I am experiencing a very difficult time in the lab where I’m doing my postdoc (biomedical sciences).

This is a lab with lots of funding and a good scientific reputation. I joined 3 years ago and have been working on a technically challenging project. Finally, after 3 years of solving technical sides of things, I started getting some interesting data and was planning to expand my findings to publish a full story out of it. Meanwhile, another postdoc in the lab was preparing a ms on an interrelated topic that could significantly benefit from this data.

My PI told me that I have the option of a) going ahead with my own experiments and story, but bearing in mind that I can be partially scooped by that other paper from our own lab(!), or b) contributing my work to this other manuscript, which could then be sent to a top journal and could be good for the lab. He also explicitly said that he doesn’t care if I will be scooped because he has to think about the lab and not individuals who sometimes will have to suffer for the collective good. I argued that this meant I will lose major part of my project and will have to start from scratch, to which he responded that I will still have time to do something else.

My contract ends in less than 2 years. It’s possible it’ll be extended but there’s no official guarantee. I also don’t want to be postdoc for ever and prefer to at least get my own fellowship. After I insisted that this could only make sense (and yet reluctantly and as a compromise) if I will be a co-first author on that paper, he said that it’s only him who will decide on authorship and that he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He also questioned me, in a condescending tone, whether I think this paper will give me a job and said that he knows the answer is “No”.

A week after this unpleasant conversation he called me on my phone to say that he has decided my data should go in that paper and that I can be co-first author. This was far from ideal but not the worst scenario, so I prepared the results and the figure. When I asked to see the manuscript, he responded that he’ll send it to me only after I finish my part of the method section and the figure legend, because he doesn’t want people getting “distracted” correcting other bits yet. I finally received the ms 3 days ago to write my part of results section, only to find out for the first time that there will be 4 co-first authors on the paper and that I’m number 3. His argument was that the first-listed has put more work, so he has alphabetically listed the other 3 of us!

I find this the most illogical explanation and utterly disrespectful. I voiced my disappointment, particularly at the fact that he hadn’t been open about this decision.

I face a difficult situation now, where i don’t know:

  1. If I should just let this go for now and wait to see what happens with the review process (I fear I may have to do more work).

  2. If I should already look for other labs given what my PI has said to my face and the way he has treated the authorship issue. There is another lab I’d be very much interested in but I don’t have my own publication yet and the lab head is also in the same institute. I don’t know if I can trust him disclosing the issue without being seen as unprofessional.

  3. If, assuming the paper is accepted, I will still be credited as a first author for funding/hiring bodies given that we are 4 listed as “first” and I’m number 3 without any clear random listing.

thanks for your comments/suggestions in advance

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