I work as a research scientist, and I am about to write up the work I've been doing for the past year. I have done all of the big data formatting, set up, edited and run a complex ecosystem model, wrote analysis code, calculated the statistics, produced graphs and map outputs. My manager wants me to pass the final graphs, maps and statistics to him so that he can write up the paper. I have sufficient post graduate research experience and analysis skills to analyse the final data myself and do the write up.

My manager has a good scientific overview of the work but doesn't have the technical skills to run the model or do any of the coding/ statistical work himself. I feel like he should encourage his staff to write up their own work, but he said he needs more papers as first author.

Do you have any suggestions for the points I can raise when I discuss with him that I'd like to be first author?

I want to stay on good terms with him as far as possible, while also asserting my belief that I should be first author. A former colleague done some of the base work for this project, and I think his name should also come before that of my manager's. My manager's supervision of the project has been minimal (a 5 minute rushed catch up conversation every month or so).

  • 4
    What kind of organization is this? Academic or commercial?
    – mikeazo
    Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 17:34
  • Have you read through COPE's guide on authorship issues (see bottom of this page)? Some of it is admittedly not helpful right now (for example, one of the best suggestions they have is to have the authorship discussion before you start the research). Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:38
  • Authorship issues basically boil down to "did X do enough work to be an author? Did X do enough work to be a first author?" You only end up with "ethics" discussions if your manager admits that he hasn't done much work yet still demands first authorship. Is that the case? That would be a different issue from the more run-of-the-mill problem of you disagreeing with your manager on how much his contribution to the project is worth. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:40
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because was edit-deleted.
    – Ric
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 22:55
  • 1
    Say no, submit the paper, and start looking for another job, not necessarily in that order.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 4:31

4 Answers 4


I feel confident in my answer because, although norms differ between fields, you are in exactly my field.

You are absolutely correct that it is not ethical for your manager to ask for first authorship on this paper. From the work you describe, this is your paper. He may need more first authorships, but so do you, and even aside from the ethics of relative contributions, his role should be to help you to progress your career.

Managing this situation is going to be very tricky for you. This happened to me during my PhD -- my PhD advisor was first author on all my publications -- and I did not confront him over it. Obviously, this wasn't good for my career. It wasn't great for his career either, because it meant I was unwilling to work with him after I finished my PhD and so he lost the opportunity to be a coauthor on several more papers that followed on from my PhD work.

On the other hand, having a blow-out with your boss that puts your ongoing work in jeopardy or results in your work not getting published at all is also not going to be great for your career.

I suggest you do try to change his mind, but keep it very polite and civil. Mention the benefits to him of having you do well: it will boost his reputation as a successful PI and mentor, it will increase the likely success of future collaborative work with you, and it will reduce the amount of work he has to do on the paper himself so that he can concentrate on getting more of his own work published. If this fails, it may be worth involving a third party -- in the first instance someone you mutually like and respect, if possible, and not his boss -- to facilitate a discussion about setting some more formal guidelines around how authorship order should be determined.

If all else fails, you could appeal to authority - his boss or the journal editor - but be warned that WILL get messy and bitter.


One compromise to consider is to give him last author placement. This is an honorary ordering that is often used for the person who provided the idea, guidance and resources for the study. It's similar to opening film credits that end with "and", followed by an old, famous actor who does little more than provide gravitas to the work.


The ICMJE guidelines recommend that authors should state their contribution to the project: ‘authors should provide a description of what each contributed, and editors should publish that information’. Journals may publish this information but in most cases it is for the benefit of the editor,who wants reassurance that the criteria have been fulfilled.( see section II ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF AUTHORS, CONTRIBUTORS, REVIEWERS, EDITORS, PUBLISHERS, AND OWNERS of the 2015 recommendations) I'd simply ask via email that each authors contributions be clearly stated per guidelines adopted by ICMJE. Put yours and any other authors in the email and ask him to add his. It doesn't matter that the field you are in isn't biomed, you simply like the idea. If he refuses you can at least submit the email thread and his refusal to the editor and let the chips fall where they may. I'd be a little surprised if I was an editor and the lead author couldn't say what his role was.


You'll learn from this experience. It's a good idea to discuss authorship at the outset of a project, and perhaps again throughout the process. Generally, the person who writes the paper receives first authorship, followed in order by amount of intellectual contribution, with the last author (in some disciplines) being the main PI/lab head. If your superior now insists he/she must write the paper, he/she is probably entitled first authorship. If you can't come to an agreement, you might ask that it be noted that 'the first two authors contributed equally'. That is somewhat common.

  • This doesn't adress the main question "what can OP do in this situation?". Tho I agree with sentiment #lessons #learned
    – Repmat
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 14:39

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