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Co-author in big paper vs first author in not-so-big paper - (Oct/14/2011 )

Hi! I'm a newly minted postdoc and just starting out on a project. I have some preliminary results which are very promising, so I drafted out the project outline to aim towards a publication, which I will be the first author. But when I showed my outline to my PI, he said he wants to split up the data sets in the outline, each will go to his two other projects that are already quite mature, and one of them at least, will be in a big paper. I see how it is advantageous for the research group and him since instead of a few of medium quality publications, he gets at least 1 big paper if not 2. The problem is, I will only be a co-author of the big paper this way. My question is, is it more valuable for my career prospects to be a co-author of a big paper or the first author of a not-so-big paper?

Any advice?


-Sylvia Peng-

I think for your career it's always better to have some first author paper. What das not-so-big mean? Not so big as Science, Nature or Cell? There are a lot of good journals. Is it possible to be a joined first paper at at least paper? Maybe you can make a compromise especially if big paper means publishing in the big journals.


These days the difference between "not-so-big" and "big" journals is becoming less and less. Yes, if you publish a first author paper in Science, Nature, Cell, PNAS, that is good for your career. But co-author papers, even in "big" journals, are never worth as much as a first author publication. When you are looking for a job, the number of first author publications will be primarily what people are looking at, and the type of journal will only be secondary. If you were choosing between 1 first author nature paper, or 2 first author Journal of Obscure Specialty papers, always choose the bigger journal. But I would NEVER give up your first authorship without a fight.


Thanks! I see now that I have to argue for my first author paper. Sigh, it's not gg to be an easy fight...