often still don't have much of a clue how the outside world "truly" thinks of their research.

You seem off to a great start though, and you've come to the right place for advice :)

I am an undergraduate student (sixth year veterinary science). My mentor tells me that no journal will accept me as a first author although the entire research is mine. I did everything except the statistics, because by the rules, the mentor must to it. I spent four months on the field, alone, taking samples, and an idea of gifting my own blood, sweat and tears is very painful.

I completely understand you.

Many people spent 48 months like that, and did not end up with any publication, and it is indeed very painful. Specifically, I'm thinking about all the 2-year (sometimes 3-year) masters students I know who graduated with no publication. This is not "rare" either: it actually happens all the time.

However it would indeed be nice (and even perhaps preferred!) for this work to get published. For that you do not have to, but might want to consider the advantages of having your mentor as first author (it is already understood that the mentor will be a co-author because they did the "statistics" for the paper):

  • Your mentor might get very angry at you if you try to oppose their authority or advice. When asked for a letter of reference at the student level, often we're asked whether the student is a "team player": if your mentor is not too disappointed at you to outright decline writing a reference letter for you, there is still the possibility that they do not give you the best letter you might think you deserve. This can damage your future. If you maintain a good relationship with your mentor, this paper might just be the first of dozens in your career, many of them probably being far more important and impactful than what your present paper in question, because it will be at an even more advanced stage in your academic career.

  • Without experience, you are more than likely to struggle severely in getting your paper past the gate keepers. Also, with no record of publication history, the referees might not take your paper seriously at all, no matter how good it is (this is why I alluded to taking what the professors at the conference said, with a grain of salt, because not many people behave the same way at a conference as they would when they are "anonymous referees". There's a lot of things that have to go right, and not a lot of room for anything to go wrong, if a paper written solely by an undergraduate is to get published in a good journal. If the mentor writes the article, the paper usually has a much better chance of being published. People might agree that the mentor can claim first authorship if they write the article (although a lot of people, including me, would not ourselves be that type of mentor).

  • Since you describe the "blood, sweat and tears" you poured into this project, you might like the paper to be published in a good journal, that will be widely seen. The mentor will most likely be able to help you with this, much more than you can help yourself at it.

Do you think I should wait for a year or a bit more to publish it as a graduate or should I let them take credits for my work.

No I don't think so, and here's why:

  • The mentor does not want you publishing it alone (or as first author), and that's why they said that you "can't" do it. What they said about undergraduates, applies to graduate students too. Waiting a year won't help.
  • The work might not be publishable anymore (or in the best potential journal) if you wait a year.

The research is about horse welfare in my country and it has never been done before.

You might be 100% right, but almost always when I hear "never been done before", it actually had been done before in some way, shape, or form. Many journals do not even allow words such as "new", or "never been done before", because it's impossible to prove it.

This means a world to me. I want to devote my life to this area and publishing my paper as mine would be only right thing to do, right?

I'm very delighted to hear your passion for research :)
I disagree that anything is the "right" thing to do, let alone "the only right thing to do".

The paper is still yours if you are a co-author. If you are a student, it will usually be known that you were the one that did the 4 months of field work and not the "mentor".

If you seriously do want to have any career in research, you will have to remove this way of thinking that being the first author is "the only right thing to do". You will have to make compromises. As long as you are not paying for everything yourself, you will always have a "boss": you will never be 100% free to do things in whatever way you want best, independent of what other people want.

Should I accept publishing the paper with someone else’s name as a first author?

Ask yourself this: is it better than not publishing at all?

If so, I will console you by saying that if you really want to devote your life to research, you are likely to be doing 60 more years of this, and possibly publishing 200 papers, and maybe 50-100 of them being first author.

This paper is not the end of the world, unless you cause that to be, by burning bridges with the people that might best be able to help you.


I would be happy to provide more advice if you have questions. I recommend you also tell us how many other co-authors might be involved (only you and your mentor, or even more co-authors?) and what the status of your mentor is (professor, assistant professor, post-doctoral researcher, graduate student, etc.).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal May 4 at 14:51
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My mentor tells me that no magazines will accept me as a first author

This is clearly wrong. Of course I cannot speak for every journal in your particular subfield, but rejecting papers only because of the academic rank of the first author would be ethically dubious. At the very least, there are some megajournals that do not have such criteria and which should accept your work – given that it is scientifically sound, etc. (Mind that I am not saying that megajournals are your best or only choice; they are just the easiest counter example.)

Moreover, a typical journal won’t even ask for your academic rank and may not bother to investigate it and neither do the peer reviewers. The journal may even practice double-blind peer review, in which the reviewers won’t even know your name and thus probably lack all means of finding out your academic rank.

Finally, while there are some people who judge a work by whether they know the authors (though they shouldn’t), they usually do not look at authorship positions. If somebody is going to be more benign to your work because your mentor’s name is on it, they will likely not care whether they are the first or last author.

by the rules, mentor must to [the statistics]

There are certainly no universal rules for this. Where did this come from?


Anyway, your problems rather are these:

  • Doing the statistics almost certainly qualifies your mentor for authorship, so he must agree on all publishing decisions. (The opposite also applies.) Even if you re-do the statistics, it will be difficult to argue that you did so completely independently. Also mind that any intellectual contribution qualifies for authorship, so think about any feedback or advice you got from your mentor on this work.

  • Your mentor may have some power over you. I don’t know them, but you must consider the possibility that they freak out over this and try to sabotage your career and particular this very paper.

  • The biggest advantage of having an experienced mentor contributing to your paper is their experience in writing. It is very unlikely that anybody produces proper scientific writing on their first attempt without help from somebody experienced with it.

Unfortunately, you have to judge your mentor’s mentality yourself. However, unless you are sure that they do not abuse their power, I strongly suggest that you find another professor or similar who can advise you and possibly act as an arbiter in this situation.

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  • I agree. "Rank" is meaningless. Quality of research and work is everything. – RockPaperLizard May 4 at 16:30
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if you have done most of the work that @Dmitry mentions, it is neither appropriate nor ethical your mentor to be the first author and, I can tell you from my experience, that in my field "no journal will accept the paper if the undergrad is the first author" is a total lie. As long as the paper stands as a proper scientific article written appropriately, you can even publish just yourself.

However, as Dmitry mentiones, if your "mentor" advises you throughout the research and writes the article, i.e contributes to the paper, s/he also needs to be a co-author.

But who should be the first author?

Well, that should be determined by the authors; you and your mentor. However, note that, having a second-author paper is way better than no paper. Therefore, don't let the authorship issue to prevent the publication of the research.

Lastly and most importantly, I can advise a clever solution to that authorship dilemma. Why not state who have done what? In your paper, you can list the contributions of each author, so that the author ordering, in a sense, made redundant. This way, even if the paper published with you as the second author, everyone would know what are your contributions and that of your mentor; i.e you have done the work and your mentor advised you.

Addedum 1:

If there is "enough research" done for a proper paper, I would suggest publishing now, since having a publication would greatly help you in your graduate applications. Plus, this way, you wouldn't have to stay in the same university just yo complete & publish a single paper.

Addedum 2:

From your comment to @Dmitry's answers, I suspect that your mentor either lies or s/he is very young and doesn't have much experience. In such a case, I would advise you to discuss the issue with other (more established) faculty members in your department who also work in the same field. In either case, they can talk with your mentor about the issue and advise them. Plus, that would prevent the possibility of damaging your relationship with your mentor while discussing the authorship issues.

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    @DmitrySavostyanov Can you give an example where the opposite might be true or an example where there is no difference between the two cases? – onurcanbektas May 1 at 11:09
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    @onurcanbektas can you give an example proving your statement true? Ie not producing a paper is better than being a second author? – Solar Mike May 1 at 11:11
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    If an UG student has 0 papers, then having 1 is a huge step up. If I were looking for a PhD student, I would prefer to hire someone with some publication experience, than with none. And sometimes the research itself is too important - as you said yourself, don't let the authorship issue to prevent the publication of the research. – Dmitry Savostyanov May 1 at 11:14
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    @SolarMike Just to be on the same page; are you question whether having a publication (hence showing that you have research experience) makes any difference when it comes to graduate school applications (as an exemple) – onurcanbektas May 1 at 11:15
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    @DmitrySavostyanov Sorry; I wanted to say the opposite. Apologies for the confusion. See my edit. – onurcanbektas May 1 at 11:17
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If you did all research yourself, then you can be the single author of the publication.

Note that research includes the choice of the problem, the choice of methodology, the data collection and analysis, the evaluation and interpretation of results, and writing and editing of the paper. If you were helped/advised on any of these aspects, your collaborators also deserve to be acknowledged or included as authors. In some areas it is also customary to include/acknowledge the person responsible for provision of lab facilities.

Whether or not you should be the first author or some of your collaborators depend on your relative contributions to the research. Ideally, this should've been discussed in early days of your collaboration, not after the paper is ready for submission. Nevertheless, if you believe that your contribution is the most significant, you can argue to be the first author. Good luck.

UPD: In response to your comment regarding whether or not it can be a rule that an UG researcher can not be the first author. There is an established notion of authorship, which you can find e.g. on Nature website:

Each author is expected to have made substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data; or the creation of new software used in the work; or have drafted the work or substantively revised it...

As you can see, this definition is linked to contributions to research, not to seniority, etc. Most credible universities adopt this approach to defining authorship.

However, different areas have different traditions regarding the first authorship. For example, in my area (mathematics) it is (was) customary to put all authors alphabetically, which often played against me as my surname is in the second part of the alphabet.

Nevertheless, the rule that an UG researcher can not be the first author seems unfair to me. It is appropriate for you to try to establish what are the terms of reference for this rule and try to challenge it. Try to find a person responsible for research in your university (e.g. Research Office) and ask their support on it.

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    @VisnjaJovanovic So who does she say wrote the "rule"? Her? the journal? the university? – Solar Mike May 1 at 10:57
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    She says that is how it's always done and that it is the rule of journals. – Visnja Jovanovic May 1 at 11:35
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    @VisnjaJovanovic No,it's not true. I have never heard of "always done" like that. It depends on contribution/role in biology, and the PI there is usually last. In some topics (math), order of authors is always alphabetical. On the other hand, you have a publication. The order of authors is not that critical, especially if you end up either as first or as last author. If I were to give advice, I would probably let the matter of author order go, author order is not the hill I would recommend dying on. – Captain Emacs May 1 at 12:38
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    It is not a rule. The professor is scuming her – SSimon May 2 at 5:33
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    @SSimon I don't appreciate web stalking and blatant over-generalisations. – Dmitry Savostyanov May 2 at 10:39
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Anyone can publish if they submit a manuscript that is otherwise acceptable to a journal. I know a case where a high school student (not 100% sure, but I remember I was surprised to find that out a while ago) published in a major journal as the first author with several coauthors, after an internship at a laboratory.

When you submit a manuscript, you have to provide your affiliation information. You may need or want to specify your title (Dr. or Mr./Ms./etc.). You may not be required to specify what your highest degree is.

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I would not like to comment on whether the "mentor" (it is unclear to me what the term means in practice) is correct on undegraduate authorship and focus on whether there are potential grounds for him/ her to claim first authorship. The OP states that (1) she "did everything except the statistics, because by the rules, the mentor must to it" and (2) "The idea, research, funds, time, peiple, animals, collecting dana, writing it down, writing abstract, introductionc, discussion, conclusion, literature, everything was mine work" and (3) an idea of gifting my own blood, sweat and tears is very painful/ not selling my blood, sweat and tears for £€$.

(2) in essence indicates primary data collection on own costs and drafting. It does not include data analysis (in fact (1) states that statistical analysis was done by the "mentor") and finalising the draft for paper submission - with possible submission fees burdening the "mentor". Although the norm in the fields I am familiar with, especially at PhD level, is to give first authorship to the student, in terms of contribution and workload (technical analysis and writing up) the "mentor" may have contributed as much as the student and may qualify as first author. There is no information given on the depth and extent of the statistical analysis (in fact, I too find the statement that the "mentor" "must do it" based on "the rules" as very odd) and that may be just as substantial as the work done by the OP. On writing, just because there is a more or less completed draft, this does not mean that the writing technique, experience and style that would bring the paper past the editor and the referees are also present. The only information given is on what the OP has done, not the "mentor", so at the very least I cannot exclude the above. Very often, without such a contribution from a supervisor (which may seem minor, not so time consuming or easy from the point of view of a student) such work would remain unpublished and at the stage of an early draft. This may not apply here, but is worth considering.

Finally, I do not see how (3) applies. Although there are cases where (PhD) supervisors have usurped the work of their students by removing them from co-authorship altogether, the "mentor" does not make such a claim. I fail to see how not being first author consists "selling" own work, especially since the term includes a buyer and a transaction. Based on what the OP writes, the arguments of the mentor are debatable and/or incorrect but there may be some merit behind them. Even so, however, an experienced academic should not claim first authorship at the expense of a student, although that may be field/ situation specific (given the oddities above). That said, I am not sure whether the OP is in a position to assess realistically the importance and extent of the "mentor's" contribution to the paper, even as someone simply more experienced in the process. Pragmatically, I do not see second authorship as too negative an outcome in that case.

I would refrain from putting too much weight on encouraging and perhaps patronising conference comments. If the OP is so convinced of the quality of the work and her abilities, or thinks that anything other than first authorsip is demeaning, she can always submit the paper as single author. This entails the removal of any work done by the "mentor", otherwise submission is unethical. This also means that the OP cannot rely on assistance or reputational help from the mentor. Other academics who may be willing to help will certainly ask for authorship (maybe first), even for polishing and taking care of submission.

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  • "There is no information given on the depth and extent of the statistical analysis" she used Graph Pad Prism software and excel. It took her few hours. I love my mentor and have a respect for her but at my University, it is the taboo of oublishing students as first authors even when it is their research. Most of them use it as a graduation paper.. My terminology is probably bad, I hope someone undestands me. Since I am not a 20yr old kid, I am not willing to let anyone control me by lies cause I will do my research on this issue and here I am, talking to you, experts. – Visnja Jovanovic May 2 at 9:44
  • If I have done sth on Excel 10 times and a co-author has never done it, it would take me a day but him a couple of weeks to learn, try, correct basic and elaborate mistakes and format the output. Maybe the mentor just did some descriptive statistics or data plots, but maybe she did something easy for her but beyond the grasp of a student. – user117109 May 2 at 10:50
  • Whatever the situation with statistics is, I never underestimated her effort. But to be clear, i have 33 references in my paper, she showed me 3 of them. She openly said "you know way more than I do on this topic, I will learn tons from you". So that's the reason I think the only appropriate way is for me to eb the first author. I am sorry for bothering everyone here with my small undergraduate problems but for me they are very important. – Visnja Jovanovic May 2 at 10:55
  • I wanted do say, OF COURSE she will be named as coauthor. That is a must. As she contributed in some way. The first one - I don't think so. – Visnja Jovanovic May 2 at 10:55
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I’ve seen worse situations than this, where an undergraduate or laboratory technician deserves to be first author and ends up with no credit at all, or just a “thanks to” credit at the end of the paper.

Is this fair or ethical? Of course not — welcome to the real world of academia! I strongly urge you to grit your teeth, profusely thank your mentor, accept whatever authorship position she allows, and do it with a smile on your face. It is a big mistake to intentionally alienate or anger anyone who has the potential to harm you professionally; it’s just not worth it over an issue like this. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you “win the battle, but lose the war.”

If you’ve already submitted the report to the biomedical congress as a first author, and the report is published in print or electronic format, you can legitimately list this on your resume or CV. Usually, these reports are listed separately from peer-reviewed journals on resumes/CVs.

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