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I am working as a full-time research assistant at a university. I recently wrote a paper almost entirely independently. The contribution of the professor I work under was limited to telling me the topic that the paper is to be written on, and providing minimal inputs on the drafts (things like changes in grammar, or the inclusion of another aspect of the topic).

Now he is presenting the paper at a conference, and is listed as the sole author of the paper. As far as I know, I am not even noted in the acknowledgements. Am I incorrect in thinking that I should be listed as at least a co-author on the paper?

The only reason I am confused is because I am paid for my work at the university. However the work that I have done on the paper goes far beyond my professional responsibilities. Furthermore, I was hired to work on a completely different project altogether, but am helping the professor with most of his research.

  • First you said I recently wrote a paper almost entirely independently, then you said am helping the professor with most of his research.. Was the topic of the paper part of his research or not? – scaaahu Feb 2 '16 at 8:51
  • @scaaahu I apologise for the lack of clarity. I'm not sure I understand what you mean? I have been hired to work on a particular project. The paper I have referred to in the question is however totally unrelated to that project. The professor is simultaneously working on various things. Maybe I should have written "helping the professor with most of his other research"? – kiki Feb 2 '16 at 9:01
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    Note that "presenting the paper at a conference" can mean various things. If the paper is going to be published in proceedings, you should certainly be an author. However, if the professor is merely giving a talk about the project, some conferences just list the name of the person making the presentation, regardless of who else was involved. In that case the professor should acknowledge other contributors as part of the talk. – Nate Eldredge Feb 2 '16 at 16:35
  • @NateEldredge Thank you. I had not considered that. Although this particular conference does list the name of all the authors. I am mostly worried that his behaviour will continue if I don't bring up the issue right away. I have worked on several papers here, and think that I will not be credited for my work at all if I don't speak up. – kiki Feb 2 '16 at 18:42
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    At AMS (math) conferences, you can also list the names of all the "authors," but I think this is stupid (because in math, you don't present papers, you just give talks), and I'm lazy, so I never do this. However, I will say in the abstract "joint with kiki." – Kimball Feb 5 '16 at 1:26
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If you have written the paper, you certainly have the right to be at least a co-author. In fact, from what you said, it seems to me highly dubious that your professor should a an author at all.

Being paid as a RA does not waive your right of getting credits for publications you wrote. Your professor is also paid by the university.

EDIT:

If you would like to talk to your professor about this, I'd suggest that you talk politely. To be honest, I don't know how to do this, but I am sure this is important (and possible).

Thanks to Captain Emacs for their very valuable advice in the comment.

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    First: find out whether you have other options of people to work for; if not, prepare them. Once that's done, go to the prof and say (very politely) that you believe that your contribution warrants - at least - co-authorship (the "at least" because it may have been that the prof put you on the right track, or gave pointers to what he wanted done, don't underestimate that). If he refuses, you then have already prepared your exit option - which you then might consider to act on, smiling and remorseless... – Captain Emacs Feb 2 '16 at 10:24
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    I was wondering if I was looking at the situation objectively or overstating my contribution, and was admittedly a bit rattled when I posted the question. I think the advice provided by both of you is fair. I will approach the professor, albeit politely. I am already leaving the job soon, so at least I don't have to worry about that aspect. Thanks! – kiki Feb 2 '16 at 11:16
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You definitely deserve to be at least a co-author. In fact, if I have understood the situation correctly, you deserve to be the lead author with the professor as the co-author. It does not matter that you are paid by university. That does not in any way go against your right to receive credit for the work you have done. Instances of senior researchers using their position of power to take undue advantage of their juniors are not new in academia. For junior researchers, it is very difficult to take any action against their seniors, more so because academia runs on a strongly hierarchical system.

However, you should definitely try to at least talk to the professor. Politely explain that you feel that you deserve co-authorship. You can refer to the ICMJE authorship criteria and specifically point out the areas where you have contributed.

I have recently written an article about such kinds of unethical behavior that is rampant in academia. You can read it here.

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I had a part time research position that resulted in a research paper going to the IPENZ conference. I gave my supervisor my wads of summarised rough notes. He wrote it up nicely; he is dead now but he is a much better writer than me. Our names went on the paper along with the technicians that helped make it possible. My supervisor presented the paper and I took the questions. This was all very fair and I would have thought very normal. I think that somebody is not being fair to you.

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