I hear a lot that PhD students are expected, and for the most part, work independently on their research projects. This seems to be reflected by how being a 'first-author' on a paper is highly valued as that implies he or she has done the vast majority of the work.

However, I've found from my own experience that I'm a lot more productive with my ideas if I'm working together with one of my peers on a research project.

So I'm wondering how often does equal collaboration between peers occur. If it does not happen often, why isn't it encouraged more?

  • The golden rule is you must be able to identify your individual contributions, and those contributions on their own must be good enough to justify the award of a PhD degree. – Steve Dodier-Lazaro May 23 '15 at 23:55
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    Some subfields of computer science don't have "first" authors; all authors are listed alphabetically. "Equal collaboration" happens more often in those subfields, in my experience (if not by definition). – JeffE May 25 '15 at 16:28

The PhD is generally awarded to students for their individual contributions to science. That's the whole point. It's not only about advancing science, but advancing science yourself. Otherwise, we would grant a new PhD to each member of a research team every time they had significant new results. Everyone is aware that it's possible to be more productive in teams, but the degree itself is really only about what you can add. So the encouragement to work on your own is there to make it easier to demonstrate what you have personally added to the body of knowledge in your area. Distinguishing your work from another student's could be very hard if you do everything together. This is the traditional view at the very least.

All this being said, discussions, brainstorming, help diagnosing problems should all be a part of students working with others (students, postdocs, researcher professionals, the supervisor, and other faculty). You just have to keep your work separate enough that you can make an easy case for yourself when it comes time to defend your dissertation.

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