My goal is to improve the culture of publication and coauthoring in my department. Although some of our students do great on this, others languish, and many of our students complain that they do not get enough mentoring about publishing. I have identified as one problem that many faculty consider it “exploitative” to involve students in their research if they are not being paid. Another problem is wide variation in opinions about the level of involvement that merits a coauthorship. What I want to do is to develop a set of normative guidelines for apprentice-like experiences that do not involve payment, as well as guidelines for those that do. I am working up a draft of this and would appreciate comments and reports on good and bad experiences and practices in other programs. So here is my draft. Comments, please. NOTE: This is explicitly a model for the hierarchical situation in which a professor takes the lead in defining a project and the graduate student is an apprentice. It is NOT a model for the more egalitarian relations that develop organically.
1. It is legitimate to offer independent study or research practicum credit to a graduate student to work as a research assistant on an unfunded project where the professor is the first author and controls the research agenda. Such arrangements are particularly appropriate in the first few years of a graduate student’s program when they are still learning basic skills. Students in such arrangements may be expected to do routine work of research as closely defined and supervised by the professor, including library searches, data collection, data coding, data entry, running tables, etc. Per accreditation guidelines, the appropriate translation of work to credits is at least 3 hours per week per semester credit-hour. It is entirely appropriate to involve several students in a project under this model, but in this case a course number needs to be used, as under new regulations an “independent study” can only involve one student at a time.
2. Graduate students involved in such arrangements should be expected to learn about the background and design of the research project from the supervising professor and assigned readings.
3. The supervising professor should designate one or more publications for which the graduate student will be a junior author on the basis of the work done on the project. The graduate student should be asked to contribute to the writing of the publication through drafting sections of it and/or making comments on drafts, but it is understood that the level of participation is likely to be unequal.
4. The process of writing and revising for publication will generally continue after the completion of the student’s semester of research assistance. The student is expected to learn about the process of revising for publication and responding to reviews.
5. There should be an explicit discussion at the beginning of the process of the desired publication product and the student’s proposed work role and authorship on it. This understanding should be revisited at the end of the semester in light of the actual experience in the project, or whenever actual experience seems at variance with the initial agreement. The professor should not unilaterally remove the student from authorship; if the professor feels that the student’s performance is sub-par, there should be explicit and timely feedback about performance in the course of the semester, with suggestions for remediation. If the student is more proactive and involved in the research design and writing than initially expected, this may entail a shift in authorship order, and it is appropriate for a student to raise questions about this, but in general, students should assume that the professor will remain as first author on the project if that was the initial agreement.
6. As appropriate given the student’s level of performance and experience, professors and students should look for opportunities to define a project on which the student will be first author or for which the student’s level of involvement is independent enough for the project to become a master’s thesis, even if the professor remains first author. However, this is not a requirement for this kind of apprentice experience, especially for a first-year student or the first time a professor and student have worked together.
7. Projects that are most appropriate for this model have well-defined limits that can lead to a fairly rapid publication. However, some faculty could use research assistance for longer-term projects and book projects, and students can learn a great deal from assisting with such projects. In these cases, there should be a clear discussion the possibilities or lack thereof for coauthorship. If possible, the professor should seek to identify a smaller spin-off project that might go to publication more quickly.