First Author to Middle Author Ratio

Posted: July 27, 2011 in Academia, Publishing

I’ve often wondered if there was an “ideal” sort of first author to middle author ratio that tenure track search committees consider in evaluating candidates. It seems to be that about a 1:1 ratio would be considered approximately “ideal”. Considering the two extremes: 1)  it would be a bit bizarre if someone was first author on every paper, suggesting perhaps that they are not good at working with others. 2) Of course, no first author papers would suggest that the candidate was not spearheading the research (and would probably not have a well written research statement either I imagine). So a 50/50 balance would perhaps be indicative of both an ability to collaborate along with an ability to advance one’s own ideas. Or perhaps I’m reading into this too much.

Of course, this would really only apply to graduate students and postdocs. Perhaps a similar sort of “statistic” would be useful for PIs in which it was a ratio of first:middle:last author (or whatever is the appropriate convention for senior scientists in the field). I’ve noticed some PIs have a ton of middle author papers, much moreso than last author papers.


I’m pretty close to the 1:1 ratio and am trying to work hard to keep it that way. Just a thought as one thing (of many) to keep in mind as I try and position myself to one day apply for tenure track jobs.

  1. Dr Becca says:

    I agree that it’s nice to have a mix, but FWIW, I only had 1st author papers, and I made it through the process OK! Several of my papers are collaborations, it’s just that I was team captain or whatever on the collaborations. If all your papers are just you and your PI, that’s a different story, perhaps.

    Either way, I don’t imagine this sort of thing being what makes or breaks a TT application. Number and quality of 1st-author pubs probably weigh much more heavily. I’ll let you know, though–NJU is starting a faculty search soon!

  2. The Tideliar says:

    yeah, but what she isn’t saying is that she only has 3 pubs >:p

  3. BikeMonkey says:

    Middle authorships are for chumps. First or last, that’s all that counts. Your “colllaboration” index is how many dumbmofos you sucker into being middle author on *your* papers.

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Fair enough…but it makes your CV longer and it’s my understanding that applications for tenure track positions are determined primarily by the length of one’s CV…gotta keep on those poster presentations!

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