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I worked in a lab for about a year as an undergraduate researcher, and my research team recently published the paper in a huge journal, which is super exciting for the lab. However, while my PI had initially told me that I would be given co-authorship on the paper, I noticed after publication that my name had been left off the paper.

I had spent about a year on this project, where I drove everyday for an hour to and from the lab to work on this project. While I didn't contribute to any of the writing for the paper (I had offered), I worked on creating the strains that were used significantly in the project and did some bioinformatics searches for further questions to explore in the project. I had been told before that I was likely getting co-authorship, but I guess in the end, they left me off.

I didn't get any credit or acknowledgement whatsoever for my work on this project. I didn't receive any academic credit or payment for my work, and I was also not even mentioned in the acknowledgements section. I'm quite frustrated because I spent a lot of time and effort in the lab, just to not be acknowledged at all for any of my contributions. I have since left the lab, so this paper has been published a while later since I left, but I'm wondering if I should reach out to my PI to ask why I had been left out. After I left (and before the paper was published), I sent an email to my grad mentor (not my PI) to ask about whether or not I would be getting credit for my work, but I never received a response. I've also noticed the lab doesn't tend to credit their undergraduates a lot, so it's not just me to not have been credited on papers. I don't know if they just expected more from us to be able to deserve authorship? But at least an acknowledgement would have been nice...

Because of this, I was wondering, is it worth it to ask my PI why I had been left off the paper? Is there anything they can even do at this point, since the paper has been officially published? How should I go about this respectfully? I don't want to annoy my PI or ruin my relationship with him, as besides this, he has been a wonderful advocate in my career and helped me get into the lab that I'm in right now after I moved universities, so I don't know if I should give up on this and move on.

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    @Captain: Please avoid answering in the comments!
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 22 at 1:12
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    @Wisteria: what part of the world are you in? Also, you say that the PI "had initially told me that I would be given co-authorship" but you also say "I had been told before that I was likely getting co-authorship" -- which one is it?
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 22 at 1:13
  • I am in the United States, and the PI said that I would be very likely to be getting co-authorship, which I guess I took that to mean that I would be getting co-authorship based on his tone. However, I guess by likely, he actually meant maybe.
    – Wisteria
    Commented Apr 22 at 6:07

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[Upgraded from comment, as per request]

This is very upsetting, indeed, if you have contributed far beyond your requirements.

However, if you now have someone who gives you recommendations to good labs and furthers your career, you might weigh the importance of this against getting an acknowledgment in a multi-author paper; and probably not even that, but just a half-baked explanation why you were left out.

In short, if you get good recommendations and referrals instead of an acknowledgement, at this stage of your career, you might be factually better off just letting it be.

Not that it's ok, it's not.

As a lesson learnt, it is always good practice, once it's clear that you are going to invest substantial work into something, to clarify authorship/contribution expectations ahead of time. "Likely/probably" are words indicating risk (good things are never as likely and bad things never as unlikely as promised) and you should weigh your investments against the risk.

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