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I am physicist, I do research in theoretical biophysics, and I just got a permanent position. I am still collaborating with my former postdoc advisor, with whom I already published, and we are about to submit a new paper.

When I was a postdoc, the best thing for my CV was to be first author. It is not entirely clear to me what would be the best thing now for my CV. Should I aim at being last author, corresponding author, or still first author?

I have asked this question to people working in different scientific areas, and got very different answers.

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    You should read this question and Kieran's answer: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/535/… It won't answer your question, but will explain why you've been getting different answers. – Mark Meckes Feb 20 '17 at 20:15
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    Maybe this question and the answers can give you some hints: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/82059/… – FuzzyLeapfrog Feb 20 '17 at 21:01
  • I was first author of the articles that I led, even when I was in the process of completing my PhD - we had the 'policy' of the first author being the one who is leading that particular research. – user70612 Apr 22 '17 at 7:26
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In general, I think last author. I'm pretty close to your field, though at a similar career stage, so I'm not the person making the decisions on your grants, so take this with that in mind! I'm also going to answer for the US, since that's the culture I know best.

In my experience, biophysics follows the cond-mat tradition of last author = group leader. Therefore, you being last author with a PD/grad student first author could indicate that this is a project that you led, and a student that you mentored, and that your PD advisor acknowledges this as "your" project. If there are only two authors, I think it doesn't matter as much. Being last could mean that you were the project lead, or that you left the manuscript in such a bad state that your PD advisor had to do most of the editing and then put him/herself as first!

I think the strongest sign of independence would be: your trainee first and you last. The worst sign would be you first, your PD advisor last (i.e. you are still just following their instructions, rather than developing your own topics.)

One caveat: that analysis assumes you're at an R1 or otherwise have students/PDs who can contribute first-author-level effort. I've also seen: trainee moves to a position at a non-R1, and doesn't have graduate students, but continues a collaboration, and usually publishes papers with former PD first, then UG trainees, and PD advisor last. I don't know how common that is, though, and if you're in that situation, it might be worth mentioning to your department chair that that's how it works, and that you are not just salami-slicing your PD work.

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  • We never followed that tradition (never heard of it), we assigned the order based on the contribution to the research paper - with the 1st author being the one leading that research. – user70612 Apr 22 '17 at 7:27
  • @Saturnus - I should mention here, this is the US convention, so it may be different elsewhere. "Group leader" here means the principal investigator, who organizes the research effort, not the person primarily performing the work (usually a trainee) – AJK Apr 23 '17 at 17:04

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