Nope, you win.
Yesterday I updated my RSS reader for the first time in about 6 months. I don't usually read science articles this way, but once upon a time I set up a bunch of automatic searches for friends and topics I care about most.
In the last 6 months, my advisor was listed on 20 publications. None of them were mine. Nevermind that I started delivering drafts of my paper more than 6 months ago, and started getting feedback after 4 months of that.
Another friend also had 20 papers from his relatively young lab as a new professor. I'm so proud!
While looking over these lists, I noticed something interesting: despite having no new first-author publications, MrPhD has now surpassed me in the grand total of publications, because he has more papers on which he is a middle author.
For almost every project in his lab that he has contributed to, MrPhD was made an author. He says they usually tell him up front that he'll be an author.
I, on the other hand, have learned to ask, or risk wasting my time, when I should be working on my own projects. This is true regardless of whose lab wants my help (my own or someone else's).
I am often told I'm being greedy when I ask up front whether I'll be an author. But I'm often asked to 'help' by doing time-consuming work that is not always acknowledged as traditionally worthy of authorship (i.e. not comprising a figure).
My uncredited contributions in the past have ranged from doing pilot experiments that formed the basis for a high-impact paper, to developing a method from scratch, to analyzing other people's data sets.
So now sometimes I ask.
And sometimes when I ask about authorship, they get mad and call me names, but ultimately make me an author anyway.
Did I win there?
Nope, not really. Middle-authorship won't help me that much, and all I've done is reinforce my reputation for being Difficult.
Another damned-if-you-do-or-don't. And probably doesn't do much to help any future YFSs those people might consider having as collaborators.
So I've learned it's sometimes better to just not 'help' people who do not offer me authorship up front.
Asking just gets me in trouble, but not asking gets me nowhere.
So then I just say I'm too busy, sorry.
But that also tags me as Difficult while Joe Schmoe, who makes time to help AND gets co-authorship, is a Team Player.
I have to wonder why I'm constantly asked to provide scientific support for free.
When MrPhD contributes similarly, at least he gets 'paid.'
I'd be a Team Player too if I got paid to do it.
In the last few years, there were a few of what I'll call Alliances among a handful of male postdocs in our department, who consistently listed each other as co-authors on all their papers, and thus ended up with many more publications on their CVs than they would have had otherwise. In most cases, they contributed small things to each others' work (usually not more than 1 figure worth).
They all have jobs now. Two got multiple first-author papers, and they're both at top-tier places.
The other three got their one requisite biggish first-author paper and several middle-author credits. They all ended up with decent jobs at places I would not mind working.
I was thinking about this again because the other day I overheard a senior grad student (SGS) conferring with Newest Male Postdoc (NMP) about some experiments that NMP is apparently doing for SGS's latest paper.
I noticed because I had offered, about a year ago, to help SGS do these kinds of experiments. As it is, now I'm too busy anyway.
But how much do you wanna bet that NMP will be listed on this paper as a co-author?
Meanwhile I'm helping Newest Female Postdoc (NFP) with her experiments and fully expecting... an acknowledgment. If I'm lucky.