Q: Who should be designated as the corresponding author if the designated corresponding author is too busy?

Detailed Question -

An institution offered to facilitate the publication process for us. It was understood that the first author and the corresponding author would be different. It was defined that the corresponding author would be the one to ensure that the publication process goes smoothly and would be a senior researcher or advisor. However, what if that adviser is so busy that the first author (currently, a postgrad student) is the one ensuring that the manuscript is going to be successfully published? Should the advisor still be the corresponding author?

1 Answer to this question

This is an unfortunate scenario, but not an uncommon one. Note also that authorship issues/conflicts – of various hues – are quite common in research publication.

Anyway, the answer to your query is both easy and difficult.

Easy, because it hinges on the experience of the first author (who is now also the acting corresponding author). As this researcher is presently “only” a postgrad student, they would possibly not be aware of the complexities of such a scenario and how to deal with them. Which brings us to the difficult answer.

In scenarios like this, we usually advise junior researchers to be practical about the situation. Various kinds of bullying, harassment, or even simply usurping take place around research publications, and it’s best when one is just starting off to not fight them too much. We know how this sounds, but again, we are urging the involved researcher to look at it practically. In fact, this kind of a situation is known as an honorary authorship – an authorship “granted” to a senior researcher for having their name “attached” to the paper.

Having said that, this researcher could try and carefully assess the repercussions of raising this issue. If it seems that it’s not likely to go down well, with both the senior researcher and the institution that offered to help, it’s best to let this be. There will after all hopefully be many more papers in the future, by which time the researcher would have more experience to more assertively manage the situation.

There is a lining of hope though. The matter of authorship may come up at the time of the journal submission. An astute/experienced editor may pick up the discrepancy and may check about this. Even then though, journals/editors usually leave it to the authors to resolve the matter.

Anyway, for more insights into situations such as these, you may go through the following queries by other researchers:

If nothing else, it will help to show that there are others in the same boat. :-)

All the best for the way forward. And this one notwithstanding, keep the faith.