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How do we assign author order in a way that is humble, equitable, and accountable to the different types of labour that go into collaborative publications? What process can address the power dynamics that exist in all labs and collaborations? Good intent and “it’s obvious to the PI” is not enough.

Author order is crucial; it is the currency of academia. Within STEM disciplines, women and gender minorities, BIPOC scientists, and junior researchers–those who are the primary constituents of our lab– consistently receive less credit for their knowledge production. Recognizing that the stakes are high for CLEAR members, we have developed an approach to author order that emphasizes process and equity rather than rules and equality.

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We’ve published a paper on our Equity in Author Order Protocol that details the processes more fully, but these are the cliff notes. Our process is premised on: 1) deciding author order by consensus; 2) valuing care work, organizational labour, accountability measures, and ways of producing value in research that are often left out; and 3) taking intersectional social standing into account. While the exact process changes to suit the paper and its authors, these commitments remain at the core of the process. Although CLEAR’s approach differs from others’, we take author order seriously as a compromised but dominant structure within accredited research we must contend with. That is, rather than attempt to circumvent author order, we stay with the trouble.

First, any author on the article must be familiar enough with the article as a whole that they could speak about it if asked (pretty standard). Also, the amount of time, type of labour, etc. is considered. Both of these practices are fairly standard. In addition:

  1. Author order must be agreed upon by consensus, by the entire lab, including people that didn’t author the paper. This helps author groups that might be struggling with power dynamics they don’t see or can’t address alone.
  2. Care work is considered a form of labour. Care work may include, but is not limited to:
    1. maintaining contamination controls (aka cleaning)
    2. organizing meetings to discuss the paper
    3. taking over tasks so others can go home sick or for those that need a break
    4. facilitating difficult conversations
    5. teaching and mentoring
    6. being a good listener and paraphraser in the process of research design or editing, which impacts the clarity of the research
    7. providing emotional labour
    8. doing administrative tasks, such as ordering supplies, making sure hours are logged, or scheduling lab times
    9. doing accountability tasks such as ensuring ethics and permits are in place and up to date
  3. When all else seems equal, we consider social location (the different social markers associated with oppression and privilege for different groups of people). Magically, women, people of colour, Indigenous peoples, people from the Global South, people with disabilities, junior researchers, people who are introverts or shy, and queers get less credit for their ideas and labour, including in research. Here’s a place to address that directly. We cannot change the structure of which social markers tend to be oppressed or privileged, but we can be accountable to not replicating those in our spaces.  For social location, we consider (in no particular order):
    1. Whether the author is an academic or not. It is important to consider non-academics full collaborators and value them as such via authorship and author order; they should be part of the consensus process.
    2. Gender. Women and gender minorities face many more challenges in research environments than men. They bump up.
    3. Racialization and Indigenity. BIPOC scholars face myriad more challenges in research environments than Whites. They jump up.
    4. Disability. Scholars with disabilities face more challenges in research environments than able-bodied scholars. They bump up.
    5. Junior or senior status. Junior scholars, especially those without multiple degrees such as undergraduates, face challenges in having their ideas and input valued as much as more senior scholars even if the same labour was performed. They bump up.
    6. Elder status. Elders first. Mind your manners. (Elders are community knowledge holders, and are not always the same as seniors).

Sometimes, we also consider factors that affect individuals in the group differently, but never at the expense of systemic social location. Individual circumstances are not the same as systems of oppression and privildge. Some of these individual circumstances we might consider include:

  1. Affiliation; which affiliations do we want to highlight, and why? We may want to promote new, unsung, or underfunded organizations and universities.
  2. Who needs the cultural capital of a higher author ranking more? Is anyone going on the job market, going up for tenure, applying for graduate school?
  3. Who has access to working on future projects that will result in more articles? Faculty and graduate students can create their own studies and write articles more readily than undergraduate students. Is this a unique opportunity for some authors to be recognized?
  4. Payment status; are some member being paid wages or stipends for this work, while others are not? Are they paid the same amounts or the same way? People paid less can be bumped up.
  5. The number of publications authors already have; members with fewer publications can be bumped up.
  6. The direction of member’s research; if a paper fits particularly well with a member’s research trajectory, it may provide more value than if they are working on a different topic.

For more details on the process, see our paper on our Equity in Author Order Protocol.

A request: We’ve heard that a lot of people use or adapt this method for their own research spaces. That’s fantastic. Please cite this paper as the methodological precedent of your process, ideally in your methods section. We find that for some reason, our intellectual labour on author order isn’t cited. See our citational politics project, too.