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I recently received a request from another researcher in my area, who is guest editing a volume of a mid-level physics journal. He wanted me to submit an article for the special issue dealing with our research area. I agreed to submit something by the end of the summer. I told him that I would produce an article about my current research, providing a careful conceptual discussion of some previously published work, as well as some recent (but not particularly exciting) advancements that have not previously been published. The number of researchers in this area is not especially large, and acceptance of my article is a virtual certainty.

At about the same time as I got the invitation, I had a graduate student come to me, wanting to do research. He started working with me on the same topic that I will cover in my (mostly review) article. This student is, as another professor put it, "not as bright as he thinks he is." He is qualified to get a Ph.D., but it is very unlikely that he will have a career in academia. He has been doing calculations for me, but so far, he is only duplicating results that I have already completed myself. (I hope that, by the fall, he will be able to start producing new results.)

My question is: Does it make sense to include him as an author on the paper I am going to submit at the end of September? He should have completed some calculations by then that have not previously been published. However, all those calculations will be duplications of things that I have already done myself. I could write the paper without his input at all, which suggests against making him an author. On the other hand, he is exerting significant effort checking my own calculations, and if I had not done all the calculations before, he would be making a minor but meaningful contribution to the paper. The student knows that he is, thus far, only duplicating my previous work, so I don't think he has any expectation of being included as an author on any publications including it. However, I admit that I feel uneasy setting a student to re-do my own unpublished work, with the intention of publishing it without adding him as a co-author.

This specific publication is unlikely to make a real difference for either of us, professionally. I have more than enough publications in top journals to be promoted to the next level, and, as I said, this student is extremely unlikely to have a long-term career in academia. So, in the absence of any compelling outside pressure one way of the other, I am wondering whether I should include my student as a author on this upcoming publication.

  • It is a personal decision. If that does not make difference, why asking? – user80161 Sep 26 '17 at 14:14
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I think it is easily possible to rationalize either direction, so you'll need some further inputs to decide.

Just to reiterate things you already know: on one hand, the computations are already done, and do not depend on your student's computations. You already knew the answers (though it's nice to get corroboration). I myself often give preliminary projects of a similar sort to my students, in part because I know with near-certainty how they'll turn out, but/and will be educational and technique-improving for the students.

On the other hand, having a student corroborate does add a layer of certainty. This is a good thing, and, if not heroic or glamorous, is definitely legitimate "work" in this business.

So, to my perception, especially if neither of you is on any sort of razor's edge about careers, it is entirely up to you. (Obviously even without the co-authorship you'd thank your student for the substantial effort to corroborate your calculations?...)

This also does remind me of a similar quandry with PhD students: I hesitate to suggest any thesis project that I don't "feel" (in some amorphous way, but with considerably technical bulwarking) will work... because I'm aware of techniques that will get one most of the way there. The main point of such a thesis is getting up to speed on those "standard techniques", at which point the execution of them is relatively easy. One might ask "how can this earn a PhD?", and a big part of the answer is that (in my mind) conception of a project (by a relative expert) is wildly different from execution of that project (whether by a novice or not). That is, to imagine that something is within current human possibilities is very different from actually doing the thing!!! Thus, even if/when I can imagine that a PhD student's project will turn out ok, I do not ask or insist on authorship. They did the work!

Another point is that, all other things the same, generosity is probably better than stinginess, especially if one is not "in need" oneself.

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There does not seem to be much arguments pro or against including him.

But when in doubt, it's probably better to include the student them not.

I've been in that situation myself and I've decided to include the student. The arguments I used to convince myself to include him were as follows:

  • I could not really find any argument against including him;
  • If I include him, he would be much more motivated in future works with me; whereas if I don't, he may get a little frustrated when he realizes that I published a paper exactly on the topic we were discussing without inviting him;
  • It looks good to whoever is looking at your interaction with students (graduate committee, department, etc) that you are publishing with them;
  • As the student should be learning to write his own papers, it's probably good that he starts doing this on a paper where he is not the main author.

So for me it was a win-win situation.

Of course, by include him I mean that you should invite him and have him help in writing the paper.

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I have been a student in this situation so I'll chime in to offer a different perspective than the other posters.

I don't think you should add him as an author unless he adds to the paper in some way, however you also should be open to him about this. Tell him straight up that if he can contribute something worth while to the paper you will add him as a coauthor. This should motivate him a lot more.

For my honours project my supervisor showed me a paper he was working on and said if I can add to it significantly I would become a coauthor. This really motivated me and I ended up doing far and above what he expected for an honour's project. It was a great learning experience also in regards to what is actually required for academic research.

If I was in your student's shoes I would just want you to be open about this. Tell him that so far he hasn't done anything new and wont be a coauthor, but that you're more than willing to add him if he does contribute something.

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I would go against including him because of the following reasons:

  • If he is included now, then he would think that he can earn a paper just by doing some calculation. Perhaps this one is a pessimist version of the the answer by @ShakeBaby.
  • Since you are assuming that he is not interested in academia, he might not be willing to be a full time researcher (this includes an assumption and of course the inferred mentality of the student in question), so including him would pull him down.
  • Again, he might think that the coauthors' contribution is actually not so substantial and important to be called as 'coauthor', this again would reflect his future visions.
  • I would definitely go with a formal ACKNOWLEDGEMENT in my manuscript rather than including him as a coauthor.
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