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I spent 5 years doing my PhD research (4 years experiments, and one year writing the manuscript, making the figures and getting it revised and submitted by the supervisor. We submitted the paper (I was the first author) which is rejected with a recommendation for one more experiment, and resubmission. Three colleagues did it, as my scholarship was ended and as I was busy writing the thesis. I was shocked that the supervisor (PI) put one colleague instead of me as a first author, who just carried out this last experiment with help of two other colleagues (were added as co-authors). That colleague was busy doing her own project and did not do that much to my project except for that last experiment and revising the manuscript and giving some comments for correction. I refused the new order, though the paper was sent to the journal. How could I get my first authorship?

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    Have you talked to the people involved about this (your advisor, and the new first author, mainly)? What did they say? – Davidmh Oct 4 '16 at 16:49
  • It is the advisor and the new first author who planned that. I told them in written that I don't accept that, and I reminded them of my effort and contribution, I almost carried out the project alone. The new first author did not respond and the supervisor insisted that I have to accept that and sign. I am really diappointed and lost. I don't know what to do? – Bosy Khalid Oct 4 '16 at 19:53
  • Are you continuing in academia? – Captain Emacs Oct 4 '16 at 20:57
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    ... and some people still wonder why the system in mathematics (alphabetical order) is not adopted universally ... – GEdgar Oct 4 '16 at 21:59
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    I would start by trying to understand why did the order change. Did your advisor really consider that the other contributed more significantly, or is it more something like "politics"? etc. So 1) identify the reason why your advisor considers the other contributed more (number of hours? scientific content? etc.). 2) Negociate. 3) If it's obvious that you've been cheated, I would probably contact the department chair or the lab director and explain the situation in the most unbiaised possible way. In any case, I would certainly not sign anything (like copyright form) if it is clearly unfair. – anderstood Oct 4 '16 at 22:59
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Unfortunately there is not much you can do -- you can try to get the editor of the journal involved, but it is almost certain that the editor will not involve themselves in authorship disputes that have nothing to do with the scientific content of the paper. Also there is a high chance of severe damage to your relationship with your advisor, which needless to say is not ideal immediately before your PhD defense.

If you have a trusted faculty mentor outside of your advisor, you could try approaching them about the situation, for advice and psychological support, if nothing else.

Some journals allow several authors to share "equal contribution" credit for first authorship. This may be a compromise that is easier to negotiate with your adviser and the new students than outright first authorship.

Finally, as a practical matter, depending on how much first authorship on this particular papers means to you and your future career, it may be best to give in and move on. Treat the incident as a painful lesson in why it is important to explicitly discuss what each collaborator expects to get out of a project in terms of authorship order, both at the very beginning of a project and whenever involving new collaborators.

  • I just want to know. I contacted the editor and they stopped reviewing till this dispute is resolved, but now the supervisor sent me that in case I did not sign or respond she will omit me from the authors' list, does she have that right? She can't omit the part of the work I have done, since she will be practically omitting the whole work. Please tell me, as I have to respond in one day. – Bosy Khalid Oct 5 '16 at 18:33
  • I contacted the journal and they put the paper on hold. My advisor is very angry, but I could not withstand the fact that my work would be given to someone else because of politics or whatever. I contacted council for good scientific practice they made her offer me co-first authorship but with my name listed second. I am afraid she won't let me get the doctor degree and let me have the defense. I sent her the thesis 4 weeks ago. Do you think she will let me have the defense after what I have done?Should I insist on first- authorship which I deserve so at least I have a proof I did a good job? – Bosy Khalid Oct 23 '16 at 7:03
  • I did everything from study design, writing the protocol, picking up the samples, doing the experiments, analysis of the data, writing the draft, displaying the figures, and tables, proofreading as my English is much better than their English. I studied in English, but they did not. Professionally, she should put who deserves as a first author, not whom she likes. She kept on reminding me it is my project and I am the first author so it is my sole responsibility to do everything alone. All of sudden she changed her mind without even prior notification. – Bosy Khalid Oct 23 '16 at 7:08
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    @BosyKhalid you are now embroiled in a complex controversy with high potential danger to your future career. It is past the time for asking strangers for advice on the Internet -- meet with trusted third-party mentors, the department chair, university ombudsmen, etc to discuss your situation, and do so ASAP. – user168715 Oct 23 '16 at 17:27

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