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give the academic gift that keeps on giving

I hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays!

Yes, it’s the season of giving and what better way to show you care than to give authorship on one of your papers.  This can be a very touchy subject sometimes and I’ve heard of some pretty crazy and ridiculous situations where people have been included as authors on papers (some even including extortion and blackmail).  But, what I’m talking about here is including people in your research–getting people involved in the process.

One concern I’ve heard is that having a lot of authors on a manuscript dilutes the authors’ acknowledgement, which really is not true.  To this day, I still only pay attention to the first and last authors (sometimes second-to-last author as well)–I find this to be true of almost all of my friends and colleagues.

So why should you actively try to involve others at an authorship level?  Well, another brain thinking about your project certainly can’t hurt.  That’s a given, but maybe you don’t think it’s necessary plus there are people who would think about your project without having to be an author.  From a practical standpoint, when you include someone with the understanding that he/she will be an author, you can demand a lot more–time, resources, thought, etc.–from that individual:  What do you mean you can’t?  You’re going to be an author right?  Do it!

More importantly–and I think this is more important for some of us junior academics–including someone else in your research at an authorship level shows your appreciation for that individual’s thoughts/abilities and contributions with the most valuable currency in academia and ultimately helps to build new professional friendships as well as solidify already established professional friendships.  Some of my closest friends (professional and now even personal) are people who I’ve met through research collaborations and they remain as people who I know I can rely on for help when I need it.  And in the often cut-throat world of academics, it is awesome to have such friends.  So as you are working on your research, keep this in mind and use it to your advantage to make important professional connections and friendships…


3 Responses to “give the academic gift that keeps on giving”

  1. 1
    Gabriel - Gadfly Revolution:

    This is a nice idea, but I wouldn’t go overboard with it. Most publications include an Acknowledgements section thanking people for their help with a research project. And having another mind thinking about your research only really helps if it doesn’t cause undue clutter — sometimes, too many minds bouncing ideas around can keep a project from focusing on getting anything done.

  2. 2

    This is what I used to think. But after 6 years of this gift/guest authorship backscratching I am yet to have a single instance of payback in any form that I can identify. After more than 20 papers worth I am yet to receive a single authorship back.

    I have had a guest author destroy later protocol suggestions in open forums based on false ‘ethical’ considerations. I have had one guest author (2 minor authorships) identify me as someone else in a room full of senior academics. I have another who I doubt could recognise me in the street. And that’s not even counting all the ones I haven’t actually met. Some authors on papers haven’t offered a single word of substance after accepting authorship.

    My policy now is to go for the least number of authors I can get away with.

  3. 3

    Good points all. One particular backfire may be involving someone who takes their gift too literally and starts offering/demanding ridiculous ideas. Definitely keep that in mind when choosing who to involve.

    I wouldn’t give the gift of authorship for the purpose of getting authorship back. I’ve published over 10 manuscripts so far and will have over 20 by the end of the summer, none of which will be due to payback. But, the friendships I formed and solidified through working with others was well worth it.

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