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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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Yesterday, I did something almost unheard of in academia.

I relinquished first authorship of a paper.

I worked on this paper all through my time at JPL and Caltech. It was my project, my experiment and I've been hanging onto it, trying to push revisions through on my occasional trips to the States over the past two years. Thanks to the work done by my former graduate student, it really is nearly done now. He'll have to write up the supplemental experiments that he did, but the core content of the paper won't need to be changed.

I don't think anyone would dispute my claims to ownership of the paper, despite the additional work he did and the data he re-took. I also don't think many people would have agreed to have their names demoted from the coveted position on a paper. I'm not claiming sainthood for having sacrificed it or anything. It would be untrue if I were to claim that I didn't have a great deal of ego invested in the work. However, he needs authorship on this paper a lot more than I do. He's beginning his fourth year, the work he did carrying on my project has consumed most of his graduate career and he wants to finish his Ph.D. next year. He'll get another publication out of a separate study, I'm sure, but it might not be submitted until after he defends his dissertation. I'm switching fields and I'm unlikely ever to become an academic in experimental chemical physics. I don't desperately need to be first author on this paper, although it'd be nice if it finally got published so I'd have something to show for my post-doc. I know I'm doing this for good reasons.

I'm still finding it difficult to let go.

From: libra_verde5
2006-11-08 21:45 (UTC)
Wow. That would give me pause. It sounds like you are doing the right thing, and he is lucky to have someone who is being fair and logical. Props to you!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-11-15 21:48 (UTC)
I'm lucky too. He has turned into a very good experimentalist. When we were in meetings with my former supervisors, I was listening to him talk and I couldn't help feeling gleeful and a bit proud at how articulate and knowledgeable he's become. I like to think I had a hand in that. This also makes the "sacrifice" worthwhile.
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[User Picture]From: smallfurry
2006-11-08 22:01 (UTC)
giving up authorship = fabulous new career in london...i think it balances out nicely for both of you.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-11-15 21:50 (UTC)
Well, I think if you judge the situation by that equation, I probably win, actually!
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[User Picture]From: vndictivesprite
2006-11-08 22:04 (UTC)
That was very generous of you.

I didn't get put first on my undergrad publication because my advisor didn't think of it until it was too late. All the students are in alphabetical order after his name. I was a little sad, but he apologized when I saw him and to be fair, he was battling cancer when the article was submitted.

Plus...now that I'm here it's not like it really matters anyway.
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2006-11-08 22:06 (UTC)
I've not been first author yet, but we're working on a few possibilities just now. I'm always pleased when I get to be an author at all - it's still a novelty :).
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-11-15 21:55 (UTC)
True, it's nice just to have your contributions acknowledged. Honestly, I'd be happiest if the damn thing would just get published already, never mind the order of the names.
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From: ripperlyn
2006-11-08 22:06 (UTC)

Some loosely related points.

Authorship on anything is like the birthing of a child. Not an easy thing to let go of.

The most important gifts are the ones that give the recipient a part of yourself.

Maybe part of the reason it's hard to let go is because this is, finally, a very concrete thing that signals your absolute decision to depart from academic experimental chemical physics. When I first 'met' you, there were two things that played a large role in defining who you were (not that your amazing and insightful personality wasn't the biggest definition)...and this is a very definite release of the second thing. New beginnings are always hard.

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[User Picture]From: taische
2006-11-08 23:19 (UTC)
At my lab, we'd just go with alphabetical order since most efforts were quite communal, though in grad school some mystery formula based on a melange of effort and status seemed to be applied.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-11-15 21:59 (UTC)
Ha, I'd totally win if we went in alphabetical order!

I didn't know some labs did things that way. In my field, an awful lot of weight seems to be put on the position of the names, as being first generally means you wrote the paper and did most, if not all, of the research.
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[User Picture]From: foreverdirt
2006-11-09 00:11 (UTC)
Wow. That's very good of you -- the oodles of symbolism can't be helping.
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[User Picture]From: guyinahat
2006-11-09 00:29 (UTC)
It's the things in life that you don't have to do, but choose to anyway that set you apart from others.
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From: tdj
2006-11-09 04:04 (UTC)
Can you two share the first authorship?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2006-11-15 22:23 (UTC)
No, we can't. One person has to be the main point of contact for the peer review and for any questions that people might have after publication. It should be the person who's most closely tied to the work at the time of submission, which was another reason to turn over authorship to him.
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From: alice_mccoy
2006-11-09 13:51 (UTC)


As someone who desperatly desires their name on a paper I am blown away by your selflessness. What a wonderful thing to do.

We are surrounded by negativity, this is amazing. Thank You.
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[User Picture]From: bellelaqueen
2006-11-10 09:48 (UTC)
I'm not claiming sainthood for having sacrificed it or anything
But you are still doing a great thing you don't have to for someone else.

Is there a patron saint of experimental chemical physics?
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