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I used to be in the lab of a professor at a top 10 US university with an h-index of 90+ (essentially very well respected). I was working with a PhD student in the same group on a paper (the professor was not an author on this paper) and later found out I was not included in the authors list by the PhD student. I contacted the professor, who acknowledged that I should've been listed as an author but that it was too late to change at this point. I talked to other professors at the same institution who said that, realistically given who the professor is, it would be best not to poke the bear and doing so would likely not result in a positive outcome for me.

In this situation, how would I list this on my CV? It is a fairly significant work and thus I would like to list somehow. I can certainly answer questions in detail about any part of the work. However, I feel weird about listing a paper where I am not listed as an author.

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    Are you at least mentioned in the acknowledgements?
    – Sursula
    Oct 4 at 6:47
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    @Sursula - No, nowhere in the paper or any related works. The github has code that I authored and sent to the prof, who pushed it (although I think without malice - github is not an attribution source normally) so my name doesn't even appear there
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 7:06
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    Ignore those who say don't poke the bear. You have earned the right to be credited as the author and have the evidence to prove it. If that bruises this prof's ego, so what? Too many people pussy-foot around arseholes so they continue being arseholes. Oct 4 at 14:53
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    @ScottishTapWater - While I like this idea, I think it may be detrimental long term. Other people who know him for longer than I recommended not to poke the bear. Given his previous behavior, it is not hard for me to imagine a situation where I apply to a PhD program/some academic role in a year or so and ask him for a rec letter given my work in his lab, at which point he writes a poorer rec letter (or even if he hears that I applied somehow and emails the relevant department). His word carries a lot more weight in the community and I worry about long term ramifications of antagonizing him.
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 23:33
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    As much as I hate to say it, if there is a real prospect of getting a positive rec letter, I think the tradeoff may indeed favor listening to those who advise you not to "poke the bear". Obviously the prof should issue a correction and should still give you a good rec letter, but don't delude yourself that you can magically stop "arseholes" like this just by refusing to "pussy-foot around" them; it could very well make him a bigger arsehole and leave you without anything at all to show for it.
    – Mike
    Oct 5 at 13:29

4 Answers 4

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In this situation, it would be reasonable for you to create a section of your CV (say, just after publications where you have authorship) where you can list research projects you have worked on where you are not credited as an author. You could title this latter section something like, "Other research projects (not credited as author)". List the paper there and include a description of your contribution to the project. This might raise a question at an interview, but your explanation is perfectly adequate.

I see this type of thing largely as a stop-gap measure for someone who is fairly early in their career. As you progress in your research career you will probably obtain authorship credit for a substantial number of papers, so you might later make the decision to drop the uncredited items, simply to simplify your CV. However, if you don't already have a lot of authored papers then it is probably reasonable to list this one as an uncredited research project and give a description of your work.

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  • Does it not look somewhat unethical/poor to be claiming a non-authorship research project as one's own?
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 7:02
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    So long as your description of your contribution is accurate, I wouldn't consider you to be claiming it as your own.
    – Ben
    Oct 4 at 10:27
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    If I put myself in the interviewer's shoes, as soon as I see this type of non-authorship research section, alarm bells start going off in my head because I assume the person writing the resume is more likely to be exaggerating their claim rather than the professor being unethical. Is this not a real concern?
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 23:25
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    Why would I be such an arsehole to a job candidate by speculating like that without taking any action to confirm the information? If I have any concern that the candidate might be lying/exaggerating, I contact the paper authors and ask them. According to your question, they would then tell me that yes, this person did indeed contribute significantly to the research and it was our oversight not to list him as an author. (I then chide myself for being sceptical of the claim in the first place.)
    – Ben
    Oct 4 at 23:33
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    Bear in mind that in almost every job application process in academia, people list a large number of papers on their resume. I have never seen an interview panel actually go through and check that these papers exist and that the person in question is in fact listed as an author (at most they might read one or two of the main papers). So if people want to lie about their research contributions, they can do this much more simply than by adding a special paper where they say they worked on it but they are not listed as an author.
    – Ben
    Oct 4 at 23:38
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Since they have already agreed that it was an error I would ask the Prof to issue a correction adding you as an author. It's a simple enough process and how to do it is well documented by most journals. Refusing to correct the record would be a publication ethics issue.

Why do you think that doing this would make you lose standing in a Professor's eyes?

I am a research integrity lead at my institution and I would be appalled if a Prof refused to do this, or other senior staff were advising a post-doc or student not to pursue it. Rightly or wrongly publication is our currency and refusing to acknowledge junior staff contributions is extremely poor. I would almost think that issuing a correction would help the Prof to get the reputation for doing the right thing by his team.

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    Do you have experience with changing the author list on a published paper with a single email to the editor?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 4 at 14:37
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    No but COPE explicitly defines the process by which this should occur, and I've just checked a couple of journals and the process is very straightforward in each. In any case the substance of my answer is correct, it's a simple process and advising anybody not to pursue it is a breach of publication ethics. I have edited the answer accordingly. Oct 4 at 14:44
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    I see. I agree that this is the best option, then, I'm still a bit skeptical it will be that easy but hopefully some changes in journal processes have occurred.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 4 at 14:49
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    @BryanKrause I have the experience of adding an author to a paper with a single email to the editor. It is that simple. A correction was published, the original paper remained as-is (can't change something that is already printed). So even though the added author's name will not be seen by most people reading the paper, they can at least officially claim it as their paper in their CV. Oct 4 at 20:32
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    I think it would cause me to lose standing because 1) he told me it's too late to correct (he doesn't want me to), 2) if I go behind his back and correct, he will hear about it, 3) he is known for being egotistical and would likely take this as disrespecting him (based on my understanding of how he would react given working in his group for ~1.5 years), 4) other professors who have known him for longer (who have nothing to gain by leading me astray) told me I would be in the right to ask for a correction, but given his personality, it would likely be worse for me long term
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 23:29
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You really can't list a publication that you are not an author on, at least not in the way you would list other publications. The best you can do is list the experience with your other education/research/employment i.e., you worked in the lab from date xxxx-yyyy and did a,b,c things that resulted in z publication. It's not ideal, but depending on what you plan to do, might be okay.

The larger issue here is that you were improperly excluded from the author list - your former professor even admitted that. I suspect your former professor does not want to be bothered jumping through the necessary hoops to get you on the author list (you'd need the agreement of all authors, possibly a letter, probably some paperwork). Journals can update author lists if there has been a mistake. I'm sure most major publishers have an official process for this.

I would pursue that a bit more before giving up, despite what your other professors say. You don't have to "poke the bear" necessarily. Just check the publishers policies and if they have a process you can send and email to your professor offering to do the leg work. If that doesn't pan out, it's up to you how far you take things. I would argue that it wouldn't be wrong to contact the journal directly - you have email proof indicating you should be an author. This is the nuclear option though and would definitely be poking the bear.

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    I suspect the professor would not want the annoyance either. If I contact the journal, word will definitely get back to him. I will likely get the authorship given the evidence but lose standing significantly in his eyes. He is, despite being extremely smart, very egotistical and would definitely take it poorly. I worry about longer term consequences where his opinion about me would likely be respected; the other professors sympathized but said given his tendencies and his reputation, it would be a poor idea despite my being in the right.
    – olivarb
    Oct 4 at 7:05
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    If you contact the journal word will get back to him - the journal will likely reach out to all the authors. However, most journals and publishers have the process outlined online. I was suggesting doing some research and suggesting to the lead author that you would handle all the annoying work. I can't imagine how this would bruise even the most delicate ego - you can always butter him up a bit.
    – sErISaNo
    Oct 4 at 7:11
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    I would not assume that journals have a process for adding authors that does not involve retracting the original publication. While it seems like it should be simple to change the author list, it really isn't, since it changes how everyone will refer to the work in the future and creates conflicts there. Certainly unfortunate for OP's situation.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 4 at 14:37
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    It's simple enough to check the process for post-publication change to authorship on a journals website. It doesn't seem complicated. There is also COPE guidance on the process journals should follow, and in the case there is no disagreement amongst the authors it should be straightforward publicationethics.org/sites/default/files/… Oct 4 at 14:58
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I'm a prof with h-index 80+ at a top-5 university in STEM, first time posting here. Maybe I can speak to the prof's perspective.

The short answer to your question is, if you're not on the author list, you cannot list it on your CV.

That said, it's VERY odd that "the professor was not an author on this paper" if it's from their lab. In that case the prof has no way of helping you, so I don't see why you'd complain about poking the bear. It's not the bear's paper!

The best you can do is: 1) talk to whoever is corresponding author on the paper and explain. 2) talk to whoever is going to write you future rec letters and explain. If you did the work, they will gladly write about it in their letter, and that's more important than having the paper on your CV if you're just in the middle of a long author list.

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    Perhaps just at my school, but the prof heading the lab is not always on the research paper. I talked to the main author, who admitted fault and brought in the professor. Professor basically said "mistakes happen, move on". Professor offered to make up for it in rec letter privately. I'm also concerned about if I want to move into a more research oriented position outside academia, it may be detrimental
    – olivarb
    Oct 8 at 17:35
  • What do you think about the accepted answer (by @sErISaNo) of listing the experience as a "worked on this paper" without listing it in the publications section of the CV?
    – olivarb
    Oct 8 at 17:36
  • @olivarb, I think it's a fine suggestion, but if you apply to PhD programs the admissions committee will put FAR more weight on your advisor's rec letter than on some paper you aren't listed as author on. I've been evaluating PhD applications for nearly 20 yrs, we basically look for GPA and then the rec letters, ever since GREs have been disallowed or made optional. Then we decide who to interview, etc.
    – Utonium
    Oct 9 at 21:12
  • So this compromise by the professor actually makes sense assuming I apply to academia and I just list as per @sErISaNo if applying to industry?
    – olivarb
    Oct 9 at 21:15
  • Yeah, surely if you apply to PhD programs you need a strong rec letter. That said, I worked in industry for a bit and I would always check for references there too. Easy to do and helps one filter out (some) weaker candidates.
    – Utonium
    Oct 10 at 1:30

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