When I was a undergraduate student, I worked in a professor's lab doing research about "A". I helped the senior members to do some work they didn't want to do, like designing a website for their demos, or doing some basic calculations. You don't have to have the background knowledge of A to do that work. Then they added me on two papers, though I was always the last one. Afterwards, during my master study, I conducted real research individually in another field "B". Now I am trying to apply for study in an interdisciplinary field that merges fields A and B.

The problem is I know little about A. I am a afraid that the professors in the admission committee would ask me something about A and I definitely can't answer. And they would think I lied, which I didn't. Should I put the papers on my CV?

  • This depends to some extend on your field. Given the publication procedure in my field I have hundreds of publications, many of which I haven't even read. In those fields one often doesn't list "publications" but instead "publications with significant personal contribution". If one applies to a committee that covers several fields, applicants sometimes provide two publication lists: 1) the full list to be formally correct, 2) a separate list of "relevant" publications to provide a list that makes some sense.
    – pseyfert
    Dec 5, 2017 at 7:21

4 Answers 4


Your list of publications has to be complete. You should not omit any papers for which you are an author.

If you are uncomfortable with some items on your list, you may add a note on why you happen to be a co-author, but dropping some work is not a good practice.

In your case, I'd say that there is nothing wrong with these publications: The other authors agreed that your contribution was worth co-authorship and that's usually ok (assuming that the other authors know their field and acted appropriately). If somebody asks about that paper, you can frankly say that you did the calculations but that you can not answer questions about background/other parts or such.

  • 17
    I'm curious about why the list has to be complete, but maybe that's a different question.
    – pipe
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:47
  • @Qsigma Well, I was assuming that the other authors knew what they are doing and were doing things right… Anyway, I edited to clarify a bit.
    – Dirk
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:49
  • 16
    @pipe If you omit some publications, this would be under the title "Selected Publication". But "Publication List" indicates that the list is complete with no omissions.
    – Dirk
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:51
  • @Dirk - thanks for your edit - in response I deleted my comment; your assumption makes perfect sense.
    – Qsigma
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:58
  • I haven't got any publications, but in other areas I've used the approach of putting the main things in a bulletted list or table (which takes up a lot of space, so really highlights them), and then put the more incidental stuff in a sentence. Something like "Also contributed to A, B and C between 2010 and 2015". Dec 5, 2017 at 12:11

As long as you can describe what your role in the paper was, you are fine. If you didn't play any scientifically relevant role, you shouldn't have been on the paper. Helping with calculations may count as scientific contribution, designing a website not (except for very special cases, e.g. where the website was used to analyse data).

It is not uncommon to have early papers that do not fit with one's later work, and where one doesn't know much about, since one's role was very minor.


I would definitely put them on your CV. The admissions committee for a graduate school would be well aware that the author list order is significant. If they ask you about the paper just guide your answer towards what you contributed. The admission committee probably doesn't really want to know about the paper but rather more about your contributions anyways.


I worked for a research hospital for 30 years as an editor. I can promise you that anyone conversant with publishing and research knows that the second, third, fourth, fifth writer, etc. contributed in a minor way. Contribution at all describes a lot about a person's level of interest in the subject matter.

  • 1
    Remember some fields typically order authors alphabetically, so there is little notion of a second or third author.
    – gsnedders
    Dec 5, 2017 at 12:40

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