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I am new to the world of academia and pursuing a Masters degree in HCI (Human Computer Interaction). One of the goals I have set for myself is getting my first publication(s) before I graduate.

Now, obviously, I'd like to work my way up to potentially being a first author but that seems a bit beyond me since I have never published before. Therefore, I figure it might be easier to work with someone else and establish myself as a co-author.

Now, how do I go about even finding someone who is working on a paper and approaching them asking if I can help them out to potentially being a co-author? It seems like a very taboo subject and might be insulting to ask? How do I go about doing this? Any suggestions or advice is greatly appreciated.

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    A semi-joke answer to this can be: Find someone who is willing to outsource to you, the process of tweaking parameters and running the codes they made. That makes bunny co-authors! – 299792458 Sep 4 '15 at 15:43
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You don't first co-author a paper, you first collaborate on a research effort. Then, if said research effort leads to interesting results, you co-author a paper. So you need to look for someone doing interesting research that you think you can contribute to. Talk to professors in your department and ask about the research they and their students are doing.

Of course, since co-authoring a paper is important to you, when you find the opportunity to be part of a research project you should ask the professor: "Do you think this is likely to lead to a paper before I graduate?" Nobody can promise you a paper (even if you do everything right, the nature of research is that we don't know everything in advance). But he/she will probably have some intuition about it. You should also ask what you specifically need to do to merit co-authorship credit on the paper that comes out of the research.

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    "The nature of research is that we don't know everything in advance" - a lot of scientists seem to have forgotten that, drying their tears with large paychecks. =( – corsiKa Sep 4 '15 at 21:57
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This depends on the specifics of your institution, of course, but at my university, there would be two options:

  • A very good student project: Start a student project, and put twice the time and energy into it. The important thing to do here, is to tell the project supervisor that your aim is to turn it into a publication, and you're willing to put the extra work in. It may seem a little emberrasing to be so forward about your ambitions, but it's a very good ambition to have, and your supervisor should respond positively. The point is, if you don't tell them, there's no guarantee that they'll decide to turn it into a publication, no matter how good it is. It simply may never occur to them. They may also suggest ways of lowering the bar a little, like making it a conference paper, and sending it to a national conference rather than an international one.
  • Join an existing research effort: This is trickier to do, but once you get accepted, the chances of success are higher. First, you have to make sure you have a good reputation with your teachers, and you have to be lucky enough to get a part-time job assisting in the research. Whether such jobs exists depends on your institution again. I can't think of anyone who would unload a substantial part of his own research work on an unpaid student. Again, whatever opportunity you find, make sure to communicate your ambitions (without demanding anything), so people can help you fulfill them, or tell you that it's unlikely to happen.

There's no surefire way to achieve this, unfortunately. Just make sure that you tell people that you're trying to get a publication, and whenever you think a project might yield publishable results, put in the extra hours. Even if you fail, your efforts will be good exercise for the next attempt. Also remember to pick your battles: if you try to make every student project into a paper you will probably spread yourself too thin.

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Generally speaking, masters students write their first publications with their supervisor(s). The key is to do good publication-quality research. What is the gold standard for that? Well, it's to do work that other people will care about because it addresses an interesting problem in a way that other can learn from.

While the traditions vary a bit by discipline, it is common for student authors to come before faculty authors (i.e. first for a two-person paper) unless the faculty member did a lot of the hands-on critical work themselves, the supervisor contributed a particular seminal idea, the student was not able to participate fully, or the supervisor is fairly new and very hungry for visibility. There are numerous exceptions though, including some domains where alphabetical listing is the norm (in which case "Albert Aardvark" is a winning name).

It is also important to note that not all publications are of equal value and impact, and that goes for publication venues too (journals and conferences). The same is true for degree-granting bodies. There exist conferences and even journals where almost anything can be published for a price, and the chance of anybody reading the publication is small. Thus, it is very important to select the correct venue well-matched to the work. This sometimes requires an experienced advisor of some kind.

A paper in Nature and a paper in Defcon will have very different standards, audiences and levels of impact (although both deserve a godo measure of respect).

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There's usually two way you can get your first publication:

  1. Become an independent researcher and publish your findings as result
  2. Collaborate with another established researcher on his/her current
    research project and publish the finding as result

Let's first discuss the Pros and Cons of these two methods separately as follows.

Method 1 Pros (not exhaustive):

  • You don't have to worry about a co-author and can continue to publish

Method 1 Cons (not exhaustive):

  • It will be very difficult to get your work/findings published in a journal or a conference proceedings (accredited/reputed) because what you think is quality research might not be as per journal's/conference's standard

Method 2 Pros (not exhaustive):

  • Your established collaborator (researcher) is already pursuing a world leading research or approved research projects, and is certainly aware of the publication standards and rigorous research methodologies. Therefore, publishing the article becomes more smooth.
  • Your collaborator might have some funds available for conference attendance, etc.
  • Your collaborator can be a valuable asset to land connection in industry or academia. Good for networking.

Method 2 Cons (not exhaustive):

  • You might find yourself wasting a lot of time just to find a suitable collaborator, who's project and working culture fits yours. This might take months and years (not trying to scare you but trying to portray the truth). If you are lucky you might be able to find one within weeks. Since you are pursuing your MSc, finding a collaborator can be easy because you can directly approach your MSc supervisor for this.

So if we break the road to publication into a two step process, which being:

  1. Pursuing a research project in Computer Science
  2. Publishing the result/findings of the research

Let me share the 5 Step Process, which I found out, to pursue Computer Science. You can follow this 5 Step Process to Computer Science research and publication, which I have found based on my experiences and other researchers with whom I collaborated:

  1. Select a subject area that you like
  2. Search databases and relevant search engines
  3. Sort scholarly articles and research papers
  4. Reading articles/papers in an elaborative way
  5. Brainstorm and innovate

You can find the full publication of this 5 Step Process in the article, "A Beginner’s Guide to Computer Science Research", published in ACM Crossroads (XRDS) Magazine. Link: https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2634549.2627954

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