Earlier this year I entered into a high-profile molecular biology lab and started doing wet lab work (I am an undergraduate). Knowing that I have a computational background, my PI asked that I also help with a project that had been conducted over the last two years and was nearing its completion. I was told that if I made enough of a contribution that I could be listed as a coauthor. I wrote a program for the post-doc that is leading this project and used it to analyze the validity of part of his data. The most current (nearly final) version of the project's manuscript that is being passed around the lab unfortunately don't have my name anywhere on it, even though my code is listed in the supplementary information section.

I have always heard that you should get an authorship on a paper if your work resulted in a figure or sizable part of the discussion. My contribution to this project only slightly altered one figure, ensured the figure's validity, and got about 2 sentences in the discussion. My relationship with my lab and my PI especially is very important to me (I would love to continue my work here for at least another 2 years), so is it worth asking for a co-authorship, or at least an acknowledgement? Would doing so be inappropriate given my relative contribution (a month vs. 2 years) and status as an undergraduate in the lab?

4 Answers 4


Asking whether a contribution merits acknowledgement or co-authorship is always appropriate, as long as it is done in a professional and non-confrontational way.

The answer may be "no," but it's certainly worthwhile to ask. (And if the answer is "no," at least you have learned something about standards for authorship and acknowledgement in your lab/field.)

  • 1
    And maybe it is not everything lost. You can ask what could you do to gain authorship, if that is possible.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 31, 2014 at 9:19
  • How do you ask for co-authorship without sounding confrontational?! Apr 27, 2021 at 14:28

To be acknowledged seem appropriate. When it comes to authorship, having your name on the paper implicitly means you should also fulfil several criteria such as outlined by the Vancouver Protocol (look at this post for details or search for posts with the tag ). It seems unlikely that you would be eligible for co-authorship.

  • 1
    Must be noted that the Vancouver Protocol is not applicable to some large studies, or interdisciplinary research, when no one can really work on everything. (As a bioinformatician, I know nothing about wet lab, and I don't expect the biologists to know advanced calculus).
    – Davidmh
    Jul 31, 2014 at 9:18

At the very least, an acknowledgment would be appropriate. However, it very much depends on the standards in your field—and within your present lab—whether or not you'll be recognized for a small analysis tool.

Also, I would not expect that the tool would lead to multiple authorship credits—you created the tool once, and should receive "credit" for it once. (Otherwise, I'd need to cite the authors of the software I use in every paper out of my lab group!)

  • 1
    Thanks for your comment. To clarify, I don't expect (nor want) for the tool to lead to any further authorships or publications, I really only care about the impact it has had on the lab's current publication at hand. Jul 29, 2014 at 22:32
  • I find it a strange statement, that using an essential tool for your research doesn't even merit a citation apart from the very first use. It depends on the software package of course, but if it's a unique algorithm / implementation that has a citable publication associated with it, then a citation seems pretty reasonable. If it's something essential created in-house (by someone who isn't an author), then an acknowledgement in each paper that it's used also seems reasonable. Jul 30, 2014 at 10:32
  • 3
    @DylanRichardMuir: It absolutely merits citation—but not authorship credit—in the future publications.
    – aeismail
    Jul 30, 2014 at 10:38

A month's worth of work and a small analysis tool sounds like an acknowledgement, rather than an authorship. Depending on your relationship with the rest of the lab, I wouldn't press the point too hard -- a middle-author paper is worth something (but not much), and an acknowledgement is only worth the brief glow of seeing your name on a printed page.

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