9

I was recently been asked by a colleague to help acquire some data with a specific method that only I know about. Beyond that, I have an analysis pipeline that is very specific to this project. Originally, my colleague said that I could look at all of the datasets but suggested that it would be good to look at one subject first, to try to examine the results of that one subject, and then go from there.

I agreed. I did the analysis for this one subject with this very specific analysis pipeline, and then showed my colleague the very promising results, thinking I would continue the analyses and be a part of the journal publication. The colleague then asked me to send her the whole pipeline and asked me questions about the analysis. She also asked me to form hypotheses about what might be going on, which I did. The colleague then said that they would be taking over the rest of the analysis and I wouldn't be able to look at the data.

This feels quite sneaky and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I definitely wouldn't mind being a co-author and I don't have to be first author, however, I am not completely sure what the next steps are. Should I bring this up to my senior PI? I don't want to come across as aggressive, but I am definitely very annoyed. Does anyone have any advice on how manage this?

11
  • 10
    Time to play hardball. I would bring this up to my PI as a first step. I would make it very clear that I consider myself a coauthor and if the colleague doesn't act accordingly, they will have burned a bridge.
    – user9482
    Nov 16, 2022 at 13:42
  • 4
    Aggressive is fine. It's only "offensive" you want to avoid. Firm. Nice if you like and avoid swearing and insults and such. Don't let them get you angry. Angry causes mistakes. Angry gives them ammunition. Calm. But firm.
    – Boba Fit
    Nov 16, 2022 at 16:56
  • 4
    For future reference, the time to agree on co-authors and first-name-on-paper and who owns data and such issues is before any work is done, before any data is handed over.
    – Boba Fit
    Nov 16, 2022 at 16:59
  • 3
    No, in the situation as presented, that would seem greedy to me. That is something you would have needed to negotiate at the start.
    – user9482
    Nov 17, 2022 at 11:31
  • 1
    I have made minor edits to your question (e.g., removing commas before coordinating and subordinating conjunctions) but I suggest that you make a couple more changes. Your remark "I definitely wouldn't mind being a co-author" (which implies that you would have no objection to being a co-author if invited), does not fit with your remarks about the colleague being sneaky. It sounds as if you really mean that you think you are entitled to be, or deserve to be a coauthor. If that is what you mean, I suggest that you make it clear. Mar 10, 2023 at 2:11

3 Answers 3

1

Firstly, always establish authorship before working with someone. It seems awkward, but it is best to get things clear before work progresses. As long as you're not rude, no one should be offended.

Lesson learnt.

As for current situation. You've not given enough detail but as you have said you could speak to your PI I'm presuming you're a post-doc? Is the other person in the same lab? If so - speak to your PI ASAP and they should mediate. If they are not in your lab, still get advice from your PI.

Authorship inclusion is usually decided by the first author, which they will and should be if it's their data and they are writing it. Personally I have put people on a paper if they have contributed to analysis in the way that you say - because I couldn't have got the paper together without them and their input (or maybe I could, but it would have been a lot harder). This is your argument for inclusion. Depends on the field, but generally speaking an extra author does not detract from the first authors work and many journals list contributions.

Finally, if you do have the same PI, it's worth bringing this up as they might not know that your are helping them. Avoid a situation where someone if claiming your work is theirs (in this case the analysis pipeline).

0

Communicate early about mutual responsibilities.

To be on the safe side, do so in writing - e-mailing key points after important meetings is an option for recording oral agreements. Especially if you end up re-negotiating something, like you have.

Now, I have done what you did on several occasions, and was not met with malicious intent, so - anecdotally - do not start with assuming something bad (but do not write it off, either!). The major concern here comes from

The colleague then said they would be taking over the rest of the analysis and I wouldn't be able to look at the data.

There is a big difference between the hostile "I would not give you access to this data" and "I want to handle it myself and do not need your involvement any more". I would certainly pry. Better late than never - you have already done some work, and have not reached any agreements about publications yet: time to arrange that. Ideally, this should have been done at least prior to handing the pipeline over.

First authorship dispute is more delicate. In my field, for the first author claim one typically has to play a key role in the experiment design or take more responsibilities regarding data analysis and writing than you have described so far. It is possible to take a potential paper over like that (and I have done so very recently, actually, but certainly not by scheming about "how do I get a first authorship paper"), however, this is certainly not something to be coming at on full blast.

A common parlance in academia is that the ideas are cheap. This is not entirely true - once some preliminary work is done, it is clear that some ideas are more equal than the others. People get understandably defensive when others try to ride 10% of their ideas that were promising to success, and the perspective of "but I did all the work here" too often neglects the amount of work poured in pursuing the other 90% of ideas which ended up in the trash bin. I agree with Roland here: as the situation is presented, you do not have a strong claim on the first authorship, but you could push for the further collaboration explaining how your expertise with the method would be valuable, and propose leading the next paper with significantly more in-depth analysis. Overall contribution evaluation would still depend on the method and experiment complexity and a lot of other factors, so just talk it through.

To sum it up, first steps would be:

  1. Get a clear picture of your agreements with said colleague. If they do not exist in writing, make sure they do.
  2. Discuss the current authorship situation ASAP.
  3. If needed, get the more senior PI involved.
  4. If you get an authorship out of the current paper, but it is unsatisfactory for you (and, crucially, you are not required to do any more work on it beyond revising), pitch a new one where your part is the centerpiece.

Your negotiating power is tied directly with the work you perform. Use it well.

0

Take this as an opportunity to learn how to collaborate appropriately. Before collaborating, you should set your terms up front (and not after). It is absolutely fair to ask the PI to intervene and decide who gets what. Chances are if both of you are equally qualified as first authors, then maybe you all are. I have seen papers with more than two first authors and it is not entirely uncommon these days. In your case, it is easier to settle earlier than later.

2
  • The ... 'I have seen papers with more than two first authors' ... could do well with more clarity/context. Apr 25, 2023 at 8:10
  • A bit of how might do well for the ... it is easier to settle earlier than later. As it stands, I struggled to fit it in within OP question. Apr 25, 2023 at 8:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .