Co-authoring can make scholarship more fun, productive, and efficient; it can help you develop new ideas and share the workload, and it often results in papers that contain stronger ideas and writing.
In this week’s challenge, we’ll share another way to increase your impact beyond the internet: co-authoring with a diverse group of colleagues.
Co-authoring (or joint authorship) is already common in many disciplines, and it is becoming increasingly common in others. And for good reason! Co-authoring “makes research more fun, productive, and efficient,” helps scholars “develop new ideas, extend our methodological toolkit, and share the workload,” allows senior academics to share their expertise with younger scholars, and results in papers that some say contain stronger ideas and writing.
Co-authorship is also about bringing your own expertise to the table. Working with diverse co-authors can help you gain you a wider network of colleagues and increased connections in your discipline. And, if you do it well, it secures you important allies at all career stages. After all, you never know where your collaborators will end up some day!
Plus, when you publish with a broad group of people you help break down silos and entrenched networks while increasing the reach of your work — citation counts are higher for papers with gender and ethnically diverse co-authors.
Let’s learn more about what types of co-authors you can recruit for a more diverse group of collaborators, how to work well with others, and some of the benefits and drawbacks of co-authorship in general.
In general, there are some things you should look for when recruiting co-authors outside of your own research group or immediate circle of colleagues:
Are your potential collaborators excellent on theory, whereas you’re the computational methods wiz? Does a postdoc in your group know the ins and outs of R, while a PhD student you mentor can bang out a top-rate literature review in 24 hours? Having collaborators who possess complementary strengths to your own can make it easy to divide and conquer writing a better paper in less time.
Does this person respond to emails in a timely manner and deliver on promises? Knowing up front when you can count on someone takes a lot of the headaches out of collaboration.
And does this person’s working style mesh well with your own? C. Titus Brown points out that he often ends up collaborating with others who aren’t big on computational biology, but that their shared, relaxed approach to writing is what makes their partnerships successful.
Good co-authors are also those who challenge you to do your best work. Researcher Bob Hinings describes his best and longest-lasting collaborator thusly: “[I find] that other people are interesting and usually have better ideas than I do so I can build on their contributions and get great satisfaction from the process, even though at times it can be challenging. Royston is always full of ideas and it is a challenge to keep up with him.”
You can find collaborators with these characteristics in other countries, in different disciplines, and at many stages of their career. There are more potential collaborators than just the people in your lab, department, college, or university! Let’s now dive into some ways you can look to diversify your group of collaborators.
You can choose to co-author with scholars of your same career stage, more senior scholars, or with scholars who are junior to you. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, as CrookedTimber blog documents:
“It is important for a junior scholar to show clearly his or her distinct contributions to a field and by co-authoring with senior scholars, some will be inclined to dismiss the work as that of the senior researcher…[When working with students] the junior scholar becomes the senior author due to his or her seniority as compared to the student co-author(s).”
Co-authoring with junior scholars allows you to also mentor those with less experience. Consider giving full co-authorship credit to students who’ve helped on a project, rather than relegating their credit to the Acknowledgement section of your paper. It’s an easy way to diversify your co-author list while giving students a major leg-up.
That said, don’t make someone an author just to be nice. Respect the norms for your discipline and its written ethical guidelines. Many junior scholars bring their own strengths to the table. Ask them to take the lead on recording a video abstract, blogging about your study, or drafting a press release–your paper may be stronger for it!
There are many good reasons to co-author with those from outside of your field (and even outside of academia): they can help your work reach different audiences, give an outside perspective on your field of study, and find ways to apply research in a clinical setting, among others.
For example, studies on sustainability science and data curation by hydrologist Praveen Kumar and information scientists Beth Plale and Margaret Hedstrom have been published from different perspectives in different venues. (Their work was both presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in 2013 and published in the International Journal of Digital Curation.) Some may worry that this constitutes “double dipping” (publishing the same work twice), but if done properly, the focus and content of the two products are very different and get disciplinary information to their communities of interest.
National Cancer Institute’s Kenneth Gibbs Jr eloquently explains the argument for diverse research teams on the Voices blog:
“[W]hen trying to solve complex problems (i.e., the sort of thing scientists are paid to do), progress often results from diverse perspectives. That is, the ability to see the problem differently, not simply “being smart,” often is the key to a breakthrough. As a result, when groups of intelligent individuals are working to solve hard problems, the diversity of the problem solvers matters more than their individual ability. Thus, diversity is not distinct from enhancing overall quality—it is integral to achieving it.”
And the literature backs him up: one study has found that gender diversity on research teams leads to better quality publications. Another study found that ethnically diverse teams are more creative and produce higher quality ideas than ethnically homogeneous groups (albeit among a sample population of undergraduates). Papers with ethnically diverse co-authors also tend to get more citations, too.
But perhaps the best argument for having a gender- and ethnically-diverse group of collaborators is summed up in this tweet:
A final way to consider diversity is in the context of research outputs. You can “co-author” not only journal articles, but also presentations, software, and other types of research outputs.
Impactstory co-founder Heather Piwowar once found a diverse group of collaborators by putting out a call on Twitter for others interested in organizing a panel for the ASIS&T Annual Meeting in 2011. The panel was fun, very successful, and allowed her to work with a more diverse group of scholars than she had anticipated.
And collaborators on genomics researcher Holly Bik’s Phinch project are industry software developers, not other researchers, which has led to the development of a beautiful data visualization app for large biological datasets.
So how do you find diverse co-authors? Let’s explore some strategies.
Communications researcher Philip N. Howard suggests tapping your mentors for co-authorship opportunities:
“The first step in finding opportunities to co-publish is to let your faculty mentors know that you are available to help if they ever get such invitations. Faculty sometimes receive unsolicited invitations to write an article or contribute a book chapter. Since faculty often plan long-term writing agendas, they may decline an unexpected invitation. They may be more likely to accept such an invitation if they know they can share the research and writing tasks with a co-author.”
Mentors may also be able to connect you with colleagues who are interested in a similar subject who might be in need of a collaborator with whatever skills you possess (computational methods, quick-but-thorough literature review writing, mastery of Stata, and so on).
Remember all those interesting people you met while hustling at conferences? They can make great collaborators. Shoot them an email to say hello, and share an idea or two you’ve been thinking on to see if they want to collaborate.
Take a look at your social networks on Twitter, ResearchGate, and LinkedIn. After being on social media for a few weeks or months you’ll have met scholars in your network whose skills complement your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential co-authors with an idea for a paper or project.
The final – and most challenging – way to find co-authors is to “cold call” a scholar with whom you would like to collaborate with but haven’t yet met. Reach out to them via email, send them an idea for a paper or two, and ask if they’d like to collaborate.
As a PhD student, Impactstory co-founder Jason Priem once emailed a researcher he admired with a request to co-author, offering to do the work of writing a literature review. He was accepted onto the paper and now has a co-authorship credit with a respected researcher, broadening his co-authorship base and experience.
If you’ve got something to offer – a great idea, a complementary skill, or the ability to do something the lead author doesn’t want to do – you can find opportunities that aren’t readily apparent.
So–you’ve got your co-authors lined up and ready to write. Now what?
Tseen Khoo of the Research Whisperer blog says all of the following are required for a successful co-authoring experience:
In the next section, we discuss co-author agreements, which can help you articulate the schedule and responsibilities that Tseen describes. Version control can be managed as described above and by writing your paper on GitHub, Authorea, or even Google Docs.
Be sure to also avoid gift and ghost authorship (the practice of giving authorship credit to people who didn’t contribute to the paper) – both are still practiced by some academics but are heavily frowned upon by publishers.
There’s no shortage of screeds that outline the many potential drawbacks to co-authoring papers:
Credit for authorship is starting to see some progress: many journals now require specific articulation of author contributions (like this statement for this paper), and CRediT taxonomy may fix this problem altogether, once widely adopted.
And it may sound hokey, but the near-magical fix for most of these problems is simple: create a co-author agreement that puts into writing the roles, division of labor, and a set of standards that everyone will agree to abide by (like “responding to an email within 48 hours”, and so on). Co-authorship agreements are generally not legally-binding contracts, but instead ways for everyone to clarify the “rules of engagement” before a major writing project begins. There are many co-author agreements and templates available online. Find one that works for you, and give it a try.
Brainstorm ideas for writing projects and a list of potential co-authors. If you want, you can divide the list into “low hanging fruit” and “dream co-authors” to make it easier to write.
If you’ve got the bandwidth to take on a new writing project right now, reach out to your potential co-authors in one of the ways described above and propose a collaboration. Otherwise, keep your list handy for a rainy day, when you’ll have the time to take on a new project.
And if you don’t have a diverse network of colleagues on your scholarly social media sites, you can start to fix that right now – start by following 10 new people today.