I am currently in the following situation: Another person (not from my department) and I did a study together. The other person is an associate professor, I am a junior researcher (medical doctor). We performed a secondary data analysis of clinical data. The data is his and I performed the analysis. We both wrote the manuscript. When discussing about authorship my collaborator was very liberal replying "XX, it is really up to you. Take the first or last authorship, whatever you prefer and like best". We are both from different countries (in Europe). The manuscript contains an author contribution section, detailing who did what.

How would you handle such a situation? I read that this is field-specific so I was wondering what would be best for medicine / statistical science.

  • 29
    Can I just say that you are very lucky with your collaborator? They gave an answer that was the most favorable to you and that is unfortunately not always the case when discussing authorship. As a junior researcher, take the first-authorship and try to collaborate further with this person. And next time, discuss authorship at the start of a collaboration. You won't always be so lucky with your collaborators.
    – user9482
    Aug 22, 2022 at 8:52
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    In mathematics, the authors just list their names in Alphabetic order. I presume that they do that because they see ranking contribution as futile. Why not just do that? Aug 23, 2022 at 14:15
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    Since you seem to have a good relationship with your co-author, in addition to the answers below, I would suggest responding "To me this choice seems most appropriate because I think it signifies these contributions; can you reality-check that framing for me, since you're more experienced?" Aug 23, 2022 at 15:55
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    I've seen publications where author names are additionally marked with stars which are defined below as "contributed equally" - while this is obviously somewhat awkward, it could be a way to go if in doubt. Aug 23, 2022 at 19:18
  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2467/…
    – Sursula
    Aug 29, 2022 at 14:00

4 Answers 4

  • First author: The person who did most of the practical work
  • Last author: The supervisor - most often had the idea/data

In your situation I would think that you should go first and he should go last as senior author. Would possibly benefit you both most. As Professor he doesn't need first authorships any more but you do (EDIT: and it might even be expected that he has primarily last authorships).

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    For a (senior) professor it might even be expected that they have primarily last authorships. They key role is managing a lab, not doing the lab work themselves.
    – quarague
    Aug 22, 2022 at 11:01

In many fields (I cannot speak for the medical field, though), first author is the most coveted "spot" in the authors list. Your professor probably has enough of a publication history amassed, so that he doesn't need another first-authored paper to enhance his reputation.

If he really doesn't mind, take the first author spot.

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    lordy's answer is appropriate for the medical field. The last author position is just as coveted when it indicates a supervisory role. A student or post-doc (or resident/other physician-in-training role) should accumulate first-author publications that indicate they're the primary person responsible for doing the work; a professor or other senior-role person should accumulate last-author publications that indicate they're the primary person responsible for mentoring and driving research directions.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 22, 2022 at 17:18

If it is deemed appropriate for you here some journals allow a symbol which marks Authors contributed equally, making the order of the names less significant. perhaps this applies here.

  • I've yet to meet a journal that doesn't allow "these authors contributed equally" Aug 23, 2022 at 12:30
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    While this is true, it's worth noting that I don't know any method of bibliometric data collection that can actually detect this case. Whether or not this matters is obviously dependent on the field and the situation of the authors. Aug 23, 2022 at 20:02
  • You can do this, but I have never seen any benefit to it. Aug 24, 2022 at 17:39
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    @MichaelMior JATS XML has an equal-contrib attribute to encode this. PubMed understands and displays this.
    – user71659
    Aug 24, 2022 at 21:45
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I got my faculty position with 1 first author paper, but 5 joint-first author papers. My academic probation (similar to tenure) requirements required me to have 1xIF>10 or 2xIF>5 papers as first or last author, but joint authorship counted. Similarly for my recent promotion, I needed 2 "major" output every 2 years with first or last, but joint counted. Aug 25, 2022 at 12:20

Most journals implement the concept of shared first authorship, A.K.A. equal contribution. How it is indicated varies, but ultimately it signals that the two of you made equal work and should be credited equally. Mentioning this to the editor should be enough. This concept is well understood in academy, so explaining this later will always be straightforward

Which one of you goes first in such a shared authorship has only symbolic value, so it's up to you two. Don't overthink it, I'm sure two polite academics can decide on it without either of them getting hurt.

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