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I am a PhD Student in Australia and I have been asked to help out a research team in my lab on a grant related research project. I have a fair bit of knowledge in the area they are looking in too. I am 'close' with all members involved (two are my supervisors and one is a postdoc in my building).

All signals are going my way indicate an enthusiasm regarding including me - however, I am also aware that the project may be time consuming for me. If I do get involved, I want to ensure I will be author on any papers that are released.

Would it be a naive question to explicitly ask one of the members whether I would be an author on any papers before committing myself to research?

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    Ask ( better in person and in quiet tune). The earlier the better. This is a commitment. You do not want to feel like a loser at the end. – seteropere Feb 19 '15 at 18:35
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    What's wrong with "Will I be an author of this paper?"? – xLeitix Feb 19 '15 at 18:53
  • Just to clarify (since it is ARC season in Australia) were you asked to contribute to a project or to the preparation of the proposal for the project that is related to the grant? – o4tlulz Feb 19 '15 at 21:40
  • It is not an ARC grant - but I was also not asked to help with the proposal document. – Michael Anderson Feb 23 '15 at 2:44
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Early. There is a fair number of questions here, because people had different expectations.

Would it be a naive question to explicitly ask one of the members whether I would be an author on any papers before committing myself to research?

No. Ask about your possible contribution to the project and conditions (authorship, conference presentations, extra funding etc).

It's your time and expertise, so you have full right to ask what is the expected return. Asking for it does not mean that you lack passion - you just make professional arrangements.

BTW: When it comes to authorship, it is great to make such arrangements by e-mail or anything leaving a written trace. I never had any issue with it, but I know a few first-hand stories in which people were moved first->middle or even denied authorship. So, better safe (and safe in an non intrusive way) than sorry.

  • Cheers for the input. When I hear back about clear starting dates for research, I will send an email confirming authorship/funding deals to whomever I am in closest point of contact with on the project. It does feel a little early at this stage. – Michael Anderson Feb 19 '15 at 18:15
  • Can you give an example for such e-mail? I have no idea how such email looks like. I am always uncomfortable and worried of being impolite in my emails... – Enthusiastic Engineer Feb 19 '15 at 18:16
  • @EnthusiasticStudent Depends on your relation and the style of communication with your (prospective) PI. Mine last was something in the line of "It is an interesting project, which I would like to join. What is my expected contribution and how would I benefit academically (authorship? conferences?) and financially (is there a budget for it?)?". Even if you are really interested in the project, don't be afraid of asking. Asking does not equal demanding. – Piotr Migdal Feb 19 '15 at 18:49
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Just to add to Piotr's answer -- I notice in your question that you are considering asking one of the members in the new collaboration about how authorship will be determined.

By all means, ask this particular member. However, unless this member has some sort of authority over all the other co-workers in the proposed collaboration, don't be surprised if other members have a different view on how the authorship list on any given future paper should be formed.

Re-iterating Piotr's point -- get this point answered early.

My suggestion -- ensure everyone is engaged in this discussion early, so that dissenting views can be discussed and a policy set in place before the first research paper is written.

There's no need to feel embarrassed about sorting this out now. Other members are likely to want to have this cleared up early as well. A polite email -- naturally indicating your enthusiasm for getting involved -- is easily written, along with a bald question like "How is the authorship list going to be arranged for papers arising from this project?".

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Another way to go about it is to have a conversation about the project and expectations. Meet with them to find out what the project is, and offer your particular contributions. There is nothing wrong to ask during this conversation if this work is going to go toward a paper, or simply suggest writing a paper.

For example, they have a problem they can't solve. You are pretty sure that you can solve it. Be proactive and suggest explicitly your involvement - I can develop code that solves the problem, and will write up in a paper. You will run the experiments, and write that section of the paper. Where are we submitting?

Then you can follow up in the email to express your excitement about the project, and summarize roles and responsibilities.

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This sounds like a great opportunity for you to diversify you graduate experiences. Developing your professional network is very important to your career's success.

You are wise to clarify expectations early on:

  • Do you want to join this collaboration?
  • How much time will be involved?
  • Is your advisor ok with this time investment?
  • What do you have to gain? coauthorship? on multiple papers?

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