Developing a research culture through Co-authoring

Research has always been associated with publication and disseminating the knowledge that has emerged from a research study. In essence, this is the way in which the contribution to knowledge is made, through a variety of publications.

Since the emergence of discussion about research practice in the mid 1980s, there has been an embedded discussion about whether a research supervisor encourages their student to advance their dissertation or undertake additional publications on the side. This discussion point seemed to take on additional proportions when governments sought to measure research output and place levels of significance on various publications.


Supervisors, suddenly keen to boost their own research profiles, began to encourage their students to publish and the supervisors, as co-authors, benefited from the publication. The supervisors’ contribution to a given publication was in most cases deserving as the supervisor may have helped the student to develop their thinking around a particular topic they were publishing. There was some consternation when under this same agenda, some academics sought to be included in a research publication because of spurious attachments to the research.
Co-authoring a paper with one’s supervisor has a range of implications for a research student. As Babb (Alkatran, Babb, Green Jnr and Mitroff, 2006) explains in her account of the process undertaken when Mitroff, Green jnr and Alkatran co-authored a paper, this can represent conflicting agendas:
‘the paper must not only embody the ideas and perspectives of three distinct minds but also meet the career goals of a tenure-track assistant professor, a graduating PhD student and a tenured senior professor’

Here is the touch stone to how co-authoring impacts on the research culture. As the mixed and sometimes competing agendas between the different co-authors are addressed, this adds to the overall culture for research. It also represents a form of culture acquisition by immersion as the PhD students is swept into the agendas of publication in the broader sphere and given a sense not only of what that means for priorities but of ways in which one can collaborate with others . Co-authoring with a research student requires that the research supervisor is mindful of their own aspirations and keeps these in proportion to the aspirations for their student. Often the student aspirations are more immediate than seeing the long term benefit of publication in the A level journals.

There are tools to ease some of the complications associated with co-authoring. The conflicting agendas with regard to co-authoring inspired a system developed by Christine Beveridge and Suzanne Morris ( ) that worked towards allocating due credit to each of the authors. This later became the on-line tool Authorder® ( ) that draws on the internationally accepted protocols already in place to determine who should be credited as an author on your next publication and can be used by anyone to allocate author order.

Embedded both in the agenda of PhD academic writing and the issue of co-authoring is exploration of the level of writing to which one is aspiring in a given publication. The agenda for academic staff, the people who are supervising the research, is to aim for the highest level journal because this often matches the agenda of the institution as it seeks to improve its international standing in the research measurement stakes. The good side of this is that a research student can be exposed to the agendas of writing for A level journals by being a co-author, and through this come to understand the protocols and genre specifics of the particular journals and disciplines. The research student benefits from the research supervisor’s wisdom and know how regarding getting published in the top journals. They also have the support of wise others if and when they have to deal with rejection from these same journals and they can thus learn of the constant improving of one’s writing in the light of focussed feedback that will enable entrance to these high level journals. There is a less productive side as I see it, in that the general acceptance that the criteria for academic writing is the A level journals runs the risk of missing the point on some other forms of the research student’s academic writing (such as a research proposal) applying inappropriate criteria for the quality of academic writing under the justification that such criteria will help to develop writing that will eventually be published in the A level journals. Sometimes this drive for publication in the A level journals gives has an unintended impact on the research culture as it sets up unrealistic goals and may foster a sense of frustration rather than motivation.


About the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself and also work as a research coach for people undertaking their research I was originally in a Management Faculty and when I completed my doctoral studies on 'doing a doctorate' I started working with research supervisors to help them improve their practice.
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