Co-authoring With Students - What Do You Need To Know?

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It’s an academic convention that supervisors are credited as co-authors when students’ work is published. How can you make sure your credit is justified, and what else do you need to know about co-authoring research outputs with your students?

Supervisor or co-author?

Good, active supervision is a form of co-authorship. If you have helped your student hone research questions, evaluate and choose research methods, examine and interpret data, and consider how to convey ideas, you have done what all good co-authors do. Suggesting specific readings, analysing these together, and then discussing how your student might utilise these insights in their own work, is also a form of co-authorship.

For lecturers working in STEM subjects, and those who have actually assigned students to work on specific research topics (for example, postgraduates working as research assistants on funded projects), there are many instances where the work carried out has been under the lecturer’s direction. You may have instructed the student in laboratory procedures, observed and commented on practice, or worked collaboratively, correcting errors and explaining results.

Some supervisors are also heavily involved in writing research outputs, helping students turn their data into journal-worthy articles.

However, you should not follow convention when students have worked entirely independently. Some supervisors see students for only a few hours over the course of their project or thesis, offering little more than signatures on required forms, generic advice on ethics procedures, and perhaps a critical reading of a draft along the way. This is often the case with mature postgraduates who come to university with a ready-made plan—for example, conducting action research in their workplace. In such cases, unless your involvement has truly changed the course or content of the project, you should not request co-author credit.

Benefits to the student.

Having a co-author who is a “name” in the field you intend to enter is helpful. A supervisor’s name recognition amongst colleagues can influence acceptance by journals, or bring the publication more attention.

Academics must therefore insist on having final approval of any manuscript that will be submitted as a co-authored document. Otherwise, while the student may benefit from your name on the mastline, your reputation could suffer if readers uncover shoddy statistics, poor research practices, or unsupportable conclusions. 

Benefits for academics.

As long as the final product meets your approval, however, for academics there is only benefit in such co-authorship. You will be able to include these articles as part of your output for the REF and your annual review, list them on your CV, and take partial credit for any acclaim.

You may also gain from association with a rising star in the world of research, or with a form of research or scholarship that you hope to make more visible. Collaborative supervision during the student years often leads to further collaboration when students become academics or professionals in their own right. This is one of the best ways for established academics to ensure that they keep up with new currents in the field.

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