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I'm a PhD student in Physics and I'm collaborating in a project with a more experienced researcher. This is the first time I collaborate with anyone, so I'm new to this. Recently, in the subject we are investigating, there were two related things to be studied. I started one and he started doing the other (we didn't actually agreed to split, it happened naturally).

In our recent meetings he mentioned that although he nailed down what specific thing must be calculated, he's struggling to find the time to do so. Now, since he is much more busy than I am, I considered offering to help with this and carry out this specific computation. Still, I'm afraid if this could be discourteous in some way.

So, when we are collaborating with someone in a specific project, and there's something the other person is doing and that person is not having the time to finish some lengthy/tedious step right now, is it fine to offer to help with it?

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    You need to mention the nature of the project. Is this expected to lead to a publication with both as coauthors or is this a joint learning project? Nov 11 '21 at 18:40
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    I struggle to see what reasonable person could be offended if you offered to help them with a task they struggle to find time for.
    – xLeitix
    Nov 11 '21 at 18:46
  • @TerryLoring yes it is expected to lead to a publication with both as coauthors. Nov 11 '21 at 19:33
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    Yes, you can absolutely offer to help.
    – Tom
    Nov 12 '21 at 16:18
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    Keep in mind that it is also possible that the time to explain to you how to do the calculation is longer than the time he needs to finish it himself. Nov 14 '21 at 14:59
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Yes, you can help in any way you can. It would seem very odd to me if there were a field or situation in which this would not be proper.

Of course, if you are taking a course and have been assigned specific tasks by a professor it would be different, but you don't suggest that is the case.

It is the nature of collaboration to work together on a project.

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  • Thanks @Buffy, yes that is not the case. It is not coursework, we are jointly working on a subject which will possibly lead to a publication with both as coauthors. I was unsure if I could offer help because he started to work on that part of the project already, but the intention would of course to be helfpul. Nov 11 '21 at 19:34
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Offering is indeed fine. However, one thing to avoid is having it come off as an attempt to "steal" someone else's project/glory. If the collaborator is another graduate student, this was their first/only shot at a first-author paper, and you take over enough calculations to switch the balance of contributions, they might well get upset. But if you're already the intended lead author, the calculation is a smaller part of the paper, or (as in your case) the collaborator is a more experienced researcher, this should be less of a worry. All in all, having an idea about the collaborator's goals helps in knowing how to approach them and phrase the question.

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    it's very good that you explain how context is important here. The other researcher is far more experienced than me, and we are working together in this project. In the end, when we come to publish it, both will be coauthors (don't know yet about who will be the lead author but I don't really mind if it's not me). There is nothing to be stolen, I'm just trying to show good will and be helpful to them. Nov 11 '21 at 20:17
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    @user3115001 Then I think your collaborator will be delighted by your offer to take some tasks off their plate. I would be, anyway.
    – Anyon
    Nov 11 '21 at 20:41
  • Also another possibility is if the collaborator can't be bothered to do it, and is just dragging his feet so that the other one does the calculation.
    – Tom
    Nov 12 '21 at 16:19
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One very important point is that "he nailed down what specific thing must be calculated". This implies that he has already made a key contribution, and if so then there is no problem with helping him with other things like calculations, as any key contributor already deserves authorship.

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