I have been in biomedical research for a long time without any good number of publications.

Recently, my work is now being published by my PI. My PI asked someone else to do another part of work. I was then asked to email the methods and results but did not provide me any chance to write a paper. Now I am placed as a second author on this paper and 6 other persons out of 9 are guest authors. I can see that this paper has at least 60% contribution from my work. It is emotionally hurting and extremely disturbing to see this unfair authorship practice, which I am asked to silently accept. It is even more hurting to see the names of all guest authors who I only know by name but never contributed a dime of work to this paper.

Should I accept this issue silently? I'm aware that the universities favor their faculty members, no matter how many nice words are posted on their webpages on authorship misconduct.

Would it be wise to withdraw myself completely from this article?

Any other options?

I was advised by another faculty member that some very senior PIs still work in old-fashioned way of authorship, where they always want to take first as well as corresponding authorship, pushing postdocs on second spot. Besides, accepting this unfair practice would still not be so harmful for future employments as prospective employers can still figure out based on the names of authors that first person is a PI and the next one is actual person who did the most work.

Is it true?

  • Also, keep in mind the difference between paper authorship and lab work. They are not necessarily the same Sep 6, 2017 at 4:07
  • I understand what you mean. I'm not a lab worker. Though I am aware that postdocs are normally considered as blue-collar workers by many faculties.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 4:48
  • In this work, i have genuine intellectual work. PI asked me as research question. I pursued it by identifying public sources of data, planned suitable methods, verified and interpreted results, passed my intellectual work to the PI, who then wrote the draft without offering me a chance to write a manuscript.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 4:55
  • Relevant: icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/… (aka the "Vancouver protocol") Sep 6, 2017 at 14:37
  • 1
    I think using the term "Vancouver protocol" in front of the PI is like challenging their authority and therefore it may set conflict immediately. Besides, the Vancouver guideline recommends approval of final draft as one of the condition and I think this particular condition is in control of PI.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 20:28

3 Answers 3


I don't see any logical reason why you should withdraw your name from the authorship list. This only hurts you in the long run. You should want to have credit for your work.

You might politely ask your advisor why the "guest authors" have been included, and what contribution they have made (since you said 60 percent was your work, what about the other 40 percent), and then discuss it further if you don't like or aren't satisfied with your advisor's answer.

  • You are right. I will do it. So far I know the following: My PI considered that she passed me an idea and I was a sort of brainless child of her, who followed her. The reality is that she provided me a research question, but I decided the methods and data to use.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 2:52

Normally (?) you should be first author and she should be last. At least that's what PI's in my area do, which isn't too far from your field. PI's don't need first author papers, for them it's as good to be senior author - the paper is done in their group and this is indicated by occupying the last position in the author order. PI's also don't write papers, they have students/postdocs writing them. They only help, give feedback, rewrite, etc.

Is this different in your field? Is your PI at a rather early stage in his/her career, maybe still postdoc? Is it the first paper you are publishing together?

The guest authors is a different story, and if they are guest authors - not contributing authors - then they shouldn't be on the paper. There are many questions around here what to do in those cases.

I do feel that a PI who invites half a dozen of guest authors might also take the ethics of authorship order not too serious...

Depending on what you plan for the future, your reaction will range from swallowing this up to complaining at the institute. The latter won't improve your relationship, but it could make the group better for future group members.

You could try to find out whether there is a ethical board at the institute that cares about things like plagiarism, and contact them regarding the authorship question - not to blame the PI (you do not even need to mention who he/she is), but in order to get their advise and possibly support.

  • My PI is a very senior researcher, holding well-established professor position and I don't see any reason other than the barter approach which allows her to claim a guest authorship on papers published by her collaborator's group in exchange of passing guest authorship to friends. Yes this is my first paper with her. However I found that this is her standard practice when it comes to as authorship on articles written by work done in her group. This means all postdocs and her occasional PhD hires have to swallow this unfair practice.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 21:11
  • Do you talk about this within the group of postdocs and PhD's, and do they share your view? If so, the postdocs (they depend less on a single professors' recommendation letters) may have a word with the professor, or even someone at the institute who can have a word with her (ethical board, head of administration or department, ...). The goal should not be to take the professor down, but a few words from the right person may change her behaviour to the better. Personally, I would reduce my input to the required minimum and look for a different position as soon as possible...
    – Mark
    Sep 6, 2017 at 22:41
  • I am in a small group with only postdoc. Other three persons, senior researchers, have no objection with this type of authorship policy. In addition, non-PhD research assistants do not contribute as researchers. I think your suggestion is really good.
    – user79461
    Sep 7, 2017 at 12:17

You should keep your name on the paper. Since the meaning of name order varies a lot by field, it is common to put a note of your contribution next to multi-author publications on your CV. So you will still be able to claim this paper as your work and list it with "(60% contribution)" or similar brief explanation.

  • I think this is a good advice, although not sure if my PI will honor that request.
    – user79461
    Sep 6, 2017 at 21:17
  • This is not something you ask your PI about! It's your CV, and you put a factual statement on it. Your PI doesn't get a say in this. The only requirement for this is that your name appears on the paper.
    – nengel
    Sep 7, 2017 at 2:43
  • Also, this is an extremely normal and benign thing to do. If your PI has a problem with this, your group is dysfunctional and it is time to cut your losses and leave.
    – nengel
    Sep 7, 2017 at 2:48
  • So true. I see your point
    – user79461
    Sep 7, 2017 at 6:28
  • I have edited my question. I would appreciate if you have any feedback
    – user79461
    Sep 7, 2017 at 12:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .