Publications: Authorship and Credit

When you’re doing a PhD and writing up a study for publication, authorship can sometimes be an easy and obvious process. It’s your project so you’re number 1, the senior author, and your supervisors come after that.

However, sometimes things can get complicated. It could be that your supervisor had a lot of influence on your project, like coming up with the design and supervising the analysis, and even though you did all the hard work they feel like their intellectual contribution outweighs yours. It’s not fair, as this is your PhD, but sometimes this can happen.

Or, it could be that you’re working in a lab and helping on someone else’s project and you feel that you should be an author on their paper because you made significant contributions to their work.

Or, sometimes, people’s names get randomly added to your paper because that is the mystery of academia. I’m not saying it’s right, but I know it happens.

Authorship and credit is a tricky situation and there is a lot of politics involved. I am nowhere near experienced enough to really advise on this situation.

It would be ideal, in the planning stage of each project, to know what role each author will play and how much they will contribute. But sometimes this type of thing is worked out, messily, after the fact. The CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) can help here. And it may take the emotions out of the process. It clinically lists (almost) all types of possible contributions and you indicate which author or authors have been involved in each element. I set up a table like this and get each person involved to put their name in the column they think they will contribute/have contributed to.

Name Term Definition 
 Conceptualisation Ideas; formulation or evolution of overarching research goals and aims 
 Methodology Development or design of methodology; creation of models 
 Software Programming, software development; designing computer programs; implementation of the computer code and supporting algorithms; testing of existing code components 
 Validation Verification, whether as a part of the activity or separate, of the overall replication/ reproducibility of results/experiments and other research outputs 
 Formal Analysis Application of statistical, mathematical, computational, or other formal techniques to analyze or synthesize study data 
 Investigation Conducting a research and investigation process, specifically performing the experiments, or data/evidence collection 
 Resources Provision of study materials, reagents, materials, patients, laboratory samples, animals, instrumentation, computing resources, or other analysis tools 
 Data Curation Management activities to annotate (produce metadata), scrub data and maintain research data (including software code, where it is necessary for interpreting the data itself) for initial use and later reuse 
 Writing – Original Draft Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically writing the initial draft (including substantive translation) 
 Writing – Review and Editing Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work by those from the original research group, specifically critical review, commentary or revision – including pre-or post-publication stages 
 Visualisation Preparation, creation and/or presentation of the published work, specifically visualization/ data presentation 
 Supervision Oversight and leadership responsibility for the research activity planning and execution, including mentorship external to the core team 
 Project Administration Management and coordination responsibility for the research activity planning and execution 
 Funding Acquisition Acquisition of the financial support for the project leading to this publication 

Tenzing uses a google sheet template where each person lists their name and ticks the relevant sections they have contributed to. It then produces a nicely written out list of what each person did (image below taken from their article). This then can be included as an author note on your publication.

This may not be ideal for your situation if you’re in the middle of an authorship war, but may help you prepare for the next one. Using a taxonomy like this may help take the feelings out of the process and make it a more logical one. Have you used a taxonomy like this to help you sort out authorship?

– Alessa

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