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My advisor obligate me to put her name first author name in my publication. What are the possible pros and cons of this order? What should I do if my advisor insists on being first author, in violation of my field's conventions? My field is IT.

  • Does your advisor's name come before yours alphabetically (if authors are ordered alphabetically in your field)? Did your advisor contribute the most to the paper (if authors are ordered by contribution in your field)? – ff524 May 1 '14 at 3:25
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    Also related: What does first authorship really mean? – Nate Eldredge May 1 '14 at 3:31
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    P.S. I can also tell you what the answer will be to that question: Run. Don't walk. – ff524 May 1 '14 at 4:56
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    On further research, turns out I was wrong about there being no convention that orders PIs first: there is in organic chemistry. Anyways, this definitely violates convention in IT. – ff524 May 1 '14 at 5:14
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    I say this a lot, but this is why you should talk about authorship early and often. – StrongBad May 1 '14 at 17:36
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I have unfortunately seen these kinds of shenanigans before, so: know you are not alone, whatever cold comfort that may be.

This situation has no "pro," and has the following significant "con:" you are not getting the credit you deserve for your work. In fields where author lists are not ordered alphabetically, order is used to signify the author's contributions to the paper, and first-author papers are much more important for things like hiring and promotions.

I suggest the following steps.

1. Talk to your advisor

Maybe this is just a misunderstanding, or there are other variables in play you're not aware of (unlikely, but possible - see this question). Have a conversation with your advisor to see if you can clear this up.

Here's your opener:

I thought that in IT, usually the student who did most of the work is the first author and the advisor is the last - this is the case in all the papers I have read. Why do you propose a different order?

2. Run, don't walk

This behavior is typically an indication that either

  • your advisor is completely unaware of conventions in your field (charitable interpretation), or
  • your advisor is aware of the authorship conventions and is deliberately violating them to your disadvantage, which is extremely unethical behavior.

In either case, this means that your advisor is simply unsuitable to be an advisor, to anyone, and you should find another one as soon as humanly possible.

3. If all else fails

If you are stuck with this advisor for some reason1, be prepared for a very bumpy ride. This is not likely to be the last stunt he/she pulls.

However, you can at least try to argue your case: there is some advice on the subject here, although that question does not specifically address the case where the advisor is demanding first authorship for him/herself.


1This site is full of students who insist on staying with a completely unsuitable advisor, for one reason or another. I suspect Stockholm syndrome.

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    in all fairness, there's a lot of fear about leaving advisors. And given the power that an advisor has over a student, it's not an unreasonable fear. But I agree that the fear is often exaggerated. – Suresh May 1 '14 at 6:37
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    There's also the "sunk cost" problem—the effort's already been spent; why start over? – aeismail May 1 '14 at 8:29
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    One point: the advisor may feel that his contribution is more significant, which the advisee may not realize. We aren't always in the best position to recognize our own contributions. This is why step one is necessary. – Zach H May 1 '14 at 13:48
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    Beyond "sunk cost" there is the "endowment effect". Even if in fact the costs are not sunk, and the student's progress could be mostly transferred to a new advisor, humans still have a cognitive bias to over-rate the value an asset they have compared with assets they could acquire. In fact since an as-yet-untried asset has an expected value with greater variance than the tried-and-not-good asset this isn't necessarily irrational, just as betting your house on the roll of a dice with 7-1 odds isn't necessarily wise :-) – Steve Jessop Jul 8 '14 at 10:26
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    ... where Stockholm Syndrome comes in is if the student is incapable of even recognising how far their current advisor is below average, so they can't just say the reason they don't want to switch is that they're risk-averse. – Steve Jessop Jul 8 '14 at 10:29

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