Saturday, October 06, 2007

Authorship Question

I sit on the easy side of the authorship spectrum. I was trained in an environment where such decisions were left to the first author student as to who was placed on the paper and in what order those names appeared. Advisor never said much to me about authorship at all and I learned by watching what others did.

"You must work here." Carrie said when I visited the department before I had even been accepted. "I need a buddy."

She was right. The boys in our group banded together, socialized, worked through problems together and shared publications amongst themselves. Carrie - by virtue of being female or married or some other factor - wasn't included in that group. Nor, eventually, was I. So we formed our own friendship and the sharing of publications followed easily and naturally. While the benefit was probably more mine since I was a bit younger, I like to think I've helped her CV as well.

Carrie - in all honesty - doesn't have to do a lot of work to end up on some of my papers. There are, of course, some manuscripts to which we each contribute heavily. There are others which are mainly hers or mostly mine that we find a piece to hand off or discuss the subject matter for ideas and happily put the other's name on our respective papers. It's a trend and relationship that may cause some to frown heavily in disapproval. I'm certain that "research buddies" isn't listed on any sort of authorship guidelines, but it works for us. It's a way to keep up with her research (and she mine), open avenues of discussion across institutions and work on projects which would otherwise be unavailable.

I have also sneaked grad students onto my meager list of papers, knowing it helps them to have lines on the CV, even if they are listed fairly low on the list of contributors. I also know that I'm very likely to ignore someone's next request for help if I feel my work isn't properly credited so I put a great deal of thought into author order. Yet I have also taken Pete off my highest-profile paper because he screwed with me at my defense and I'll not give him any more credit than I absolutely must. I also would never work with him again so his thoughts of me can be as negative as he'd like. I rather hate him so it seems fair.

So, if we work together and you do some re-writing or a bit of analysis or in some way make the paper better, you'll end up on it. I don't thank people in the acknowledgments - we simply didn't utilize that section in my research group. But my overall philosophy is to be helpful and give people the benefit of the doubt.

As I said, I'm pretty easy-going about this and am not really open to criticism on the matter. I've decided how I treat publications and that trend will continue.

I mentioned - before I hurried home to Mom's side (she's going back and forth between extreme and mild sickness. So I call multiple times a day to know whether I'm happy or worried.) - that Boss asked me to contribute to Henry's upcoming interview talk. I happily, then grudgingly, complied with the first and second requests.

"I don't know what to do." I said to Mom after I'd checked my email when we'd all returned home. "Boss checked in - I called him twice from the hospital and sent an email yesterday - and will continue to pray for us. He also mentioned that he gave my almost-done paper to Henry to read. He says that Henry made comments and Boss put the notes in my mailbox. Then he says that he's passing along a question from Henry.

"Apparently this job hunt is not optional." I said as I paraphrased the note for my parents. "He's been told to find something new and he's realizing that he's not been productive in the past years."

(Note: I went to Google Scholar to check his publication history. While there, I was distracted for 30 minutes doing a lit search on a question for my halfway-done paper. I really do enjoy and am fascinated by my job. Which is a good thing to note when I'm not doing particularly well - emotionally speaking - lately.)

"Boss notes that his number of publications will play an important role in his search for the next faculty position and says that he's 'looking for manuscripts.' Then Boss starts a new paragraph because this is important to him but it's making him uncomfortable. Then he writes that Henry would like to be involved with any manuscripts that I'm currently writing."

I looked up at my parents and watched them stare back at me. Then they looked at each other.

"Is that bad?" Mom asked and I smiled when remembering they have little knowledge of my current world. Neither took more than a couple college courses and have worked since they were 16. They're both terribly smart, but not familiar with the workings of research and authorship and publications. So I paused while I considered the question.

"It's not bad, I guess." I finally said. "I understand and sympathize, actually. I've done some hunting and gathering for paper ideas myself since being at current institution." I thought for a moment more. "But I worked my contacts, wrote a book chapter from old data, volunteered to do every bit of work anyone offered. Reworked data and spent months doing little but analyzing it to come up with this paper Boss mentioned. Fought for funding and with scheduling and cried over my patients who died. It's not been easy for me. But I did it."

"So he shouldn't get credit for doing nothing." Dad decided.

I nodded, but continued to ponder the problem. "I don't like to say, 'just work harder!' Sometimes that's not the answer and I've certainly had my share of not-necessarily-fully-deserved breaks. I mean, I've been home most of September and haven't heard a single word of criticism from anyone at work. I really don't mind helping out, being part of the team. And I hate to turn down one of Boss's requests, though it's not really written as such. Just a sharing of information."

"I don't like the idea." Mom offered.

"I don't either." I told her. "I guess that I see those papers - the ones where your name is farther down on the list - as indicating interest in a variety of areas. A willingness to work with people and help with their work. A knowledge of the various projects in your environment and a strong collaborative focus. Henry is the opposite. He works with his door closed - he's the only one in the department who does. He taunted me at my interview and laughed at me when I presented at group meetings. He told Boss I was slow! And while he's been nicer lately, he hasn't been part of my training here at all. He only suggested we work on one thing together, then it never happened."

I twisted my mouth. Then nodded. "I'll see what he wrote on the paper." I decided. "Maybe he made a lot of changes or suggested he do some extra analysis. Then it'll be easy enough to add him to the author list."

Yet when I flipped through the pages as I waited for my next laser treatment this afternoon, I frowned. There were 2 comments - one stating the obvious and one I couldn't read. And he found two errors on figures that I'd already fixed.

"You'll have to meet with Boss." Mom said when I told her. I agreed. But I've yet to figure out exactly what I will say.

But I did submit that paper last night. And his name was not on it.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing. Generally no one ever gives a female scientist in the group a free authorship !

saxifraga said...

Kudos to you for standing your ground. I see your point in wanting to make an effort towards collaboration, but this one was just not good enough.

Colst said...

You did the right thing. I also come from a group where the first author decides who should be on the paper and in what order, and I've been fairly generous, but coming in after the paper is pretty much done and making minor comments just doesn't justify authorship. If it did, I'd have close to twice as many papers as I do.

Feistie said...

You definitely made the right decision. A person deserves to be recognized when they put in the work, but should not be credited if they don't.....plus it sounds like you've worked hard in your collaborations and it just wouldn't be fair to yourself to acknowledge someone who has not been so committed.

Psycgirl said...

Good for you - he is trying to do too little too late, as far as I am concerned! I am also relatively liberal and flexible as far as authorship is concerned (hence my problem with my Labmate not putting me on his paper...) I wish I could be as confident in my authorship views as you are.

I hope your Mom is doing well.

JustMe said...

good for you! i think the authorship question varies by discipline...

and i hope your mom gets better!

CJR said...

What everyone else said. There's a fair amount of variance in what people think qualifies someone for co-author status, but I'm fairly sure 'doing bugger all' is pushing even the most liberal criteria...

post-doc said...

Thanks for the support! I've been wondering whether I should feel badly about the situation, but you've convinced me that I'm all good. :)

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