This semester I started working with a professor and a PhD student on one of their major projects, which is an application of their research. Though I was not involved with the research that went into developing the "idea" for the project, I have spent a significant amount of my time helping them to actually build the project, and a lot more work is planned.

Would it be typical for someone in my position to be included as a co-author on the paper that motivated the project I'm working on? Again, I wouldn't say that I have done any research myself, but I have done significant work in getting this project built, and the project is the main product / showcase of the research they performed.

Assuming it's reasonable for me to be included on the paper, how should I go about bringing that up?

  • For a thorough discussion of guidelines for authorship, this is a useful article: sciencemag.org/careers/2010/04/…
    – arboviral
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 9:44
  • 5
    I was in a similar situation once. In that case, I suggested that I might actually write part of the paper to explain some of the technical details of the implementation. They agreed, and after that it was only natural to include me as a co-author.
    – Aurast
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 15:59

5 Answers 5


Taking your statements at face value (and thus imagining something like the others having designed X and evaluated X in a study, while you implemented X based upon their designs), this sounds like a typical situation where you should be mentioned for having conducted the implementation/practical construction. This should certainly happen in a presentation of the work, and possibly (if the paper has an Acknowledgments section and if space allows for it) also in the written text.

Admittedly, this is at the verge participating in the design / idea of the research at hand (and maybe you even did contribute some detail decisions without realizing), so including you as an author depends a bit on the concrete circumstances - and also on the main authors' personal preference (but then, so might accusations of gift authorship in this case).

As for how to bring this up with the authors, you could ask in a somewhat unspecific way such as "I'm interested in gradually increasing my level of participation in research papers, is there a chance for increasing my contributions and acting as a co-author in the future?" That way, chances are the main authors will immediately get the idea of adding you one way or another in the current paper, while at the same time, you are not burning any bridges by appearing too demanding.


That's research in my book. I would include you as a co-author, but I'd also make you write up some of it as part of your learning experience.


It is really up to your advisor to include you as a co-author or not. If he feels that your work has significantly contributed to the paper, then s/he (without you telling him/her) should include you. Co-authors can have different responsibilities/roles when publishing a paper. One can have the IDEA, another will find the APPLICATION, the third will WRITE, the fourth will bring the FUNDING etc. Even if somebody was not a part of the research (for instance, friend's PhD co-advisor, did not really contribute much to his research but was a co-author in all of my friend's paper (3rd author to be exact)).

Also, if I was your advisor, I will ask you to write a/few sections (in addition to your work that you have done) to include you as a co-author. Giving that you did not do "research", maybe your writing needs work (it will a pain for me to go over your work/teach you). Still, this would be my way of encouraging you and introducing you to the publishing field.

After all, students need to learn, advisors need to advise/teach. Publications are the outcome of interaction, quality work and research.

Even if your advisor declines, ask him/her "respectfully" to be part of the next study. Tell him/her that you are willing to do some research because you would like to be a co-author. The more you engage, the better your chances you will have of being a co-author.


According to Harvard Medical School, and in agreement with APA standards: " Everyone who is listed as an author should have made a substantial, direct, intellectual contribution to the work."

Someone who simply writes analysis scripts would not qualify. Someone who conceived of an original analysis, however, would. I cannot tell from your context, but simply 'spending a lot of time' on a project does not substantiate authorship. It must be an original intellectual contribution.

That said, these rules are lax in practice, at least in the biological sciences, of which I am familiar.

@The Fire Guy: FUNDING is not grounds for authorship by APA guidlines.

  • 1
    I strongly disagree with the idea that "simply" writing scripts to analyze data doesn't count as an intellectual contribution. In fact, I would argue that it is at least as large of an intellectual contribution as doing the actual pipetting, mouse breeding, imaging, or whatever.
    – Matt
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 14:18
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    @Matt doing the actual pipetting, imaging or whatever is also not sufficient grounds for inclusion as a co-author unless there is also a significant intellectual contribution to the work: designing the project, interpreting (beyond the obvious) what the results mean, original analyses, or contributing significantly to writing the paper. Technical work under direction is grounds for acknowledgement. Commented May 3, 2016 at 1:40
  • That's basically my point--I can't really imagine that someone would be able to write code in a way that doesn't involve some element of design or interpretation. Perhaps if someone were porting a program from one language to another, or writing to a very very detailed specification....On the flip side, using Qiagen kit involves zero thought: solution A and B in Tube C.
    – Matt
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 2:17
  • That said, I think people's standards in this thread are much higher than they are in practice. Otherwise, I'd expect to see a lot of single-prof-authored papers with a masters' student buried somewhere in the acknowledgements.
    – Matt
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 2:18

It depends on what your code does.

Writing code that collects, generates, or interprets data is actually research, as is designing and building an experimental apparatus. This is true even if you're not the person who actually "takes the data" under experimental conditions. Similarly, visualizing and analyzing already-collected data is also research, particularly if you are choosing the analytical techniques (or developing new ones). These ideas are in line with authorship guidelines for some major collaborative projects (e.g., ATLAS).

In both cases, I'd argue that you have the strongest case for authorship when the work was done specifically for the current project. You might also bolster your claim by offering to draft figures and text describing the code and its output. On the other hand,...if you spent a few minutes reusing work from your previous project, it might be more reasonable to ask for citation as in "Data was collected using the system described in YourPreviousPaper, LastYear." It is also a little churlish to demand authorship for "minor" contributions. If I spent a few hours helping a colleague--or even longer for a closer friend, an acknowledgement might be reasonable.

Finally, it is possible to write "essential" code that is difficult to slot into a specific paper. For example, perhaps you built a database that tracked information about the specimens or patients. This would make it much easier to plan experiments and select appropriate controls, thereby increasing the lab's scientific output. Despite this, the database has limited value to each specific project and a correspondingly reduced claim to having contributed to any specific paper. For some types of code, it might be possible to write a companion paper describing the tool specifically (e.g., The Journal of Statistical Software is a good venue for describing data analysis tools).

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