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Can a new post doc, who didn't contribute to the work, presents a PhD student work?


User: oongz - 06 November 2020 06:24

Hi, I am in my third year of my phD. Due to up and down in my research and almost no supervision from my PI, I have not published my work and only presented a poster at few conferences.

A new post doc with no experience in the topic just joined our group this month. The post doc is quite new as the post doc just finished his/her PhD, worked some time and joined our group as a post doc. The post doc is planning to go for a conference next year. My PI asked me to send the post doc my recent abstract (from the conference I attended this year). So I send my abstract to the post doc and the next day the post doc sent his/her abstract to me and asked for my opinion and asked me to correct the abstract. The post doc just basically rephrashed, edited, resentenced, and added more sentences to my abstract and changed the title and used it as the post doc's abstract. The main work and the main content of the post doc's abstract will be still my work (which the post doc has not any contribution at all). The post doc put his/her name as author in the post doc's abstract and put the authors of my abstract (me and my co-authors) as co-authors (so basically pushing my first authorship and inserting the post doc name as the first author).

I was really upset with this matter and I have not responded to the email yet. I feel that all my hard works for the past 2 years have been stolen by a new post doc who joined and without experience at all.

Can a new post doc who didn't participate and has any contribution to my work presents my work at a conference? Can the post doc submit a edited version of my abstract to another conference and just insert the post doc name as the first author? What should I do as a PhD student with lower position in the group to protect my work?

I have never work with new post doc and I am not sure how I should treat the post doc. My PI is planning to handover the leadership of the project to the new post doc (so basically, I would be working under the new post doc). Could you advice me how should I do for the next year of my PhD? How should I treat the post doc?

I am planning to publish my work in the upcoming year and I would like to protect my work before it's published. Could you please give me your advices!

User: PhoenixFortune - 06 November 2020 14:37

What will the post doc be presenting at the conference? Your work or theirs?

What is the situation re: the post doc's access to your work/data? Is it only the abstract they have used so far?

It might be a good idea to sit down with your current PI to discuss what the post doc's exact role will be, what they will have access to, what they will get priority over etc. Politics around author order will always be a sticky situation in academia; this post doc obviously thought it is entirely acceptable to place their name above yours, whereas you don't think that is fair. This is something you may need to discuss together. Depending on the situation/relationship you have with your group, sometimes authorship order is by contribution, by surname alphabetically, or by superiority.

User: oongz - 06 November 2020 19:11

Thank you for your advices PhoenixFortune. I will discuss with my PI regarding this matter and the role of the new post doc.

Based on the draft of the abstract (considering that the post doc just modify my abstract), the post doc will most probably present the results of my PhD work (of course with help and support from my co-authors, in this case PI, current and previous colleagues).

The experiment was done with the help of my co-authors and the data was analyzed by me. Usually it takes few months to a year to analyze a single experiment. The post doc just joined the group and of course didn't have any contribution during the experiment, analysis or discussion.

The post doc so far only used my abstract. Nevertheless, considering that the post doc only write about my experiment, the post doc will definitely present my results (most probably by using what have been presented in my poster). Our group have a common server where everyone in the group has access to. The post doc may have access to my data, but may not make any changes.

User: Jamie_Wizard - 06 November 2020 19:26

You say the experiments were done by your co-authors and analysed by you so you shouldn't be possessive of the results, as you have not produced them, but helped in producing them by your analysis. On the other hand, you have done significant work analysing the results. One has to be mindful that you are working in a team environment. That said, it would not be fair for the post-doc to take all the credit.

When I did my PhD, my supervisor set the research question and I went away and did all the work. When it came to publishing, we published as joint authors, with my supervisor being the corresponding author. The papers listed the contribution of each of us. Your PI should ensure you get placed appropriately in the author list. With conferences it is a bit more tricky. When I presented my work, I put "under the supervision of", to acknowledge my supervisor. When my supervisor presented my/our work, he put his name on top of the slides, but made it clear on the next slide that the results were the outcome of the was doing the work and listed my name. Experienced PIs usually give a short summary at the end of slides and often briefly mention verbally who is doing what in the lab.

Part of the post-docs responsibility is to also present the labs work, and of course, you have a part in that because you're a PhD student (i.e. learning through doing/presenting) and have done a significant part of the work.

I would discuss it with your PI, ask about what the convention is in recognising your work. Be professional in your interaction.

Good luck.

User: oongz - 06 November 2020 20:04

Thank you Jamie_Wizard.

That's right as you said it's a team work which have been previously agreed and discussed earlier with my PI who should be part of the authorship of the experiment and any publication related to the corresponding experiment. That's why there names are in my abstract and in the poster as co-authors. Of course the new post doc name was not there at all (not even discussed as the post doc was not there).

So do you mean that the post doc name now can be inserted into any publication related to this experiment? Do you mean that if a post doc join a group this week, any publication in the group (which are already in the preparation) should now add the post doc name?

User: PhoenixFortune - 08 November 2020 12:05

The post doc shouldn't put their name on work that was done before they entered the lab group, but any work done afterwards it may be seen as fair game to do so. This will be something you need to clarify with your PI.

User: rewt - 08 November 2020 19:51

Hi oongz,

Authorship is always an awkward topic. Authorship rules and customs vary between fields, and Academia Stack Exchange has a lot of good posts about authorship customs in different fields ( I seriously think half of their posts are about authorship). Though it is best to be open and honest with your co-authors about what you want. I personally would never argue over adding someone to my paper, only the position.

Quote From oongz:
So do you mean that the post doc name now can be inserted into any publication related to this experiment? Do you mean that if a post doc join a group this week, any publication in the group (which are already in the preparation) should now add the post doc name?

If they do any work on the paper, even rewrite 2 lines, they are a co-author. It is a bit annoying but the reverse is also possible. I am co-author on two papers for doing virtually no work except giving them samples I was going to bin otherwise. If you are a in a collaborative lab you could boost your publication count by "helping" out your colleagues.


Regarding the conference. Did you want to present your work at that conference? Does the conference require presenters to be first name authors? Jamie_Wizard is right supervisors usually present their students work as their own at conferences but give recognition and give away first name on the paper. I am currently writing a presentation for my supervisor on my current work so she can present it, while also writing the paper with my name first. So, if the post-doc is being considered to manage this project, they probably see the conference presentation as harmless. It is unfair that the post-doc is getting authorship for the conference but since when was academia fair or when conferences actually matter. I would forget about the conference but make sure that it is your name first on the paper.





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