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What is the accepted practice for listing your publications in your resume?
August 4, 2009 8:35 PM   Subscribe

When listing publications in your resume what is the accepted practice for the order of the authors?

A number of years ago I collaborated with a university academic on a number of publications. In all cases, I was the lead author on the publications we co-wrote. Recently, I came across the publication list for this academic. In all instances, the academic had placed himself as first author for all of the publications (our papers and all others) regardless of the order the authors were listed in the publication. Is there any area of academia where this is the accepted practice? Also, if I brought this fact to the attention of the university what action would be taken against the academic? I have spoken to the academic about this issue but he maintains this is accepted practice in his area of research.
posted by anonymous to Education (20 answers total)
AFAIK, this is never an accepted practice.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:40 PM on August 4, 2009

Changing authorship order is not the tiniest bit kosher. The only thing I can think of this as maybe slimy but not technically lying is if these were not listed as full citations (which would be the usual way) but if the CV-holder's name were left off the list and only co-authors listed. For example, for Jerry Doe's c.v. you might see something like

"Principles of Resume Padding" (with Anonymous) in Slimy Self-Aggrandizing Practices Quarterly
"When no one is looking" (with Grad Student1 and Grad Student2) in Exploitation Monthly

If they're formatted as citations (Doe, Jerry and Anonymous 2008. "Principles of Resume Padding" in Slimy Self-Aggrandizing Practices Quarterly 38:92-129), then you might consider emailing him with something like "Hey Jerry, while googling our paper I found you'd mistakenly listed yourself as first author. I'd hate to have this cause confusion when I'm (on the job market/going up for tenure/putting in my yearly report/whatever). Could you correct the mistake when you get the chance? Say, are you going to BigYEarlyConference this year? Let's have coffee!"

Oh, and your discipline may have something similar, here's the ASA's code of ethics section on authorship:

15. Authorship Credit
(a) Sociologists take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for
work they have actually performed or to which they have contributed.
(b) Sociologists ensure that principal authorship and other publication credits are
based on the relative scientific or professional contributions of the individuals
involved, regardless of their status. In claiming or determining the ordering of
authorship, sociologists seek to reflect accurately the contributions of main
participants in the research and writing process.
(c) A student is usually listed as principal author on any multiple-authored publication
that substantially derives from the student’s dissertation or thesis.

posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2009

Um, yeah, not accepted at all. I've seen people bold their names in an author list but never put their own name first when it wasn't published like that. Shady!
posted by emd3737 at 8:46 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tapping in from the psych student realm - also VERY not acceptable. The university I attend would likely consider it akin to plagiarism, which is a "first strike - you're out" offense.
posted by frwagon at 8:56 PM on August 4, 2009

academic in engineering: not acceptable. unethical, bad and stupid behavior.

having said that, i am not sure if the university would make a big deal out of it. if someone brings this up with his chair or the dean, they might force him to correct the citations etc.
posted by eebs at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2009

Another vote for unacceptable, somewhere on the scale between Fucking Dumb and Sleazy. Especially if you think of the order authors are usually listed in
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:33 PM on August 4, 2009

academic in philosophy: not acceptable here, though we seem to be reiterating here.

I've actually had two co-authors argue with me that my name belonged at the front of citations when I had put it alphabetically (my name is towards the back of the alphabet). I couldn't see much of a point in counterarguing and I appear first in those. I mention this only to emphasize that it is seen as a matter of real principle to some and that I have classy friends.
posted by el_lupino at 9:35 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'd be very surprised if this was considered acceptable in any respectable academic field. It's incredibly dishonest.
posted by spiderskull at 9:37 PM on August 4, 2009

This is unacceptable in my field, and AFAIK, unacceptable in any other.
posted by fake at 9:38 PM on August 4, 2009

The one time I can imagine it being acceptable is if you were joint first authors with the little footnote thing on the journal paper to confirm this and you swapped it around to make yourself first. Even then it's better to put your own footnote with the joint author status rather than arbitrarily change them around. Otherwise I've never heard anything like that in biology here in NZ or with any of our international collaborations.

But you said you found his 'publication list'? Where? On a University website? I don't see how that would be considered a definitive list or how it would affect you at all, anyone interested in the publications would look up the actual journal and see the correct authorship list anyway. Presumably the university itself can do that check (and probably does when they work out promotions etc) so it's not something secret you've uncovered. I can see this being a concern if it was on his resume or grant applications (although again the recipient can check and immediately see what he's done) but Uni webpages are PR tools, most of it's spin anyway. Whether you should get upset about this really depends on where the list is and what he's using it for, and even then it's such a lame obvious thing he's done that I personally would just roll my eyes and move on.
posted by shelleycat at 10:34 PM on August 4, 2009

Also, if I brought this fact to the attention of the university what action would be taken against the academic?

I think it's unlikely that any firm action would be taken. Maybe an uncomfortable conversation or two. Are they tenured? If not, the conversations are more uncomfortable, and firm action is more likely.

I have spoken to the academic about this issue but he maintains this is accepted practice in his area of research.

Maybe it is. It would have been helpful if you had specified this area of research in your question.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:11 PM on August 4, 2009

I work with academics including a dean and a head of school and they list themselves in the original author placement, only bolding their names for their resumes but retaining the place (third, fourth, whatever).

If you were to send a letter to the head of their department or perhaps to their web person, not accusing the academic of unethical behaviour but drawing attention to the mistake in the listing, and linking to the appropriate articles, you might get action, but I suspect mostly you'd get a reputation as a stickler. Also that academic probably will piss other academics off for exactly the same reason, academics in their department. While they might not be punished, people will be less inclined to work with them.

I suggest do nothing. If anyone ever questions you about how you've listed your authorship, be prepared to whip out the appropriate article and show them.
posted by b33j at 12:41 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

from poli sci... again, not acceptable, though I agree that a c.v. listing that says something like "The Foo Theory of Bar (with Smith and Jones)" is ok.
posted by paultopia at 12:46 AM on August 5, 2009

I work in psychology/neurology, and also do freelance editing for publications in marketing, statistics, education, and a few other odds and ends - and I've never heard of anyone doing this. Totally weird and not right.
posted by Stacey at 2:38 AM on August 5, 2009

I fear this academic is setting an extremely bad example for students, and you might not be the only one. So you should mention this to (a) the head of his department and (b) some dean handling academic honesty issues. You should send one email so both people know you told the other one. I'd acknowledge that you're not an academic yourself, but observe that such behavior might carry over to interactions with borderline academics, like students, and sets a bad example regardless.

Authors are almost always listed alphabetically in mathematics articles. Solo author articles are considered vaguely like first author articles elsewhere, although less formally. So my vitae lists no authors for my solo author papers, or begins "With ..." for articles with co-authors, which helps reduce the page count.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:07 AM on August 5, 2009

Not acceptable in my corner of science either, and would be seen as unethical. What field is this?
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:46 AM on August 5, 2009

I think it might be acceptable, depending on the field. In my field, there is pretty much no rank ordering within the listing of authors, i.e., if two people have their names on it, they presumably put (roughly) equal work into it -- if they hadn't done equal work, their names wouldn't be on it -- and so this issue would be relatively moot. (Collaboration with grad students, however, is almost non-existent, if that makes a difference).
posted by astrochimp at 8:20 AM on August 5, 2009

In any scientific dicipline I am aware of, this would never, ever be acceptible.

Author ordering is an important metric for many things: academic tenure and career advancement in non-academic research positions, for grant applications, and for awards and other appointments.

Changing author order is exactly the same as it would be to lie about one's education credentials.

To my mind, this would be cause for a significant discussion about career advancement, and/or diciplinary action. It's also very stupid, because it's very easy to check, and often would be for any of the above-mentioned processes.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2009

I work in academic publishing (formerly medical, now hard sciences), and I can't think of any field where this would be acceptable, let alone common practice. This smacks of all kinds of shady, but even if viewed just from a logistics standpoint, if one were to then short-hand cite a paper as "Academic et al. 2008," the citation would be incorrect.

If you care to bring it up further with your colleague, could you bring examples from publications in that field that support your position?
posted by penchant at 2:35 PM on August 5, 2009

Somewhat related: in mathematics, my field, the standard is to list authors alphabetically to avoid people fighting over what order the authors should be in. This has some flaws, though -- naturally one tends to remember the name of the first author, and there are definitely some co-authored papers that I associate with their first author, who may or may not have been the person who did the largest portion of the work. The American Mathematical Society says that "Occasionally, this works against young mathematicians—especially those with names near the end of the alphabet". (I'm middle-of-the-alphabet myself.)

I've seen CVs of mathematicians where the publication list was preceded by a statement of this custom. See for example this one, by someone who's published both in mathematics and in engineering. This joke paper suggests that one can determine whether a computer science conference is "theoretical" or "practical" by looking at author ordering.

But in some fields, author order does matter; I don't want to say more than that because I don't understand how the ordering works.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:47 PM on August 5, 2009

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