I worked in a lab as a lab tech and developed my own research project that I've been working on for over a year. I'm currently only working part time as I have a full time job. My supervisor recently got a new honours student who's been working on collecting data for the same project and has expanded the project for her thesis. My question is, when our research gets published who should get first author? I developed the project, collected data, created a poster for a conference, and will most likely be involved in the writing process. However, the new student has expanded the research project, is collecting data (more consistently than I am, because I'm only there part time, and will be writing a thesis for her honours. Who should get first author if the project gets published?

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    I think the first thing you can do is discuss this with your supervisor. There might be a long way from now until the publication, so who deserves to be first author might change. But discussing it now can put the things straight and make you feel better. There is always the option of sharing the first authorship.
    – BioGeo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:35
  • I wasn't aware that you could share first authorship. How does that work?
    – Krista
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:49
  • If you're an academic and want to stay in academics, you could be the corresponding author. If not, why do you want to be first author? You might deserve it, but then it doesn't bring you any profit, does it?
    – Karl
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 23:05
  • @Karl Good point. It's true that if you don't plan to become an academic, first authorship would not give you any gain. But then again, if you have contributed enough to deserve it, why not...
    – BioGeo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 23:31
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    @Krista You add an asterisk and you add a footnote "These authors have contributed equally". If it's the first two authors, then it's shared first authorship. It will still be Author1 et al, though.
    – BioGeo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


There is no general rule on how you determine the order of authors. In some areas (like Mathematics, for example), the order of authors does not imply the relative size of their contributions --- it is typically alphabetical. This strategy has its benefits: for example, we are less likely to include "star" and "virtual" co-authors, because there is no way of distinguishing them from real ones. And of course it simply saves time and helps to maintain good relationships.

In some areas, the contributions of each author are explained at the end of the paper (e.g. "data collection: Dr A, Dr C; statistics: Dr B, Dr C; visualisation of results: Dr A; writing the manuscript: all authors").

If neither of the above helps, the best way to handle author ordering is to discuss it before you start working together. Definitely, by the stage you have your first draft everyone has to agree on this, and no last-minute changes can be done without full and active consensus.

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    I don't think it's the OP's obsession about the order of the authors. Plus, I don't think it's a question about which system works better (alphabetical or not). It's obviously field related and although there is a general rule, the lines are sometimes unclear.
    – BioGeo
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:32
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    In many fields, a first author paper counts a lot more on your CV than a second or subsequent author paper. So I think it is a sensible concern. Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 10:39

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