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I have a little dilemma to resolve. I am about to submit the major paper of my current post doc after working for 3 and a half years on this. This was a major collaborative effort involving people across two labs so the paper has 9 authors, currently myself as first author and two equally contributing senior authors. I have spearheaded the project since funding acquisition (I've got a Marie Curie grant for this research) and it will really be the major paper with which I would ask for new fundings and try to potentially start up my research group.

The paper is finally ready for submission and I was asked yesterday by one of the senior authors if the current second author should be upgraded to co-first (I would still be first name and corresponding author together with the two seniors). If one looks at mere contribution (i.e. time spent working on the various experiments and data analyses), I've done way more work than any other person (it has always been my project so others helped but I worked 90% of my time only on this), and all of the project coordination, but the second author has contributed very important analyses and is helping substantially in manuscript writing. He has always had a super nice collaborative attitude and we worked closely for several months on the main experiment (main because it gave the coolest results, not because it involved 90% of the whole project, although it was still 4 months of solid work just to collect these data), but I do feel it would have been different (more work load on him also for this main experiment and more requests to work together also on different components of the study) if we had decided this at the beginning and not now upon submission.

Anyways my question is, does it make any difference for my future career or how this will look like from the perspective of an employer or for the community of researchers working on the same topic, whether we are co-first or not? Because if it does not change anything to me then I do not see any issue, but if it somehow would give the idea that I was not fully independent on this (in terms of developing the ideas, coordinating etc), then I would be a bit more reluctant as I am trying to establish some "leadership" recognition in the field with this work. What different thoughts the two scenarios would prompt on someone looking at the publication list on my CV for example?

Thank you all for your answers!

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    Don't imagine that your "career" will be based on author position on one paper. This is a constant but, IMO, foolish concern. You are looking at the world through a microscope.
    – Buffy
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:21
  • Sure, that may have been misunderstood. I am not saying my entire career will depend on a shared co-first authorship or not on a single paper. But my near future one surely will depend on this paper as we are all confident it will have a big impact, so I am just asking if it does make any difference at all :). I certainly know of people getting an ERC grant or a tenure track MOSTLY because of a single Nature, Science or PNAS paper for example, apart from the fact that the research was great of course!
    – AndreaWall
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:27
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    These questions depress me. Your work depends on the contribution/collaboration with eight other people, without who's help you would probably fail. Collaboration should mean just that and generosity rather than stinginess leads to further collaboration and further success. Sorry to be yelling at a new user, since you don't really deserve the abuse, but there is far too much of this. Let's all fight now.
    – Buffy
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:37
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    I am sorry Buffy but this is not my question. I agree with you the whole thing is silly and depressing, just as it is depressing that a career can fly based on how famous a journal is or not. My question is given there are these biases, does it make any difference? And yes, if deciding on this would damage my future collaborations then that would be much more important to me than an asterisk on an author list. I am in the position where nobody will be annoyed with me whatever decision I make, so that is out of the equation.
    – AndreaWall
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:39
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    Maybe the question should not be "what would be the potential impact on my career?" but rather "does the co-author deserve to share the first authorship, given the work they have done". That second question is the only relevant one.
    – Louic
    Dec 9, 2021 at 16:00

1 Answer 1

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None.

There will be no difference in your CV. There is no space for such level of detail in the CV. If you spend precious space of your CV to describe how much formal contribution every author has given for each paper, you soon end up with pages of useless content.

Regarding "it somehow would give the idea that I was not fully independent on this (in terms of developing the ideas, coordinating etc)" you just state explicitly what each of the author contributed, I have seen such a disclaimer in many recent papers.

This paper has a lot of value for you (3+ years of work!), but an external reader would just look at the order of authors and think "the first author is the one that carried out the majority of the work". However, please clarify with the unnamed person that asked you to promote the co-author to co-first author that things would have been different for you "if we had decided this at the beginning and not now upon submission."

My final suggestion is that you are a postdoc, you are independent, you can politely refuse stating "he/she fully contributed as planned at the beginning of the work, he/she will be a co-author as planned at the beginning of the work".

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  • Thanks EarlGrey. Yes, there is no obligation for me to accept this at all, I was in fact politely asked and I can definitely refuse. But if you state that it does make NO difference whatsoever, then I do not see why refusing. I do not want to be spiteful and if that is beneficial for my friend and colleague who helped a lot and will in the future, while it does not change anything for me, then why refusing?
    – AndreaWall
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:32
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    There is no space for detailed contributions but usually one marks the shared authorships with an asterisk, at least in my field, so there would be the publication record with an asterisk and written *shared first authors, or *equally contributing authors. Anyways, I know this is all silly I just want to understand better what differences there are
    – AndreaWall
    Dec 9, 2021 at 15:36
  • +1, fully in line with my experience. One remark: "you just state explicitly what each of the author contributed" probably aims at the CRediT system which is widely adopted by various publishers. Dec 9, 2021 at 18:52

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