4

I wrote a paper and have done the majority of the work, including the idea generation, research, and the writing. I am coauthoring with my advisors and a few other researchers. In the paper the authors will be alphabetically listed due to a cultural factor. The field is a branch of applied math where some people still do alphabetical ordering.

One advisor is in the UK and one is now in the US. Other authors are either from US or Europe.

Usually the corresponding author is the "boss". However, in certain countries, only the first or corresponding author's publications will be materially counted.

So I want to ask my advisor if I can be the corresponding author as otherwise I will be only the third author. The corresponding author is not confirmed yet.

Is it reasonable or polite? How can I initiate this talk without annoying an advisor?

A big thank to all of you for your suggestions. Two points I learnt:

  1. Corresponding is an extra work, or a burden
  2. Seniors usually do the job because they have a stable contact method
  3. Corresponding author knows the work better

So here is what I try to politely ask my advisor:

"Will you be happy to do me a favor? I wonder if it is possible for me to submit the paper and be the contact person, as being the contact person is a big burden and I can handle those chores which I probably know better. We both use gmail and gmail is stable enough. Although you contributed much more than me by providing some big pictures, I think a chance of being the contact person will be a meaningful training experience for me to grow-up."

Then I will agree with whatever he says.


Some related info: Here is the American Mathematical Society's 2004 "culture statement" on coauthorship. It says that more than 75% of coauthored math papers (including both pure math and some applied math fields) with at least one American author use alphabetical order, and that this percentage is over 90% in pure mathematics.

Might be Related: Uncommon order of authors names?
Is there an inflation in the number of authors per paper?
Can I add a baby as a co-author of a scientific paper, to protest against co-authors who haven't made any contribution?
Why do people sometimes put authors with equal contribution in non-alphabetical order?


Note: the field is not pure math. Since some of you raised a valid point that authorship status does not matter that much, here is a quote from a professor, in a related applied field that relies heavily on mathematical skills:

A follow-up on some of your concerns: I do work in signal and image processing. Some worthy young applying candidates from mathematics are disavantaged because of the poor knowledge of people in the neighboring field, and the first letter of their names, at the end of the alphabet. That is why these discussion are important, to fathom the different uses in science – Laurent Duval

I've heard about the same thing from the colleagues, too.

21
  • 1
    What cultural factor? Is the factor that the culture is math? Dec 1 '21 at 1:45
  • 6
    Is there really anything significant about being the corresponding author your field? In pure math, there is none, and it seems like you're following our authorship conventions.
    – Kimball
    Dec 1 '21 at 2:42
  • 2
    I'm not in maths but I agree with @Kimball. There is no advantage from being a corresponding author. I usually suggest to my PhD students that they list me as corresponding author simply because my contact details are more permanent by an order of magnitude. You know, since the corresponding author is supposed to handle correspondence regarding the paper.
    – Roland
    Dec 1 '21 at 8:58
  • 1
    @HighGPA Sure, why not. I honestly don't care. I connect no prestige at all with the role of corresponding author. However, I'm in a field where author order matters.
    – Roland
    Dec 1 '21 at 13:14
  • 1
    Would it, though? If they are unhappy about you breaking convention, they (a) aren't likely to agree, and (b) a good recommendation from your supervisor is more valuable than one paper. Corresponding authors are usually stable in their jobs, beyond being a designation of seniority. Dec 1 '21 at 23:38
7

I think you are overstating the importance of being corresponding author in the pure math field. It is a job, not an honor. Ideally it should be the person most able to answer questions that might be raised in the future about the paper. It is for that reason that a senior person is often corresponding author. They have more experience and a broader overall view as well as, perhaps, having more time since you suggest you do the bulk of the work here.

In pure math, the reason that alphabetical listing is used is that there is an assumption that all contributed "equally" to the content of the paper. It doesn't mean that they all contributed "in the same way", but in math, a short conversation in the coffee lounge can be the crux of a hard problem.

But, I think that if you are an early career mathematician that you should ask to be corresponding author and the reason is that you want the experience of fielding any future questions on the paper and what that might lead to in possible collaborations.

And, if you are the one most familiar with the "whole of the work" then you are a natural for the job of corresponding author. Asking is fine.

5
  • 1
    Agree with the main point that corresponding author is not an honor. But it’s best if the corresponding author is someone with a permanent job because it’s more likely that someone will be able to get ahold of them in 5 years. Earlier career people don’t have stable email addresses, and it’s hard to find email addresses of people in industry. Dec 1 '21 at 14:32
  • @NoahSnyder, more enlightened universities will preserve the email addresses of doctoral students, perhaps as a pass thru and perhaps by request. Some colleges preserve them for all students. This was the case at Dartmouth in the past, but I don't know now. I think it is a brilliant move, actually.
    – Buffy
    Dec 1 '21 at 14:42
  • This answer is very encouraging and reasonable; I truly appreciated it. My field is applied math and applied statistics though, not exactly pure math. Still very helpful to me and now I understand how I initiate the talk.
    – High GPA
    Dec 1 '21 at 21:41
  • Glad to help. Your citing of AMS led me to make assumptions. Things can be a bit different in applied math, but if you use the alphabetical author convention I think this applies.
    – Buffy
    Dec 1 '21 at 21:46
  • @Buffy Sorry for being not clear. AMS says that 75% of all math paper are alphabetical, while 90% of pure math paper are alphabetical.
    – High GPA
    Dec 1 '21 at 21:49
1

Oh gosh. Ideally this was discussed early on with the condition that this can be revisited again throughout the process as roles shift, demands in time, etc.

Hopefully you have a good relationship with your adviser and can simply ask, "Could I talk you about authorship?" or least help bringing this up to all those contributing.

Good luck as maybe not everyone may see eye-to-eye or whoever is first author may not want to cede that position.

2
  • There is formally no first author as the authors are alphabetical. But indeed, many research shows that even if the authors are alphabetical, the first author still benefit more from it.
    – High GPA
    Dec 1 '21 at 1:42
  • Ideally the authorship is discussed early but in the research process many other helps may be needed so adding other authors could be inevitable.
    – High GPA
    Dec 1 '21 at 1:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.