Academic Publishing: Whose Got First?

The difference between being the first listed author on a published paper and the second may mean the difference between employment and unemployment. The importance of such order is truly remarkable when you consider who actually spends the long hours conducting the research. More often than not, you will find these names towards the end of the list of authors. The principal investigator (PI) gains recognition for whatever recognition the research earns, but who is most likely to be the PI and who truly deserves the recognition?

In a rare an unlikely scenario, I was listed as second author as a lowly undergraduate research assistant on a study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. To my credit, I spent my summer days conducting surveys with patients who were often less than willing to participate while friends frolicked the beached of North Carolina. To my surprise, I was rewarded for my efforts by being placed as second author behind the second year medical student who was in charge of running the logistics of the study under the supervision of our principal investigator, an attending orthopedic trauma surgeon, whom I met only once. His name is listed fourth on the poster of our study below.

Undergraduate researches such as myself often do not even get recognized for their help, especially in larger studies. What other populations find it difficult to gain recognition in the research field? Women.

In an article by Robin Wilson, accomplished researcher Jennifer Jacquet explains that women have had extreme difficulty being listed as first authors. Is this phenomenon because women’s research endeavors are less likely to be funded, or because male researchers are not attempting to collaborate with women in their field on research projects, or something else? Based on her studies, Jacquet demonstrated that women are more likely to be 2nd-4th authors than first, which diminishes the likelihood that they are not being asked to collaborate on studies. Perhaps there is a larger issue at play here, and discrimination among scholars is not what deserves our attention.

According to a study in October of 2016, researchers found that a systemic gender imbalance persists within fields related to mathematics and engineering. In essence, women simply do not occupy the number of positions that men do in some of these research heavy fields. This reality undoubtedly influences the notion that women researchers do not get published at the same rate as men.

While women are underrepresented in their sheer number of publications in comparison to men, it certainly could be a product of fewer women in the field rather than discrimination among academic scholars. Jacquet explored the possibility that lifestyle choices including the desire to raise a family may contribute to lower numbers of publications as well. Discrimination may not be the culprit in the discrepancies.

The question of whether certain populations have a more difficult time earning the position of first author is important. Difficulty in producing a published article as first author can stifle the career of brilliant researchers.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Trent Vanhorn’s story.