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I am seeking advice for the following situation: I finished my PhD in microbiology in September 2021, just before I submitted a paper to eLife with me being first author and my PhD advisor as corresponding author. The results of the first review round came in just after I left the lab and additional experiments were asked for by the reviewers. These were performed by another PhD student and resulted in two figures in the supplementary material and did not alter any of the conclusions of the paper. The additional experiments were performed using the exact same methodology and data analysis pipeline developed by me during three years. Merely the bacterial strain was different.

Yesterday I received the revised manuscript which states the other PhD student as co-first author with equal contribution (nobody informed me or asked for my opinion). I replied immediately to the PI that I cannot accept this, stating that an authorship is justified but certainly not an equal contribution. I hear from the lab that the other student's projects are not going well and that they are looking for a way to get her on a paper...

Now I am wondering if there is any chance that the revised paper could be accepted without my consent and what I should do if the PI refuses to "downgrade" the authorship of the other student. And should I also inform all other authors, that I don't agree with the author list?

EDIT April 14 I informed the PI that I did not agree on the order of the author list with respect to the authors' contributions and that I refused resubmission of the manuscript until I could seek further advice. The PI backed down and agreed on removing the "equal contribution" for the other student, not without trying to make me feel guilty.

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    In general, a reputable journal won't publish a paper without the consent and agreement of all authors.
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 17:09
  • What do the other authors think about this?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 17:11
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    More important, how important is sole first authorship of this one paper important to your career at this moment? Are you desperate for this? Are you in a position to be generous? Do you value future collaborations?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 17:20
  • @Buffy As for now, I answered directly to the PI only. But I am wondering whether I should check with the other authors as well. Apr 10 at 17:24
  • That is probably a good idea, but I'd suggest you ask for their views rather than starting with a complaint.
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 17:27

1 Answer 1

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Based on the comment stream attached to the question, I'll recommend that your best option is to just let it go. There are several factors, of course.

One is that you are unlikely to change the PIs behavior no matter what you do, though you could probably make trouble for them if you want to by making a complaint to the university.

Another is that you aren't in academia, so few will know the difference between shared or sole first authorship.

Third, is that bit of a boost to another student isn't necessarily a bad thing. Generosity is a good thing.

It is in your power, of course, to prevent publication. In general, all authors need to agree on authorship and reputable publishers respect that and ask for permission. So, your consent is required.

But a fight will cost you emotionally, I'd guess, and for little actual benefit to your career going forward.

I hope the PI didn't sabotage an academic career for you.

If the PI is plagiarizing your work that is a different matter and should be addressed to the university and to any publisher.

Bad things can happen and sometimes all you can really effectively do is to avoid damage to yourself.

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    Why do you think a fight will cost OP emotionally? It seems like you are recommending to give up very easily. All that has happened so far is the PI has added the other student as a co first author, and OP complained.
    – gib
    Apr 10 at 21:06
  • @gib, because an angry ex-PI can take some vindictive action, perhaps and it will bring back memories that might not be pleasant. As to "giving up easily", fight the battles you have a chance of winning.
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 21:30
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    The angry ex-PI taking vindictive action doesn't seem very likely as OP is not in academia, and the memories have already come back. All this fight involves is sending a few emails, and it sounds like OP is in the right, so I think he/she might easily win. It might even benefit his/her emotional health, if the PI backs down. Of course I don't know for sure.
    – gib
    Apr 11 at 9:51
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    Thanks for your answer. You and @gib were both right. see my edit for the outcome. It definitely were some difficult days but the bad memories came back the moment, the PI tried to belittle my contribution. Apr 14 at 12:18

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