Authorship: Who should be on the paper? Where? And who not?

Today, I talked with Rick Betzel ( about authorship.

Authorship is the most important academic currency. It is the main way of performance evaluation and rankings for positions. There are many differences between disciplines, but generally, the first (usually the person who did the work) and last (usually the person who advised and oversaw the project from start to end) author position are the most important. The middle authors should have made significant intellectual contributions to the project. Everybody else goes in the acknowledgement section.

But of course it is not always that easy. Watch our discussion for many different cases with conflict potential:

The most important thing is to discuss authorship with the other people involved, ideally already when distributing the work and responsibilities. Never take for granted that other people agree with you on this.

Further readings:

General recommendations:

Interesting point system of the Kosslyn lab:

How to write a letter to the editor when submitting a manuscript for publication.

First of all, check the submission guidelines for the journal that you want to submit to. If there is any information regarding cover letters to editors for manuscript submission, this will overwrite everything I say here.

Second, disciplines vary widely in their conventions regarding cover letters and in some it is in fact considered bad taste to write one. If you don’t know what the standard in your field and there is no information on the journal page, ask senior colleagues or email the journal or editorial office if you should submit one or not. (Be ready to receive an arrogant reply because people are often ignorant of the fact that cultures and conventions can differ substantially but by no means take it personal.)

If there are no clear guidelines against a cover letter and you have not encountered horrified faces/email replies when asking around, just write it. Even if it is not obligatory, just do it. The goal of this letter is to make the editor’s job easier (remember these are overworked academics who do this as a side job) and this ultimately can have a positive effect on how and how fast your submission will be processed. Here are tips how I do it (template and mini-summary below):

Here  is my template for a cover letter. Feel free to use this alternative template (sorry I forgot where I got it from) or another template from one of these pages with more helpful tips:

What I need you to take home from this:

  • Know and communicate what article type you are submitting and make sure it fits ALL requirements in the guidelines for authors!!!!
  • be concise and professional, jokes are strictly prohibited (even if you are best friends with the editor!)
  • do not oversell your research
  • avoid jargon and name dropping
  • clearly communicate why your article should be published in this journal
  • make sure you include all legally required statements (Guide for authors!)

How to deal with rejection & frustration

Being able to deal with rejection and frustration is a key academic skill. The earlier you learn it, the better. Whether you get roasted in a Q&A session, have to deal with constant cynical remarks from peers, get a series of papers or grant proposals rejected, or deal with the endless frustration of university bureaucracy and interpersonal conflicts – negativity lures around every corner. It’s time to pick your weapons.

With my friends Dr Molly Berenhaus and Dr Christina Bergmann, I chatted today about our strategies to deal with the everyday rejection and frustration in academia. In the session we talked about First Aid as well as Long Term Prevention strategies. You can rewatch the discussion here (most important take home messages below):

  1. Understand that this is part of your job. Your experience is not unique to you -everybody deals with the same shit. Promised.
  2. It is also rarely personal.
  3. Never, NEVER act in the heat of the moment. Buy yourself some time and try to keep the situation under control.
  4. No public rants about your failures, unfair treatment, or colleagues. There is a time and place for the much needed venting, but this is not on social media and not in public.
  5. Take it as a lesson to become better as a researcher, as a writer, as a reviewer, as a teacher or supervisor, as a colleague, as a recruiter.
  6. Try to localize the problem and be open to change.
  7. Internalize the constructive message, not the negative feedback.
  8. Reach out for help. Avoid getting isolated at all costs.
  9. Protect yourself from negativity by keeping a lot of work in the pipeline. Don’t put everything on one project.
  10. Celebrate each success.