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I am a Phd student in immunology. I was the first student of my supervisor. 4 months after my arrival to the lab, another phd student started to work with us. We work with samples that we obtain from mice (bone marrow, blood, etc.). My supervisor wanted me to work in breeding, weaning, genotyping and handling (injections etc) our mice for the whole laboratory in addition to my project.

Although it was absolutely fine at the beginning, she did not want the other phd student to do any mouse work for 3.5 years. She told me that it would be considered as co-authorship. But when his paper was submitted, she excluded me even from ackowledgement. My supervisor blamed this on the student as he did not want to write my name. Then later told me it was just a help not a contribution. It is not a piece of data that i can claim in the paper. However, if this work was not done, paper would not be out. What would you advise?

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    Some peculiar problems with language... and with description of the situation... – paul garrett Nov 11 '16 at 1:41
  • More information would be helpful. What changed between when they said you were considered a co-author to the end? Do you have these things written down, maybe in emails? Did you change your duties, or not finish something? Even excluding you from acknowledgments seems spiteful, but also makes me wonder what we're missing. – Jeff Nov 11 '16 at 14:34
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    If [someone] contributed to a research paper…can she claim authorship? — Generally, yes. That's what authorship means. – JeffE Nov 12 '16 at 13:53
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    By definition, you can't claim authorship unless you have been involved in the experiments AND writing of paper. That's why it's been suggested to me to be actively involved in every part of the project. Otherwise, you can't really claim authorship. Of course, that's not how it works most of the time, but personally I don't think breeding mice and doing injections means should be a co-author. I do that even for collaborators often. – ConfusedStudent007 Nov 12 '16 at 23:43
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    My rule of thumb is to add people that had some mental input while contributing to the specific project. So, the technician who cleans the labware would not qualify, the one who feeds the rats probably not also. But if the specific experiment had some specific requirements that you could provide, then it would probably qualify. On the other hand, if it was agreed like that from the beginning that that would be your contribution for the paper, why it would change afterwards... – BioGeo Nov 13 '16 at 14:25
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I think there are two ethical issues here:

1) Authorship. By most definitions, the work you did does not qualify you for authorship, because you did not have a significant hand in drafting/designing the research or the manuscript (that doesn't mean some labs wouldn't assign authorship in this case, but that if you read the fine print for authorship requirements for journals or professional societies, animal husbandry would not be sufficient). It seems clear you did not have a role in the manuscript because you didn't even realize your name was not included in the authors list or acknowledgments until now.

It would generally be good practice for the authors to at least include in acknowledgements somebody who did as much technical support as you did, and it would also be good practice for you to be offered to contribute to the manuscript and analysis to attain authorship privileges. You should not have been offered authorship as an incentive if the PI and other student did not intend to allow you to earn it.

2) Research ethics and appropriate use of graduate students. I think this area is where you have a greater case. It sounds like you were made to do way more work on another project than should be typical for a graduate student. A technician, sure, because your primary position would be as a paid assistant in the lab, but as a student, your primary position is as a student.

I am unclear why your PI thought this other student should not learn to work with the animals when their project was so dependent on animal work - that doesn't seem to be full training, how is the student going to start an independent research career if they have not learned the basic techniques of their field?

By no means should you expect to always work solely on your own project, but, unless you are overstating your contributions, which I understand is certainly possible, it seems like you were made to go beyond the normal level of assistance. I would consider carefully the technical contributions the primary author made to the project, and weigh how your efforts compared in terms of total hours.

Have you also had time to work on your own independent project, and is that work progressing to your satisfaction? If yes, then maybe there isn't a major issue, and this is just an unfortunate situation you will learn from in the future and you certainly now have a good reason to stop doing this work for other students. If no, then you certainly need to address this with your supervisor, and if you can not reach an arrangement that is suitable to you, you may need to talk to your program or department to get further guidance.

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I would suggest being candid with your supervisor, and express your concerns. However, make sure that when doing so you keep your concerns professional so it does not come off as petty in-lab competitiveness between graduate students (which is, unfortunately, quite common). Also remember that although you are working on the study, the study and all of its data belong to your institution and the principal investigator of the study. One of the responsibilities of a graduate student is to "give back" to his/her PI's lab in exchange for supervision. This often takes the form of data collection, analysis, coding, etc. -- from your description, it sounds like this is your role. These roles are not typically grounds for authorship. However, if you contributed to the hypothesis formulation, hypothesis testing, or had written portions of the paper, you would be well within your rights to request authorship.

  • Thank you for your suggestions and ideas for the question. Training of the other students and teaching them how to analyse data are part of my responsibilities. I agree with that part. I would not count that as a co-authorship, it should not be. However, genotyping of 3500 mice in 3 years? as in that case, it includes 3 different pcr protocol, and in the end you produce a data which will allow you to decide which mice could be used in the experiments. Any mistake done at the process, when realized can even make a paper a crap. Are you all sure is it for nothing? – Marta Nov 13 '16 at 0:56
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    It is not "all for nothing", but contributes to the advancement of science. It also contributes to your lab's success. This being said, this is why I suggest that you bring your concerns to your PI. It all depends on your job description, and what your PI expects from you - i.e., how much do they expect you to contribute, and in what capacity. Although you may feel that your contributions were above and beyond what was expected of you as a RA, ask yourself who would have done this job if you did not. A case can be made for the importance of all jobs throughout the research process. – Dr. Mom Nov 13 '16 at 1:36
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    I'm not from the field, but if this work is one a technician could do, then it's generally up to the PI to add or not the technician in the authors list. – BioGeo Nov 13 '16 at 20:00
  • Not a tech but a research assistant. Usually our research assistants have Master's degree. If a supervisor has enough money ($30/hour), they hire. In our case, my PI did not want to spend money. But even that i know research assistants whose names are written on papers doing the same. – Marta Nov 14 '16 at 18:01

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