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So recently, my PI submitted a paper that I and another graduate student have worked on for the past year. The graduate student and I contributed equally on this project, in creating figures, getting data, writing the manuscript, etc., and he agrees as well. However, the first authorship is going to my partner, but I think it would be more fair if we had co-first authorship.

I want to bring this up and ask my PI, but I'm not sure what she'll say. How should I explain my situation to her?

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  • I am not aware of any journals In my field that allow co-first authorship. There are journals that ask for a description of author contributions, and you can say that all or some authors contributed equally. However, articles in all journals that I am aware of have a unique first author
    – Thomas
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:49
  • What was said in the conversation that determined the other student would be first author? Are you in a field of research where first authorship is meaningful?
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:50
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    @Thomas Perhaps not in your field, but it is (relatively) common in others to have an asterisk/other marking by the first two authors and a note "These authors contributed equally to this work." This is considered "co-first authorship". Due to limitations of written language, of course one actually appears "first", but the other can also consider this as a "first-author paper" for certain purposes.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:51
  • @BryanKrause interesting, do you have an example?
    – Thomas
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:54
  • @Thomas Try scholar.google.com/… - this one is particularly biased towards a specific publisher because of the specific phrasing I searched for, of course.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 24 '20 at 21:59
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I want to bring this up and ask my PI, but I'm not sure what she'll say. How should I explain my situation to her?

You're thinking about this wrong. It's not the PI's decision. You don't have to convince her, as she has no greater role in establishing authorship than any other, except of course by being the mediator between her own students.

Everyone on the author list has to agree to the ordering (and co-first-authorship). If the present first author agrees you should share first authorship, that's the big hurdle. I would suggest having him email all authors saying something like:

Monolo and I have discussed their contributions, and we would like to submit this paper as co-first-authors.

No one is likely to object, unless you're trying to jump from seventh author to first.

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I suggest that you first talk to your partner. If they agree, then you can go jointly to the PI. If they disagree then you are inviting a fight. Make sure that it is a fight you really want. Bad things can come from such fights especially if your PI also disagrees.

Having any authorship is a good thing and in the long run co-first-authorship will mean little extra for first papers.

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You could request a meeting with your PI, at which you can say you'd like to understand why your collaborator was named first author. She may have good reasons or she may have a mistaken understanding of your contributions, which you can correct.

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