To Be or Not To Be: First Author

Being First Author | New Faculty


My calendar year is quickly coming to a close and while I’m sure yours is too, it’s always nice to take some stock of the old CV and see where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’d like to do for myself in terms of beefing it up for the upcoming calendar year. Why do I do calendar years instead of academic years? I like giving myself the extra time during summer to publish! 🙂 There’s really no other rhyme or reason behind it so if you were looking for some philosophical answer, you’re not going to get one.

After reviewing my personal benchmarks, I’m pretty pleased with how the calendar year progressed for me, both personally and professionally in terms of my CV. I cannot complain at this point, unless I can say one thing about the amount of leftover side effects two weeks of the flu/sinus infection are having on my body. Can it just stop already?  Spending almost two weeks in sickness dormancy gave me lots of time to sleep, watch netflix, and review things that I’d let fall to the wayside. This was one of them.

Other than that, I’m in good shape on paper. The three boxes of tissues I’ve used the past two weeks would disagree.

First authorship is something that you’ll be required to fulfill if you enter a TT position in academia. The number of publications you’re required to be first author on will vary and the weight they carry will also vary. If you’re second or third author, many universities will also consider that on your T & P packet, but ask first. In my old job, being first, second, or third author counted/was weighted the same across the board, so it was perfectly ok to be third author sometimes. I liked this system. It encouraged scholarly work but also kept things in the realm of realism: it’s impossible to be first author on every thing coming out of your intellectual shop.

Understand this other new faculty: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO FIRST AUTHOR ON EVERYTHING. and if you can, email me and tell me your secret.

Working with undergrads and grad students to publish will afford you more opportunities to publish, but it will also inherently increase your workload. While my researchers are great, the polishing and checking/editing at the end is largely up to me. They do the bulk of the work though and I couldn’t be more pleased with them most of the time. I share my satisfaction with them by giving them first authorship in many cases. While I know this is often frowned upon and some ego’s cannot handle giving it up, to me it’s important. Many of my students are also looking at graduate programs for themselves and what better way to apply to grad school than with at least one publication already under your belt?

Perhaps my view is skewed on the subject, but the nature of my current position doesn’t leave me worrying about my T&P packet too very often due to the major fact that it’s soft money funded, but for my NEXT job, I’ve been busy publishing and setting up my CV for committee’s and potential employers. Eyes on the prize right?

Being first author can be great but can also be a huge burden on your workload. It’s MORE WORK. Plain and simple, you’ll spend more time editing, proofing, making sure every little thing is APA formatted, uploading/downloading, dealing with potential edits once the article is accepted, and numerous other tasks involved in writing on a team if you have collaborators.

I’ve been on writing teams of all sorts. From one pole to the other: extremely organized to extremely disorganized, I’ve contributed in many ways. If you’re getting ready to write on a team for an article, book chapter, or other kind of scholarly work, it might help to know these things:

  • what kind of worker are you? do you like tasks or a list to complete?
  • what kind of workers are you writing with?
  • if you’re not the lead, how does that lead author lead? last minute? two weeks ahead?
  • are there clear expectations for each contributor?
  • does it fit with your current research work? or is it a direction you’d like to head in?
  • best case scenario? worst case scenario?
  • how will your employer view this in your packet? is it worthwhile?
  • do you actually have the time?

Publishing can be rewarding but it can also be extremely frustrating and while open access journals are becoming more popular, journals that have index ratings are still slower than molasses in many cases. I had an article accepted in 2010. It finally got published this year….better late than never right?

Publishing is a game that can be managed. As you look after your own academic career and future, know that you can still thrive without having to sacrifice it all. Check with your university about authorship. Good luck on your next manuscript!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “To Be or Not To Be: First Author

  1. arranbhansal says:

    Great post, thank you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: