My supervisor proposed a test, just a concept and I designed the experiment and executed the lab work all by myself.

After the experiment was done and I presented the data (in nice figures and tables) to my supervisor, this supervisor asked me to only write down how I did the experiment but not anything related to the other parts of a manuscript. Yes, it's clear that my supervisor told me not to touch the results and discussion, etc. I thought this might be the way my supervisor does things, I mean this professor might want to do things step by step, so I didn't comment on this.

Two days later my supervisor showed me a whole manuscript, a manuscript almost ready for submission, this professor wrote the whole manuscript without any discussion with me!

The professor told me that he/she would like to be the first author because I don't have intellectual input into the manuscript... I think this is ridiculous, isn't the experimental design a kind of intellectual contribution? And I have this question to my supervisor in my mind... how can I add my thinking into a scientific publication if you don't even allow me to participate in writing the manuscript? I'm not sure whether I did the right thing but I didn't really make a comment on his remarks. I was shocked when I was in this professor's office.

What is the best way of approaching this problem?

We only have a few students in this lab now, we are new so I cannot guarantee nothing like this happened in the past though. Any suggestions?

  • I've edited the post to focus on the problem of the supervisor not giving you a chance to contribute to the rest of the manuscript, since that seems to be the real problem here. (We can't really say whether you or your supervisor deserves to be the first author, since conventions are so field-dependent and depend too much on the details of the manuscript.)
    – ff524
    Nov 26, 2015 at 1:09
  • in my field, I rarely see professors as first authors, no matter it's an original research focused article or a review paper. The person who conducts the experiment and writes the manuscript will be the first author. Nov 26, 2015 at 1:14
  • 1
    Also related: What does first authorship really mean?
    – ff524
    Nov 26, 2015 at 1:23
  • Based on this experience, perhaps next time, when you present the tables and figures to your supervisor, you'll want to present the beginnings of a prose manuscript as well. In other words, you may want to take the initiative to do at least some of the writing. (Just don't be devastated if he ends up re-writing your draft -- he sounds like that kind of advisor.) Nov 26, 2015 at 17:33

1 Answer 1


Well, so let me phrase it this way: Your professor had the original idea (which you then fleshed out and executed) and then did the most difficult parts of the writing. I typically see that what students struggle most with are introductions, providing context, the literature review, and forming conclusions. If that is true for you as well, then the parts your professor wrote would have likely taken you a long time to do. If you see it this way, then it is, at least, not inappropriate that your professor would be the first author.

What I think most people would probably agree with you is that doing all of the writing him/herself is a poor way of teaching you how to do it. Ultimately, we educate students because we want them to become knowledgeable and independent, and that can only happen if we teach them how to do it, not do it ourselves. If your professor is still young, you might want to simply ask to be included in the writing part in the future, and say that you'd like that to happen because you'd like to learn how to do it.

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