I was assigned a research topic for one of my psych classes this term. I designed the study, collected and analyzed data and then wrote a paper. After I presented my paper to my professor, she was very excited and said this paper was publishable. She would definitely run follow-up studies on this topic. I then offered to join her team to run this study and she agreed.

Now I am not sure if I am only participating as a volunteer research assistant or as a co-researcher for this project, considering the research topic is not my original idea. I just designed the study, ran it and received significant results.

Should I ask for clarification on my role at the upcoming meeting with my prof ? If so, how should I approach? I don't want to appear too aggressive.

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    I think you should focus on designing follow up studies and writing the actual text of the paper. When the project is done and the professor is reasonable you should be able to get authorship. Apr 22, 2015 at 5:10
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    I disagree with @user2562609. Doing the work first and then discussing authorship questions is the road to many arguments and emotions. If authorship is important to the OP (which it likely should be), he/she should clarify this ASAP.
    – xLeitix
    Apr 22, 2015 at 5:35
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    I don't think asking about authorship is 'aggressive' at all.
    – Suresh
    Apr 22, 2015 at 6:15
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    In my experience academics are very generous with co-authorship. I've been added to papers that I've contributed very little to, so I cannot imagine why your professor would not include you in this paper.
    – lemon
    Apr 22, 2015 at 10:36
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    Just to clarify, your question is about whether you should be a co-author on the follow-up studies or the original paper? You should definitely, completely, 100% be an author of the original paper, since you did most or all of the work. You should discuss co-authorship on the follow-up as soon as possible; from your description of what you've done, it seems certain that you should be a co-author on that, too. Apr 22, 2015 at 11:37

4 Answers 4


If you have conducted the pilot study and are also part of the follow-up team expanding it into a full publishable study, then you should definitely be invited to help write and be an author of the paper.

This should also be an easy and uncontroversial decision for your professor. It's also fine and in fact good to get that clarification explicitly now. You can just ask something like:

I'm excited about helping turn this project into a paper. Am I right in thinking this means I will be an author of the paper as well?

This is not a hard question, so if your professor says anything other than "yes," (possibly with appropriate caveats about you actually sticking with the project) then you should be concerned.

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    I would do this as well but say co-author. Apr 22, 2015 at 13:56
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    @user27239 "An author" (my emphasis) already means "one of the authors", i.e., "a co-author". If one asked about being "the author", that would mean single authorship but that's not what's being suggested. Apr 23, 2015 at 9:35
  • yeah we get it @user27239 Apr 23, 2015 at 20:41

Before talk with your professor, take a look at other papers published by him/her; you will get a sense if he/she usually includes all involved students as co-authors or not.

  • Thanks Mfornari! This is a great suggestion. I just checked his papers and it seems that he was always cooperating with someone in his previous papers :) I assume this is a positive sign
    – Ariana K.
    Apr 27, 2015 at 18:48

All of the other answers give good advice.

It should never be considered aggressive to ask. You certainly shouldn't assume your name will go on the paper. It may be too early to tell if you'll be first author, so I'd use "co-author" instead of "author" when asking.

I don't know what the psych field is like. I've had experience in microbiology (where the average number of authors is ~5) and physics (where the average number of authors in some fields is ~2).

If asking about authorship makes you uncomfortable, another (lesser) way to do it is to offer to write up a more polished version of the paper. This will get you to the point where the professor is editing the paper and byline will be filled in. Or the professor may bring up the topic for you.

Assuming your account of how the research progressed is correct, if your professor says "no", it's time to find another lab.


If you can prove that you were a major contributor to the paper as it seems from the fact that you "designed the study, collected and analyzed data and then wrote a paper." then you should definately be one of the authors on the paper as a major contributor.

The role of the main author differs by university/country, but if you already have written the paper and it just needs edits from more experienced academia writers, then you should be in my opinion the main author.

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    "The role of the main author differs by university/country" By field, surely? I've never heard of significant variations by country or university. Apr 23, 2015 at 9:44
  • Well mainly by field probably or inside specific fields. In some cases I've encounter in software is that the paper is a proper joint product by a few researchers and the main author is just the person handling the submitting bureaucracy.
    – TeraTon
    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:47
  • This isn't the place to discuss exactly what first/main authorship means in different fields: yes, it means different things (sometimes even nothing at all) in different fields. Your answer says that the role of first/main authorship varies by university or country. If you believe that is true, please edit your answer to justify the claim; if you don't believe it is true, please edit your answer to remove it. Apr 23, 2015 at 9:52
  • Also, note that the question is about whether somebody should ask for clarification about whether they will be an author, not about who should or should not be an author or what the different roles of different authors are. Your answer doesn't address that at all. Apr 23, 2015 at 9:54
  • You can also edit it or remove it if you find it wrong, its just a getout clause for me to show that I'm talking from my perspective and know there are other views. In stack its not really about "my" answer, more about getting to the correct answer as a community.
    – TeraTon
    Apr 23, 2015 at 9:55

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