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In my university it is typically the case that advisors are first authors but this comes with having them do the first author responsibilities such as making significant (original) and insightful intellectual contributions to the paper; participating in the conception and planning of the study; generating data through performing experiments; conducting literature reviews – while the second author may have contributed to the data collection, analysis, or interpretation.

Now he did none of any of those duties and gave me nothing but "I am not convinced" and "I want to get rid of you ASAP", threatening to throw me out of the program every time because progress was slow. After years of working alone and after I wrote the paper and showed it to him, he wants his name as "first" author. I could put his name as a second despite him not doing anything but my heart will break if I have to put his as a first author.

I have done the work and I need this to get to the next step (apply to very good grad schools abroad). I also spent more years than colleagues with advisors who are doing their jobs.

What advice do you have for me?

UPDATE: Thank you for your insightful answers. I believe I won't be able to take it if I let him take this from me while also abuse me. I fainted the day he told me this when I went home. I am depressed, stressed, and resentful, I was not expecting it at all. I will return back to this platform and update you on my decision and what happened eventually. I know God will keep me safe. I'd appreciate your prayers, and I hope more professors stop their colleagues from being that satanic in the community. We, students, look up to you and want your protection.

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    Would you rather have him first author and graduate or be first author yourself and not graduate or not have the paper published at all (perhaps with graduation in doubt)? Those seem to be your choices. What power do you have? What allies?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 19:40
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    They probably can't affect what the journal does, but they can affect your future. Think about what effective options you have and choose the best (or least bad) one. How long have you known about this "rule"?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10 at 20:03
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    This question was mentioned in a post on meta: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5438/…
    – Allure
    Apr 11 at 2:35
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    Is your work in the field of mathematics? Does your advisor's last name come alphabetically before yours?
    – JRN
    Apr 12 at 1:38
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    I recommend leaving the "satanic" out. It's clear that you have strong religious beliefs, but linking professional misconduct to Satan is not going to help you make your case. Especially if applying elsewhere. Apr 12 at 14:01

9 Answers 9

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In my university it is typically the case that advisors are first authors

I do not believe this is accepted practice in any field. If accurate, this speaks very negatively about your institution. Specifically, it suggests that the ordinary avenues available to protest your treatment (like complaining to the department) are not available to you, because the institution supports this unusual behavior.

Do what you need to do to get out and move on; make your next position at a reputable institution, if possible.

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    This is the correct, down-to-earth answer that I reluctantly +1, not because it is bad (it is very good) but because it applies everywhere, not only in Academia. OP you will need to swallow the bitter truth that there are cases where this happens.
    – WoJ
    Apr 11 at 10:28
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    It seems reasonable for a student's advisor to be the last author. It is not normal to mandate that the advisor is the first author.
    – Jake
    Apr 11 at 22:19
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    @Jake I suspect this is happening in a place that does stupid things like rating professors on how many first-authored papers they produce, ignorant of standards in the field, claiming to be quantitative while ignoring quality, producing incentives for paper mills, predatory publishing, and maltreatment of graduate students.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 11 at 22:39
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    There are big financial grants and career benefits that are given to professors who are first-authors on papers that are accepted in reputable journals, I learned this too late. Students in my country are naive, especially those who are young. Some of us have dreams ...
    – XwitchX228
    Apr 12 at 0:59
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Too many graduate students and postdocs over-romanticize their publications. Your career, in academia, will be judged by the body of your work, not one paper from grad school. Even so, people will see a manuscript with your advisor and you, and won't think much about the author order just assume that you did this work and the advisor did some part and it was published with both of you on there according to the conventions of that advisor/University.

Yes, what you say doesn't sound right, and I am certain most faculty would condemn it. It's unfortunate that it does happen, and it seems to be more incentivised in certain parts of the world. Either way, this is not a hill worth dying on so to speak. Especially not at a rather fragile part of your career where you hold little power. Your best revenge is going off to establish a successful career... at which point you may choose to confront your old advisor, but in all likelihood you won't care anymore.

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You are in a terrible situation with few, if any, good options. The rule may be nonsense, but it can affect you in any case.

I once changed universities to make progress for different reasons. It was the right choice, but it was possible for me. What will you give up if you don't go along with this? Is that acceptable.

Look at all of your options, both staying and leaving, and choose an acceptable path. "Go along to get along" is common advice, though seldom satisfying. But if that is the best option, then do it.

Think long term about your career and how to achieve your goals. Don't let short term difficulties become long term blocks.


Another consideration just occurred to me. If you go along with this and make him happy, what do you think he would do to support your career? Yes, it sounds like a terrible option, but you need to escape the trap. All options.


My advisor at the place I left wasn't supportive, but nothing like what you seem to experience. I didn't ask him for a recommendation, but had strong support from other faculty, which made the change possible.

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Scenario 1: The paper becomes wildly successful and cited a lot by people in your field. Then it does not matter whether you are listed first or second. Scenario 2: The community is lukewarm or outright indifferent to your paper. Again it does not matter if you are first or second author on the paper.

If I were you, I would rather not die on the hill for this battle. In the big scheme of things, let the advisor go first and get out ASAP seems to be the wisest and safest option. Second or first on one paper is too insignificant to waste time fighting this. Let it go and you will have smoother sailing as soon as you got out.

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    This appears to suggest that author order never matters, which doesn't seem accurate to me Apr 12 at 1:04
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    I think if the paper is wildly successful, the point is that there will be opportunity to talk about the paper with peers and clarify the authorship if necessary?
    – fabspro
    Apr 12 at 5:32
  • @TheGuywithTheHat That is not what I am saying. They will be known together as a pair in the community which is not a bad thing if the paper becomes successful. But for the OP's current situation, it matters more for him to get out with no repercussion from his advisor. Apr 15 at 11:19
  • @fabspro I would strongly advice against throwing shades at the advisor or outright throwing him under the bus in scenario 1. It will look bad for both of them. That is not in the OP's interest at all. Apr 15 at 11:20
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Others have already, very eloquently, reiterated this, so my only question is this: is this matter really that important in the grand scheme of things? Your primary concern is to do what you need to do right now to graduate. From there, you have an entire world, and future, of great research ahead of you. This will all be in your rear-view mirror sooner than you think.

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  • This paper is the product of the work of years and it is going to pave the way for me (if it is accepted) to find very good schools abroad to complete my studies. Also what about my wellbeing? I fainted when the day I heard about his decision. People should not do that to each others!
    – XwitchX228
    Apr 12 at 0:41
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    @XwitchX228 I hate to tell you this, but this thing you have created in your mind about the grandeur of this paper and it's meaning, is just that in your mind. One paper with your advisor on it will not make or break your career prospects. As for your wellbeing, I do suggest you try to get some therapy because you will experience many such events when working in research, whether academia or industry, where you will feel that someone usurped some of your credit. You need to find pragmatic ways to cope and navigate through it.
    – R1NaNo
    Apr 12 at 3:27
  • @XwitchX228 "People should not do that to each other" You have FULL control of things like this ... extending all the way outward to the tip of your nose. Multi-billionaires should be more concerned about the situation here on Earth than the glory of trying to get above the atmosphere (imo). We, as a species, were kicked out of Eden (metaphorically speaking) for simply being what we are: animated clods of dirt.
    – Fe2O3
    Apr 12 at 23:14
  • @XwitchX228 You are right - people should not do that to each other. Unfortunately, that is not at all how the world works. Armed with that information, you are (and will continue to be) able to live beyond all of this. Rest assured, going forward, that it will never look like this again. That said, focus on what you can control and never stop doing what you need to do for YOU. Apr 14 at 16:37
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In all honesty, author order has a minimal effect on your future prospects. The bigger effect comes from being an author full stop, something many in your position will not be. While I understand your feelings on this - it's good you feel so personally connected to your work (and this will benefit you in the future) - my advice would be to go with it now and learn from the experience so that you can be prepared for similar situations in the future.

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Tell it to the department chair. If he doesn't back you up, eat the second authorship and observe that it is unjust, and that corruption infected academia. You are going to Europe after this, right?

But you can't ethically complain abut this to anyone else until you've taken it over his head to the chair.

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Make your supervisor first author and include an author contributions (CREDiT) section at the end of the paper. Be sure to do justice to your supervisors contributions therein. For instance, if he edits the draft or provide suggestions before submission etc.

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If you choose to publish with him as first author. Here's, one small Tip, some journals allow a note on the author order. You can possibly formalize something that, whilst not displeasing your advisor, may defuse the problem at least a bit. E.g. there are things like multiple first authors / negotiated order / order by last name. A statement like this might help a little image-vise.

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