Most people who perform academic research hope to become an author on a journal article or conference presentation about their research. Authorship can open doors for future opportunities because it shows 1) that you have developed analytical and communication skills, 2) that you can carry a project through to completion, and 3) that you are capable of working on a team.
Being listed as the first author usually indicates that you took the lead on a project and carried it through to completion. The second author is usually the person who put the second-most effort into the project, etc. The last (corresponding) author is usually the faculty member who supervised the project. Having your name listed as the first author looks better on a resumé than being listed as second, third, or tenth author. Thus conflicts occasionally arise about author order. Below I explain my policies on authorship.
- If you make a substantive intellectual contribution to a paper, you will be listed as an author (at some position) on the paper.
- Substantive contributions include (but are not limited to) helping to design the study, analyze the data, interpret the data, write the paper, prepare figures, address reviewer comments, etc. A more detailed set of roles is described here.
- Some types of contribution, though helpful, may not be substantive enough to merit authorship. For example, if you provide feedback after reading a colleague's manuscript or attending a presentation on their research, this effort alone likely will not be enough for authorship. The same may be true, for example, if you share computer code or discuss research ideas with a colleague. Such collegiality is expected at a university.
- If you start a project, perform the majority of the work, and carry it through until a manuscript is accepted for publication, you will very likely be listed as the first author. I say "very likely" because nothing is guaranteed, but I cannot think of a scenario where this would not be the case.
- If you start a project but stop participating before a manuscript is accepted for publication, you may or may not be listed as the first author. I make a judgment call in situations like these.
- Some projects are highly collaborative (sometimes across multiple institutions). In these situations, it can be more tricky to decide order of authorship. A helpful solution is to discuss authorship earlier rather than later (and to make sure you contribute as much as you can to the project.)
- I will always do my best to list authors fairly, according to their level of contribution. However, sometimes it can be difficult to determine author order. Please talk to me if you feel you have been treated unfairly.
After a manuscript has been submitted to a journal, it may take 1-2 years for the paper to be accepted for publication. Often you have to submit to multiple different journals (not simultaneously) until it gets accepted. Often reviewers ask for additional work and interpretation. For these reasons, authorship depends on contributions that are made throughout the entire process. In determining author order, I may place more importance on completing a project than on performing earlier parts of the project. A research project that is 99% complete but unpublished is worth little in academia. So it is best to commit to seeing a project all the way to completion.