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I am a postdoctoral researcher in a lab, having person (e.g.) X as a colleague, also a postdoctoral researcher like me, having obtained a PhD two years after me.

Here is the problem: In the last two years, I have taken initiatives that have led to a number of publications. My collaboration with X was not so close, since I ended up doing 80% of the work, in addition to having the original ideas, and he/she was only helping by e.g. writing a Section, having general discussions, or giving general comments.

I have tried "pushing" (with frequent emails, meetings etc.) but it did not have a good result, as I understand that he/she does not feel motivated by me: the result has included some "ugly" emails, not an oral though.

I have been doing this, waiting that in exchange, X would include me as a coauthor in one of the papers that would occur from his/her research (none so far and nothing in-progress from their part, as far as I know).

How to treat this person, given that he/she will not leave, as the professor seems to have some special interest in them.

In my domain, the order of the authors in publications matters, so in our "joint" publications I am the first author, but is this enough? I am thinking that if we both continue independently we would both lose, but do not know how to motivate him/her. I suppose the pressure has to come from the professor, who let's say that cares but has other more important priorities. I have mentioned the problem to the professor, he/she just told to X that they should produce more, and that's it.

How to handle this situation?

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    For a single paper it might be a problem. But for further: either the person is essential (or helpful) or is not. So, what is the problem? – Piotr Migdal Sep 30 '14 at 9:57
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    Is there a specific reason why you do not just stop working with him if you feel he is not pulling his weight? I understand you say that he is here to stay, but certainly this does not mean that you need to publish with him, right? – xLeitix Sep 30 '14 at 10:15
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    George, are you contributing significantly to your peer's research? – Mindwin Sep 30 '14 at 18:18
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You might simply consider that the current situation is fine: you say that you do get help from your collaborator, so there is little reason to stop working with him or her; you lead the collaboration and, for this, get first authorship. This will earn you much (well deserved) better opportunities; by comparison, your collaborator will have a hard time, because no recent first-author publications will look bad on his or her CV.

You might have wanted a more active collaborator, and it is a good idea to try to help him or her do better, but you just cannot push someone against their will. It is possible that he or she does not have what it takes to handle more core tasks, or that so he or she believes. In this case, pushing too hard would amount to cornering him or her into an impossible situation, no good would happen.

Learn to change what you can (e.g., if you have the option to start another collaboration with someone else it might be a very good idea; if you have another job available with potentially better co-worker, you might want to try it, etc.) and do with what you cannot change. Ultimately, you have the upper hand on your own work, and that is how it is supposed to be.

Ho, and about getting co-authorship in exchange for your work: no one is supposed to give you co-authorship in exchange for anything; you can rather be invited to work on a project, and then this work is what grants co-authorship. I am not sure how you meant it, but giving co-authorship as a mere reward for something unrelated to the publication is a serious academic misconduct.

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    I agree, but I caution everybody against "trying to help [equals] do better", especially if "better" means contributing more to your own research agenda. Frankly, I am not at all surprised that the OP's attempts have failed, and I am quite sure I would also react very badly to them. – xLeitix Sep 30 '14 at 10:27
  • I am not saying about giving co-authorship as a mere reward for something unrelated to the publication. As Pete L. Clark puts it, I would like them to "pull their own weight". – george Sep 30 '14 at 12:51
  • Your last paragraph is gold. This whole co-authorship exchange business could be viewed as an Ethics breach. I missed it from the OP question, is he/she helping the coauthor in HIS research? – Mindwin Sep 30 '14 at 18:16
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    (Let me say that I wrote my answer concurrently with this one. I think it is an excellent answer, and if I hadn't already typed most of mine when it appeared I might not have felt the need to leave one of my own.) – Pete L. Clark Oct 1 '14 at 3:36
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(Peter Jansson's answer is interesting, and I personally do like the idea of documenting contributions more explicitly than is currently fashionable. But I think it is fair to say that this more like tomorrow's solution than today's: though people like us would like to see these protocols followed, at the moment those who follow them assiduously seem to be in the minority, so it will probably not be effective in the short term to try to hold a "lagging" collaborator to this standard.)

In my opinion there is relatively little you can do to force your colleague to pull his own weight on your current and past projects, but on the other hand your situation is not so bad.

Here is the problem: In the last two years, I have taken initiatives that have led to a number of publications.

That is certainly not the problem! Rather, that sounds great for you.

My collaboration with X was not so close, since I ended up doing 80% of the work, in addition to having the original ideas, and he/she was only helping by e.g. writing a Section, having general discussions, or giving general comments.

At least X did 20% of the work; that's a lot better than nothing. Seriously, a lot of people on this site are complaining about being pressured or forced to add coauthors who have literally done nothing helpful on the paper, or who have even dragged them down / wasted their time. I think that in most academic fields, 20% contribution is certainly sufficient for coauthorship.

In my domain, the order of the authors in publications matters, so in our "joint" publications I am the first author, but is this enough?

That's really the good news: by consistently appearing as first author, you are getting the lion's share of the credit. If it makes you feel better: I work in a field in which author order is alphabetical, and in my experience it is relatively common for some coauthors to have contributed less than 20%. So cheer up. By the way, your quotation marks around joint look a little uncollegial: your coauthor did some of the work, so it is joint work. This and other clues make me think that you may be overly worried about this and perhaps pushing a little too hard.

What can you do in the situation?

1) If you don't value someone's contribution, don't pressure them to include you on their own projects. Moreover, if you feel like someone is not pulling their own weight on a project, adding a project where you don't pull your own weight may seem just with respect to the two of you, but from the perspective of the larger academic world you're each trying to take credit for more work than you actually did. It would be easy for most of us to multiply our apparent productivity simply by "exchanging more papers" with our collaborators. We must resist that.

It sounds like you are, or perceive yourself to be, a more productive / serious / insightful researcher than Dr. X. If so, the story you want to tell is that Dr. X did some work with you but that his contribution is not a major part of your research program. You accomplish that by doing your own work, not letting your interactions slow you down, and making sure that in your joint work the primacy of your contribution gets documented (as it has been).

2) Make sure that your supervisor knows the situation and can speak and write accurately about your respective contributions.

If you are getting first authorship every time and your supervisor has told Dr. X that he needs to work harder, then you are laying groundwork for him to describe you as being the prime mover in your collaborative work with Dr. X. It would be a good idea to speak to him explicitly about this. Assuming he agrees, he is then ethically obligated not to try to characterize Dr. X's contribution as equal to your own. If you are in doubt that he might not see it that way, I would suggest erring on the side of showing (not telling) your supervisor how capable and productive you are. You do this not by complaining about Dr. X -- just get the facts across; don't rub it in or be bitter about it -- but by going on to do more and better work.

3) If you don't want to collaborate with Dr. X in the future unless he does at least X% of the work -- you can choose a specific value of X, at least up to 50 -- hash that out with him now, before you work on any new projects. You are more than within your right to do so. Indeed, as Peter Jansson indicates, that is a best practice.

  • That's a superb answer. The only thing I would underline a bit more is your last point. I see no reason in the question why you have to collaborate with this guy. If you feel it is not beneficial to you and your work, stop doing it. – xLeitix Sep 30 '14 at 10:20
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I believe one possible solution is to bring in understanding of what the scientific community puts in the terms authorship and contributorship. Note that the term contributorship is gaining interest because it focusses on the entire research process, not just the authoring, which can be misread as writing.

The Vancouver Protocol (exemplified here by the ICMJE version; you may find it worthwhile to do a search on "contributorship", "vancouver protocol" and "authorship") provided a first stated criteria for accepting someone as author. Putting this on the table for discussion is always a good idea. Many will probably not like the quite strict rules but when one considers them they do provide a good framework for accepting someone as author. Defining what you or the group within you work sees as acceptable grounds for being listed on papers should definitely help avoid discussions in the future. Anyone disagreeing will have to set their contribution in the light of the rules and convincingly show they fulfil them. Of course some may have a very inflated view of their own contribution but within a group such discrepancies will be harder to maintain.

An interesting idea for establishing is also provided by the authororder.com (I am not in any way associated) site.

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