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I contributed to a conference paper with a large collaboration where I another PhD student did a large part of the work. When time came to publish, all coauthors on the work verbally agreed that myself and the other PhD student contributed equally and the most, and should order and annotate the author list to reflect this fact.

However, the submission guidelines advised against annotating author contributions (maybe this is a field where author ordering does not matter as much) and so we decided to put the other PhD student as first author, myself as last author, and put contact information (i.e. email addresses) on only our two names.

In some of my professional documents (mostly CV and committee meeting reports), when I list this work as an entry in a bibliography I have started annotating my own name and the other PhD student's name with a footnote like "authors contributed equally to this work".

My question is, could this after-the-fact label cause professional issues since in the article it is never explicitly stated that authors contributed equally? Or in other words, would a researcher who read my CV and saw an "equal contributions" annotation there become suspicious or critical if they then looked at the article and found no explicit indication of equal contributions? Is there a better way I should be handling this?

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  • I will have a formal pre-print version of the paper online that explicitly saying that the first and last authors contributed equally. This way, confusion or suspicion will be cleared.
    – High GPA
    Jun 19 at 18:04
  • I doubt that the question in your last paragraph will ever come up. Jun 19 at 18:09
  • Did the submission guidelines say you cannot have two first authors, or did they just say you cannot add detailed annotations such as exactly who did what?
    – Oliver882
    Jun 19 at 20:21
  • It would help to have some information about what field you are in and what field the paper is in so that the conventions on author order in both is clearer. I have one of these sorts of things in my CV (which mirrors the published annotations), for instance, despite being first author. That's because alphabetical is very standard in my field. Jun 19 at 20:36
  • Working in a field where you need quite a lot of first author publications to get a job, I see no point in the "authors contributed equally" thing. Having that listed on your CV will not make a difference when your competition has ten first author publications. Jun 20 at 1:50

2 Answers 2

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I doubt that that such a statement external to the paper necessarily implies anything at all about what is in the paper. In some fields, in fact, author order itself is a strong indicator of the participation of the authors. In other fields, it is normal to assume equal participation unless otherwise explicitly stated.

If you are in one of the latter fields, such as CS, say, then such a statement in a CV would seem odd and unnecessary. If the authors are listed alphabetically in the paper, then, again, the natural assumption is equal participation, though not necessarily the same kind of contribution by each author.

While it seemed to be a good idea to "boost" the students a bit by listing authors out of alphabetical order, it was probably a mistake as it has implications of contribution to at least some readers. Stating otherwise in a CV could raise questions in someone's mind even if they aren't raised publicly. It seems like you are now trying to reverse a decision made earlier.

And, in fact, I question the need for such a statement. The paper speaks for itself and all authors get recognition for whatever contribution it makes.

I'm also surprised that the journal let you list the authors non-alphabetically and also didn't want a statement of participation. They seem, to me at least, to be assuming author order implies "level" of contribution, whatever that means.

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  • "I doubt that that such a statement external to the paper necessarily implies anything at all" What do you mean? It says something. Do you mean it is not believable?
    – Oliver882
    Jun 19 at 20:27
  • @Oliver882, in the best case it is an accurate statement of what all authors believe. But in the worst case it is a mischaracterization by an interested party that is difficult to disprove. There is no way to judge it. And, being unusual, it can be suspect. Hence the word "necessarily".
    – Buffy
    Jun 19 at 21:02
  • OK. I guess you meant that it doesn't prove anything or it isn't convincing.
    – Oliver882
    Jun 20 at 14:13
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I don't think people will be suspicious or critical. It is a minor issue.

However, to be safe, I think you should make it be documented somewhere public that you contributed equally. This is like the suggestion by High GPA. For example, list your publications on your website and put the annotation there. This makes your claim less suspicious, because it is public, so everyone knows that your co-authors can see it too.

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