Student Coauthors and Collaborative Scholarship

A colleague recently asked me how I decide whether to add students as co-authors of a scholarly publication. This topic matters a great deal across academia, and in particular at our small liberal arts college, where student-faculty collaborative research is highly praised, though there are no clear guidelines about how work should be credited. In order to promote more public discussion and hear from different perspectives, here’s my response:

There’s no one right answer to this question about authorship because the nature of research and writing varies so much across fields, publishing traditions, and every collaboration. For example, some scientific fields have seen a dramatic increase in publishing papers with 1000+ authors! And then there’s the related issue of the order of authors, which also varies across fields and sends different signals about workload, status, and seniority.

So it’s probably best to ask yourselves questions about your core principles:

  • Most people want authorship to reward “work” toward the final publication? But what kind(s) of work do you value? Is “writing work” the only kind that should earn authorship credit? Or if other kinds of work also matter, how do you define them?

  • Is one of your project goals to intentionally disrupt existing norms of scholarly credit and status?

Speaking for myself, I go back and forth on these questions all of the time, depending on the type of project and publication.

For example, when I published articles with Diane Zannoni and students, I often did most of the writing, but would have had nothing to write about without their econometric analyses, which I could not do. Also, some students made key contributions to data collection and analysis that I could not do or did not come up with on my own. In those articles, key student contributors are listed as co-authors. But in my On The Line book-in-progress, I’m using “Jack Dougherty and contributors” on the title page, and am only listing people as co-authors for chapters if they actually wrote at least a paragraph or more. Otherwise, I quote a sentence about their work and cite them, or list them as additional contributors or in the notes for research support.

Whatever you decide about listing authors and order, I strongly recommend that you follow up by writing a paragraph at the end of the publication that clearly defines people’s roles and contributions, to spell things out more clearly than whatever will appear in the author list.

Here’s the author list for a collaborative research project that resulted in a book chapter:

by Jack Dougherty, Diane Zannoni, Maham Chowhan, Courteney Coyne, Benjamin Dawson, Tehani Guruge, and Begaeta Nukic⁠

Here’s the paragraph about collaboration, which describes roles for everyone listed above, but also mentions more people whose work was important, but we did not list as authors:

This chapter represents a collaborative effort by faculty and student co-authors at Trinity College. Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Educational Studies, coordinated the website design, research methods, data collection, and wrote the final draft. Diane Zannoni, Professor of Economics, advised on the research design and supervised the quantitative analysis. Begaeta Nukic trained and organized student researchers; Courteney Coyne translated, transcribed, and coded parent interviews; and Maham Chowhan, Benjamin Dawson, and Tehani Guruge conducted the quantitative analysis. The authors thank Jean-Pierre Haeberly and David Tatem (who created the SmartChoices web application and provided GIS support), Jesse Wanzer and Nick Bacon (who digitized school attendance boundaries), Joel Caron, Chris Hunt, Rachael Barlow and J. Hughes (who assisted with data analysis), and all of the Trinity students and staff from ConnCAN, Achieve Hartford, Voices of Women of Color, Hartford Public Schools, Regional School Choice Office, and most importantly, the parents and guardians who participated in our workshops. SmartChoices is a partnership between the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and Achieve Hartford (which funded this study). The findings are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the partner organizations. An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the American Educational Research Association meeting in May 2010, where we received valuable feedback from commentator Jeff Henig.

Feedback is welcome. Tag me at @DoughertyJack on Twitter.