I'm a PhD student in the physical sciences and am looking for input regarding an authorship situation. My advisor recommends I be the corresponding author on an upcoming paper because I came up with the entire project, oversaw everything, secured the funding for it, and so on. I mentored an undergraduate who did a good chunk of work and made essential contributions, although I wrote up the manuscript and still ended up doing quite a lot, if not most, of the analysis. How would you approach the author listing in this situation?

In my field, corresponding authors (denoted with *) are typically the final authors, such that this would be: Undergraduate, Advisor, Me*. However, I have a few reservations about this. This is perhaps superficial, but I am concerned that not being listed as the first author will make my direct contributions subconsciously weighed less when applying for awards or academic careers. This is especially important because this is the paper that I want to represent my PhD, in the sense that when I apply for future careers, this is the research trajectory I want to make my own. I'm not sure if being listed last would help or hurt this. Of course, another option is to have it be: Me*, Undergraduate, Advisor. I suppose that resolves the prior issues and is more what I'm leaning towards, but perhaps I am being biased somehow in my approach.

Regardless, there's the separate issue that as "corresponding author", my contact information will presumably not be permanent. In this sense, it seems silly for me to be the author to which correspondence should be addressed, even if I do know the most about the details of this work. Perhaps then it might make more sense to be joint corresponding authors with my advisor?

What would you do? Note: I will certainly be discussing this with my advisor and co-authors to get their input.

For context, the CRediT roles are as follows:

Me: Conceptualization, data curation, formal analysis, funding acquisition, investigation, methodology, project administration, resources, software, supervision, validation, visualization, writing - original draft, writing - review & editing

Undergraduate: formal analysis, investigation, software, validation, writing - review & editing

Advisor: supervision, writing - review & editing

  • 1
    I think this is completely field specific. I think people in other fields will have a different interpretation and give answers that apply to their own fields, but not yours. But I'll guess the advisor just wants you to have the experience. It might be possible to make (email) contact information permanent. Some universities will set up an auto-forwarding link to your university email. – Buffy Jun 8 '20 at 16:43
  • You're probably right about the field-specific nature of this question. And I just checked it out -- you're correct. There's a way to ensure the email doesn't get deactivated and can be auto-forwarded after graduation. – sciguest Jun 8 '20 at 16:51
  • And if you join a professional society they may give you an associated email address. – Buffy Jun 8 '20 at 16:53

The authorship order and corresponding author issues are separate, and I think considering them separately will make it much easier to address each of them. There is no need for the corresponding author to be in any particular position in the authorship order.

Yes, it can be common for the corresponding author to be last in fields with a "final author is senior author" convention, but that's by correlation, not causation: senior authors are both last and are often corresponding authors.

These days, I don't think the corresponding author role is important for much beyond submission and handling things with the editor. There are much better ways to find contact information for authors, such as their personal or institutional website. If you expect to still be at the same institution (or at a minimum still have access to your email) when the paper has gotten through the publishing process, I think it's not much of a problem for you to be the corresponding author.

In my field which has similar authorship conventions, "You*, Student, Advisor" seems appropriate to me.

  • ...which raises a related point: if you do not already have a personal website, you should make one (unless you are absolutely sure that you will never move institution). This need not be a big task -- there are some very reasonably priced hosts. The important pages to have are a biography suitable for being introduced at a conference (panel chairs really appreciate being able to find a biography quickly), publication list (really helpful to other scholars trying to follow-up a reference), and a "contact me" page (that way, people can still contact you if you move institution). – anon Jun 9 '20 at 3:23

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