The rate at which scientists publish papers, and whether their name is first, second, or last on the author list, is an important factor in hiring and promotions. Publication metrics are also used at UTIG to track the performance of scientists. This practice can be fair and objective if co-authorships and the order of author names on science papers are determined carefully, with the intent to credit the individuals that conceived the project, gathered the relevant data, performed the analyses, and wrote the paper. Unfortunately, power imbalances can influence authorship decisions in different ways. For example, a senior collaborator might request a prominent position on a co-author list, which may not reflect their contribution to the paper, or a well-known scientist may be invited to be a co-author on a publication even if they were not involved in the study. Such cases of coercive and honorary co-authorship distort publication statistics, can lead to strained working relationships, and are strongly discouraged.
Some institutional promotion and yearly evaluation practices perpetuate conflicts over authorship order. For example, in many academic circles, if a graduate student is the first author of a publication, the advisor receives equal credit if he/she is listed in the second position. However, a co-author other than the student’s advisor may merit the second author position based on relative contributions, and the author list should not be influenced by a power imbalance between the three authors. Scientists can also develop different perspectives on the relative importance of their contributions to a paper over the course of a project.
To avoid discord over authorships we encourage that scientists and students have a proactive discussion of the expectations of first-author and co-authorship of a science paper at the very early stages of a collaboration. The person that makes the greatest contributions to the analyses and writing of the paper naturally deserves to be the first author. Being the first author is also a great responsibility towards the rest of the research team. Co-authorship on a science paper not only requires some contribution to the presented work, it is also important that co-authors review and agree with the publication. An author who is willing to take credit for a paper must also bear responsibility for its errors or explain why they had no professional responsibility for the material in question. If the lead-author does not consider co-PIs for co-authorship, it would be courteous to inform these collaborators that a new manuscript is in progress.
Much of the research conducted at UTIG relies on the excellent technical staff. It may be appropriate to include members of the technical staff on the co-author list if they play a significant role in the development of the project, and/or if they contributed to the scientific conclusions. Under other circumstances it is strongly recommended to mention the work delivered by our technical staff in the acknowledgments of a paper.
Conflicts over authorship can occur for different reasons, and it is not always the case that the abuse of a power imbalance is the root cause of a disagreement between co-authors. Nonetheless, the DEAI Committee of UTIG is in a good position to mediate such a conflict. As in the case of an informal complaint, members of the DEAI Committee can help by reporting the merits of the viewpoints that the two parties have in this disagreement. When all the facts are established, there is a basis to heal the working relationship, and to construct an author list that represents the efforts that all collaborators have made towards the paper. The UTIG Mentorship Program may also be used to solicit advice.
In addition to the contributions referenced above, there is substantial literature describing best practices for scientific co-authorship. For example, S. Heard’s The Scientist’s Guide to Writing provides several useful guidelines summarized below:
- Intellectual contributions are more important than financial or administrative support.
- The practice of Principal Investigators taking routine authorship on every paper from their lab group regardless of their actual contributions is discouraged.
- Each author should have participated sufficiently to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the work.
- To eliminate misunderstandings, authorship should be decided early in the collaboration process (e.g., at project inception) and not during the writing process. Ideally, discussions over coauthorship should result in a written agreement of who should do which portions of the work. Any awkwardness with the approach can be mitigated by explaining that the discussion is not motivated by the individual collaborator but by the overall difficulty of making unambiguous rules on co-authorship. Pointing out that you have read best practices for authorship decisions could help as well.
 Tscharntke, T., et al. Author sequence and credit for contributions in multiauthored publications. PLoS Biol 5, e18 (2007), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050018. 8 Fong, E. A., and A. W. Wilhite, Authorship and citation manipulation in academic research, PLoS ONE 12(12), e0187394 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.018739.
 On Being a Scientist A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition (2009), https://www.nap.edu/catalog/12192/on-being-a-scientist-a-guide-to-responsible-conduct-in
 Heard SB. The scientist’s guide to writing: how to write more easily and effectively throughout your scientific career. Princeton University Press; 2016 Apr 12.