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Recently, as a fresh graduate with a BSc in both physics and mathematics, I've met up with a mathematics professor from a University in my home country.

During the discussion, he asked for my motivation in collaborating and I've made it clear to him that my objective is

1) To indulge in research during my time in industry

2) To obtain significant research experiences during the period in which we collaborate to strengthen my application for graduate admission.

We will be working on two future research directions built on a previously published paper of his. I have been told not to share the two future research directions until the paper is published. Further, he has not commenced on this research project yet due to teaching commitments. But, currently, I am picking up background knowledge related to this paper while familiarising myself with his previously published paper that is related to this current research. This research looks something on the level of an Msc or honours level thesis. He has made it clear that in collaborating, he expects results.

In academia parlance, is it clear to academics that given (2) or the fact that he expects results, it is implicitly known that I expect a co-authorship? If it isn't, how should I broach this topic? If it is, how do I ensure that he sticks to his word, assuming I do make a reasonable amount of contribution? To what degree should transparency be ensured?

  • I think you will want to broach rather than poach the topic. – astronat Feb 17 '18 at 9:27
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If this is your first real experience of research, please use this as a way of getting your feet wet, and learning how to do research. I would advise against advocating for co-authorship with the professor in the early stage. It could be seen as counting your chickens before they're hatched, or as a way of asking the professor to count his/her chickens before they're hatched.

Edit: I suppose you could let him know that you actually have a third objective which you forgot to mention -- to get a co-authorship. But try to come across as ambitious and eager, rather than arrogant. You said a primary goal is to get a strong reference for grad school.

  • Yes, I understand this is a very touchy issue. Would it be appropriate to suggest a co-authorship if my contributions are substantial? – Academia.jpg Feb 19 '18 at 7:21
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This will vary from place to place, of course, according to the culture of the country/University your collaborator comes from but, in general, if you will be doing original work that is eventually published, based on results you obtain yourself (even if they build on some previous work and even if you rely occasionally on the more experienced researcher for orientation) it is definitely expected that you will be offered at least co-authorship.

Authorship costs nothing to either part and it's not really expected that anyone will put in their time and effort without at least the recognition of having done it. In my alma mater, if you do original research as a Master's student under a Professor which results in a published work as a part of your Master's thesis - and when this happens it's virtually always the student's first time doing research - you absolutely are expected to get authorship in the resulting paper.

If you are unsure about the local culture, my advice would be to ask a few PhD students if they published anything for their Master's. If they were allowed authorship then, chances are you will be as well.

I hope this helps and good luck in your research!

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