Some introduction:

I am a PhD freshman studying electrical engineering. Currently, a group member (who I consider a friend, also a freshman) and I are collaborating on a paper in configurable hardware designs (namely using some parameters that automatically generate circuits). He provided the basic idea of the hardware-friendly algorithm and proved it to lose little performance. The hardware architecture contribution was 60-40 between him and me, with him giving the basic designs and I am proving them while providing some modifications for even better results. However, from now on, he starts working on something else and rarely responds to my discussions. After I implement the hardware on ASIC and design the configurable hardware, he is less occupied. Thus, I invite him to write the paper. We quickly did this in a month, but just as when I was preparing to present the paper to our tutor, he suddenly demanded a common first author, claiming this was all "his idea", which more than surprised me. It leaves me with the following questions:

  1. What should be considered most valuable: the idea or the works and experiments in academia?
  2. How should I communicate/persuade with him? As I have to be lab partner with him for some years.
  3. What should I do now?
  • 2
    Is the question of shared first authorship relevant for you or your colleague to meet, e.g., graduation requirements? Commented May 16 at 7:16
  • The graduation requirements is not my main concern as I have already met it based on my conference paper. I want to further work in academia, this solution is more important as things like this happen along the way.
    – wwwqaq111
    Commented May 16 at 9:56

5 Answers 5

  1. What should be considered most valuable: the idea or the works and experiments in academia?

It's not one or the other. Both are valued, but often only the combination is valuable. Ideas are plentiful, but without evidence that an idea actually is good, it often isn't publishable in a good journal. Likewise, you can end up putting a lot of effort into a fundamentally flawed idea, and find that nobody cares about your work.

  1. How should I communicate/persuade with him? As I have to be lab partner with him for some years.

  2. What should I do now?

Based on your description it seems he has a very good case for joint first authorship, so I suggest agreeing to that. You can say something along the lines of "hey, I thought it over and you're right, your ideas were crucial to this project and it makes sense for us to both be first authors". I think it's generally a good policy to be generous with giving credit in this fashion. It makes future collaborations with your labmate way more likely than a situation where they perceive you as someone who'd take credit for their work.


If this was mostly his idea, and he contributed significantly to it, then he has a logical case for first authorship, or joint first. Unfortunately, often times in papers it is the less exciting final details which take a lot of time, but those serve no purpose without the initial intellectual leap which often dictates lead authorship (especially when the lead author has contributed reasonably).

Seems to me he is getting spread between multiple projects, so I suggest you wrap this one up as is and you can lead follow-up works.

Or you can fight this, burn bridges, and destroy a potential lifelong friendship all over a grey area scenario (read sarcastically).


Especially if you want to continue in academia, it is good to work on getting a reputation as someone who is good to work with. In a situation like this, your loss in accepting a shared first authorship is very probably less than the loss in burning bridges with your friend.

Note that academia is a small place, and people talk: your friend will talk about their experience with you with other people. You are only starting to build your reputation here - better to start with evidence of generosity.

I see that you are surprised at your friend's request for (shared) first authorship. Keep in mind that they probably also invested a lot of time and energy in the project, some (much?) of which may not have been visible to you. It is normal for people to believe they contributed more to a project than their collaborators think - which works both ways: from their personal perspective, your friend could perhaps written a very similar question here. This is not to say that one is right and one is wrong, or that both are right or wrong. The point is that it is often very hard to disentangle who "really" did more work, or made more important contributions. Another reason to be generous. (This absolutely also holds outside academia.)

Of course, none of this requires you to be a pushover, or to acquire a reputation as one. And you are free to be so frustrated with your friend that you will not collaborate with them any more in the future. You will be the best judge of your particular situation. However, the situation, as I read it, sounds most like sharing first authorship and planning for future collaborations while this paper is under review.

  • 3
    "The point is that it is often very hard to disentangle who 'really' did more work, or made more important contributions." Very true. In good collaborations every author is thankful for the other contributions they would not be able to do them by themselves.
    – usr1234567
    Commented May 17 at 9:55

I'm no longer a freshman, but I think this makes a good case for joint first author. The ideas and works, as others have mentioned, both matter. The issue of course boils down to who did how much of what.

I've never collaborated with one of my cohort, yet, but here's pretty much how I would do it: assuming we both wrote the document (that is, everyone had a hand in the drafting of the full document) and everyone had a hand in the analysis (that is, we all suggested ideas and all literally ran analyses ourselves which made impacts on the article), we are all pretty much first authors, even if there's a slight imbalance between ideas, writing, and so on.

However, if I did all of the analysis, programming, and data cleaning, and my coauthor didn't do any of those things, and I spend the most time writing up the methods/results, then I think there's a totally clear case for first author for me.

Based on your description though, it seems like there was a roughly equitable split. He did lots of the ideas and theoretical details, you wrote the first draft and did relevant extensions. So if I were you, we'd just both be joint first authors.


I agree with Anyon: Your description qualifies for a joint first co-authorship. I am from the medical field, and we have a set of guidelines around the authorship order. You can find it under https://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html

I am not sure if your field has something similar, or they follow different principles.

In the future: Clarify the parameters for authorship BEFORE you work with someone. Believe me, it will save you a lot of headaches. Before I work with people I make them aware of the guidelines I use for authorship, and it has improve the situation a lot.

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