What can I do to get authorship in a research study in which I spent a lot of time and effort, before being abandoned by the team leader?

Unfortunately, most research assistants do not qualify for an authorship according to the guidelines of most journals. To be included as a co-author, you need to have contributed intellectually to atleast one aspect of the study/research. So if you (as an example) collected data, cleaned the data, conducted study visits, created figures/charts, did some basic analysis, you still wouldn’t qualify to be a co-author. Unless the work you did involved you coming up with an original idea (and not just did what you were asked to do by the PI), you have no legal claim over the authorship.

Having said that, most PIs are very considerate when it comes to encouraging junior researchers to contribute intellectually and will often suggest ways in which such researchers could earn their authorship ( writing a big chunk of the manuscript or coming up with your own research question, analyzing it and writing about it).

But realize that all of this is at the discretion of your PI. If he/she does not want you on the paper, there is very little you can do about it. There definitely are mechanisms in place for you to take such grievances to a committee, anonymously, and have them negotiate a fair agreement, but I don’t fancy your chances when it comes you your word against the PI’s about how much you contributed to the project. Also, you would instantly lose any chance of a recommendation (but you already know that).

So here’s what I suggest:

  • Review literature on the topic of the study you worked on.
  • Pick a reasonable research question that you can answer using the collected data and write about using your data analysis and writing skills.
  • Pick a conference that is likely to accept an abstract based on your research question.
  • Be nice to the PI. Catch him/her in a good mood, be prepared to pitch your abstract idea to him/her.
  • If you insist on doing all the work yourself (analysis, writing and submitting), chances are good that your PI will agree to it.
  • Now analyse the data using excel and write an abstract. Have your PI review it and sign off on it before you submit.

This course of action prevents you from being completely shut out from enjoying the fruits of your labor. Getting an abstract out of it (you’ll be the first author as opposed to some middle author on a manuscript) is better than not getting anything. You also get to keep a civil relationship with the PI. You have the potential of converting your abstract into a manuscript as an added bonus.

I made a lot of assumptions about your role in the study/research. I apologize if this solution doesn’t make sense for you.


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What can I do to get authorship in a research study in which I spent a lot of time and effort, before being abandoned by the team leader?