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Years ago, when I had no academic experience and no sense of what constituted authorship, I worked as a software developer in a biology lab whose PI was very generous with authorship. If you gave another student some analysis code or met with them a dozen times to get them up to speed on a new project, you were listed as an author on any subsequent paper. For example, a year or two after I left this lab, I got an email notification about an accepted paper from this lab that I was n-th author on. Why? Because I had helped a summer student a handful of times—maybe half a dozen meetings, less than a few hours of work. I didn't speak up because the PI had an outsized impact on my application to graduate school. While I wondered if he was being too generous, I didn't actually know what constituted authorship, and it felt safer to just ignore the issue.

Now I'm nearing the end of a PhD in CS/ML and considering postdoc or research scientist positions. I've developed my own research taste and collaborated with others who are much more rigorous and intentional about what academic authorship means. I've learned a lot. This biology work (1) is not in my field, (2) clutters my CV, and (3) is embarrassing to discuss since my contributions are so marginal. This problem is compounded by the fact that a few of these projects are well-cited. One paper has nearly 2000 citations. My contribution was to help write the documentation (it's bioinformatics software). It has nothing to do with my chosen field; my contribution was non-technical and uninteresting; and yet it dominates my Google Scholar. It's plausible that for the rest of my career, this paper could be at the top of my Google Scholar.

Ethically speaking, can I exclude these papers from my CV? Can I delete them from my Google Scholar? When I was in college, I mowed lawns, but I don't put that on my resume because there's nothing to talk about. I wonder if the same rules apply even to papers that you're officially an author on.

  • This and its linked questions partly address half of your question. – GoodDeeds Jun 15 '20 at 23:23
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    I do not know the answer to the Scholar question, so I won't answer, but 1) consider that CS/ML standards of authorship are not the same as biology, and 2) including them in your CV shows a breadth of experience. It sounds like you were not outwardly fraudulent, so why not keep them? Do they come up in discussion that frequently? – Azor Ahai -him- Jun 15 '20 at 23:37
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Can you? Yes. You are free to curate your Google Scholar page as you wish, and you can easily re-title the "Publications" section in your CV as "Selected Publications".

Should you? This is probably the more difficult question. I don't think your case is that unusual: I can think of a few people who have publications from 'a previous life' as a scientific software developer or lab technician before they started their PhD. I don't think anyone is misled by their publication lists - there's usually a fairly obvious transition into a more focussed area around the time they started their PhD. This is all the more true in the case of a CV, where (presumably) your pre-PhD employment is already itemized. I think people are far more likely to wonder why you have omitted certain papers than wonder why you kept them in.

I would argue that you should keep everything on Google Scholar. It is fundamentally an interface to a search engine, and users landing on your page may come with a variety of motivations. People can always 'sort by year' if they want to find your recent work. The only people who would seem to be seriously inconvenienced by you keeping everything are those who want to judge you solely based on your citation statistics - and do you really want to make their lives easy?

For a CV, the obvious choice is to explicitly divide your publication list into two sections: pre- and post- PhD commencement (or perhaps "Publications in < main research area >" and "Other publications", if that's a neater division). This would seem to strike a good balance between completeness and offering an acknowledgement that not all your publications are equally relevant to your current career. In circumstances where you need a 'short-form' CV, you might then compress the "Other" section to a brief summary sentence, perhaps with a link to a full listing on your website.

  • For anyone else reading: I made two changes. One, I created a "publications" page on my website with "Select publications" and "Other publications". Second, I changed my link to Google Scholar to point to the sort-by-time view, making my more recent CS/ML publications come to the top. – gwg Jun 17 '20 at 13:01

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