Team science suffers when junior researchers see their career-defining contributions to a paper downplayed. Here’s how to tackle disputes.
“It felt like a slap in the face. It was as though the credit for half of my PhD was being handed to someone else. I burst into tears.” This is how one cell biologist reacted when her former supervisor made a fellow postdoctoral researcher a co-first author of a paper based on her PhD.
These kinds of disputes happen far too often and the pressure to publish is making them worse. We need a system where supervisors are acknowledged for the performance of their charges, without feeling they need to muscle in. We also need a resolution process that is less toxic and acrimonious, which is best done at the policy and procedure level, rather than at the point an individual case arises.
Most in the scientific community have heard similar stories, often involving junior researchers who have given their all in collaborations only to then feel unfairly relegated down the author lists of resulting publications. Sometimes they do not make the list at all, becoming no more than ‘ghost authors’.
Internet forum posts reveal how upsetting it can be for those who think that their professional prospects will suffer as a result of their being cheated out of the credit they deserve.