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I am about to submit a paper for an international conference in condensed-matter physics. I want to present work which has been done over a number of years with different people. In particular, I want to include i) work that I did during my PhD with set of collaborators A; ii) work done also with set A but more recently; and iii) related work done also more recently but with a set of collaborators B.

In a way, this could be regarded a bit as review of methodology/older results plus new results, all in the same field/theme. All the results I will be presenting are already published in different journals, except for the work done in collaboration with set B which is under review at the moment (note that our conference culture differs from CS, where the conference is typically also the publication venue for the work).

My question is regarding how to manage the list of authors for my abstract. In the past I always presented very specific bits of work for which the author list was clear. In this case I do not know how to handle it given the more comprehensive nature of the presentation. I am considering the following options:

  1. Use only my name as author and reference appropriately the relevant publications. Then acknowledge my collaborators with a slide at the end of my presentation.

  2. Use only the names of the most important contributors to the work in the list of authors, then acknowledge everyone at the end of the presentation.

  3. Use everybody's name, then again use a slide at the end with pictures etc. where the roles of the different collaborators are highlighted in more detail.

I am biased against 3. because of practical considerations: if I submit an abstract with lots of names then I have to get everyone to agree on the abstract's and presentation's contents. I am also afraid that 1. might come across as if I was trying to neglect the contributions made by others and could be unfair to them, especially those that contributed most.

I am looking for some advice on how to handle this kind of situation in such a way that the contribution made by everyone involved is appropriately acknowledged.

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The way that I think about this sort of situation is that co-authorship of an abstract and talk is very low-stakes, and there's little reason to be stingy with it. The most important thing here is to preserve a good relationship with collaborators that you value, and so I would recommend asking your collaborators.

If it's a collegial group with good working relation, then you'll probably get a quick consensus on one of the three options. My own experience with many co-author situations like this is that many collaborators are happy enough to go along for the ride; a few will make constructive (or at least neutral) suggestions, and most just want to make sure their name isn't getting associated with anything embarassing---most people will only try to micromanage if you invite them to.

One important note, however: if the consensus ends up going with option #2, where some people get designated as "important", then let your collaborators decide if they should be on that list. Again, the authorship of an abstract and presentation like this is pretty low-stakes (unlike for journal papers, where it's good that it sounds like you've already got clear boundaries drawn). It's extremely dangerous for good relations if you put yourself in the position of telling Juan that he's less important to you than Marie.

Now, if you've got a problem collaborator who is not likely to be collegial or who is going to try to operate you like a puppet on stage, that's a different problem, and one whose resolution is likely to require very specific help and advice from some of your senior collaborators...

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