Chronicle Vitae: Credit for Collaboration

Look whose essay just appeared in Chronicle Vitae!

Why yes, the author is yours truly! It’s an excerpt from Academaze, addressing credit on collaborative work, especially while on the tenure track.



  1. You know, one of the benefits to the kind of job I ended up at (not a R1) is that there is no expectation that I must cut off my current and fruitful collaborations with my former advisers. In fact it’s quite the opposite – I am strongly encouraged to continue to submit proposals and do work with them. Or even reach out to grad adviser / former committee members. Anyone who might help me get some funding and thereby get good research experiences and pubs for my students.

    And yes, I know, there are sometimes good reasons to worry about particular people’s ability to be “independent”. Sometimes you do have an A-hole adviser who never really trains his/her students to think for themselves and just exploits them for technical labor. And then without that person the former trainee can’t do anything.

    But if that’s demonstrably not the case – if it is a collaboration where both parties bring different skills and a better whole comes out of it, and if the former advisee works with a variety of people – why kill a collaboration that’s working well, simply because there used to be an adviser – advisee relationship? It just seems arbitrary.

  2. Yay, xyk/Sydney Phlox! It’s a good post and tells me a lot about credit in the sciences that I didn’t know.

  3. Cool that your work is getting more visibility! Since blogs are so 2010, most students don’t really seem to take advantage of all the information out there in blog archives. It’s too bad, really.

  4. Jojo, I agree completely. I am at an R1 and still I think it’s fine to collaborate with your former advisors. Obviously if it’s the only thing you do you’re in trouble when they retire, but at least in my case it is a small fraction of my overall research program. Ppl try to make you feel bad about it, but whatever.

  5. jojo and grumpy: The problem with continuing to work with former advisor is that, to you, it may rightfully seem like a fruitful collaboration of equals; to everyone else, it looks like you continue to be your former advisor’s underling. This perceived lack of independence is more damning for women than men.

  6. I just noticed this post and am wondering if you could extend your advice to a related issue I’ve been thinking about. I am a new TT member at a very good school, with considerable snootyness about giving people tenure, so credit for collaborations is on my mind a lot. I find myself with excellent collaboration options with smart people who I enjoy working with, and frankly, I enjoy collaborating and hate competing with people you are friendly with. I’ve heard conflicting advice about whether I should shun collaborating with senior people (they’ll be more likely to mentally get all the credits as people read your papers), whether I should stop collaborating with junior people (they’re worried about their own tenure and are your direct competition so will be less likely to give you the credit you deserve), or just focus on doing the best science I can through whatever avenue I can grab. What do you think? Of course I’m also one of the few women in my sub-field, and don’t know if that plays into things.

  7. Witsel, this is a good question, and I will follow up with a longer answer (probably early November, post proposal crunch). The short answer is that tenure, especially at a top place, is given in recognition of your individual awesomeness. They will want to keep you if after 5-6 (or however many) years on the TT it is clear that you are your field’s rising star. That means you have to have unique and creative contributions attributed by the community *to you* at tenure time, that you will have lots of greybeards from all over the world writing letters about you and saying how you are among the best (or *the* best) young person of your generation, and compare you to top senior people at a similar career stage. That means you should pick a niche (or two) and then be bold in attacking the important questions within it, so you will become a key player in the niche — and recognized for it — on the timescales relevant for tenure. This doesn’t mean no for collaborations, but it means you have to be very deliberate about where you invest your energy.

  8. Thanks! I’m looking forward to the longer post later (good luck with the crunch). My field is pretty collaborative, so I’ll definitely have to keep a few collaborations. But if I’m reading between the lines correctly, if you just to do enough stuff that is clearly your own and a league above everyone else, which is necessary anyway, people will automatically give you more credit. So if you’re good enough to be deemed the rising star in the field, you’ll automatically get credit. Makes sense, from that angle.

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