Learning to be a co-author

Dr Katherine Firth is a Lecturer at La Trobe University. Her PhD was on collaboration in writing.

Her recent book How to Fix your Academic Writing Trouble was co-authored with Inger Mewburn and Shaun Lehmann. She has collaborated on academic books and journal articles, and is currently working on three book projects with three different teams.

Katherine manages the blog Research Degree Insiders and tweets from @katrinafee.


Co-authoring can be very different for researchers from different disciplines.

In the social sciences and the sciences, for example, co-authored articles have become the norm over the last few decades. My academic background is in English Literature, where we do not usually write collaboratively (Leane, Fletcher and Garg, 2019, Nyhan and Duke-Williams, 2014). Publishing a collaborative article or book can still be a career limiting move in the Humanities where single authorship is the norm.

Co-authoring can lead to additional disadvantage for women (in both STEM and HASS fields), for junior researchers, and researchers from developing countries, who are more likely to find that their contributions are under-recognised or devalued.

Photo by John Schnobrich | unsplash.com

As an early career researcher, I tried to keep publishing in the traditional ways, what is sometimes called ‘lone wolf’ scholarship (as in this previous Research Whisperer post ). It is pretty tough and solitary out there. You travel to the library or archives on your own, you read alone, you write alone, you edit alone. You might eventually get to work with a Research Assistant, but their intellectual contribution to the work is typically small: transcribing, fixing references, fact checking, copy editing (in other words, work that doesn’t merit co-authorship). You might go to conferences and present a paper on your work to build an audience and get feedback, but there’s a still a gap between what you present at a conference, and whether anyone actually wants to publish the finished article. Often, the only feedback you get is from peer reviewers. Read more of this post

Creating and growing a personal industry group

A group of World of Warcraft avatars, of vastly different races and classes, united by their love of libraries.

Libraries and Librarians Class Photo (cropped), by Michael Pate, on Flickr

Recently, I read a draft grant application that included an allowance for dinner for the industry advisory group. I nixed it.

I explained to the applicant that, while it may technically be an allowable budget item, most reviewers of that funding scheme would see it as an extravagance.

This led to a discussion of how she was going to run her industry advisory group. They were going to meet three or four times a year, probably over dinner, to get an update on the project and provide advice and feedback. Essentially, it was a dinner party with a focus on her research.

That made sense to me. If you want to create your own industry advisory group, create a good dinner party. Invite people that you would be interested in having dinner with, and that you think would be interested in meeting one another. Make it diverse enough to keep the conversation flowing, but not so diverse that it is divisive. Talk about the things that you passionate about. Disagree, and agree to disagree. Build trust relationships. Read more of this post

When research collaborations go bad

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi Released under CC licencse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

Stuff happens | Photo by Kim Tairi
Released under CC licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0

One of the toughest things to do gracefully in an academic relationship is to end it, or even question it.

Sometimes, even though you try, there isn’t a ‘good’ way to do it. Perhaps that’s why issues around collaborations – particularly what to do with bad ones – persist so strongly.

A lot of angst can be saved by early discussion about expectations from all team members – who’s doing what, when, and how. As mentioned in this co-authoring post, the division of labour doesn’t have to be equal, it just has to be clear.

On an academic risk management note, make sure you can tick these boxes before embarking on a collaborative project:

  • I’ve had at least one research conversation with the collaborator(s) I will be working with.
  • We’ve talked about division of labour and timelines for the project.
  • I feel comfortable facing my collaborator(s) first thing in the morning to talk about project and publication work. [This is a golden rule with me – ymmv]
  • I’m confident that my collaborator(s) bring relevant and appropriate levels of intellectual value to the project.
  • My collaborators communicate with me in a timely and constructive manner.

If you can tick off that checklist, it should mean few misunderstandings and disappointments. Read more of this post

What should you do with a toxic collaborator?

What's yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

What’s yours? | Photo by Tseen Khoo

When I wrote Do you have a toxic collaborator? back in January this year, I promised a follow-up post about what to do if you found you did have one.

This second post has taken me a while to write. Not because I forgot, or thought it wasn’t important. If anything, it has been weighing on my mind all year!

It’s a really hard post to write because I wanted it to contain useful advice – not just platitudes – for those who found themselves in these situations.

Various stories that came my way after the initial post also upped my trepidation. The elements I was talking about, while annoying and with the potential to be project-breakers, were not as vicious or vindictive as some of the narratives people shared with me.

I suddenly felt that whatever I said wouldn’t have helped any of those dire situations, and sometimes there were just awful, small-minded (but powerful) sorts that you just have to avoid or be wary about.

I’ve now come back to this half-drafted post. It is important. It won’t solve all the ills of heinous academic behaviours, but may push back effectively on some. Read more of this post

How do you find researchers who want to collaborate?

Jenny DelasalleJenny Delasalle is the editor of the Piirus Blog. She is also a freelance copywriter and librarian, currently based in Berlin, Germany. This means that she works collaboratively and remotely with the rest of the Piirus team.

Jenny has over fifteen years of experience of working in academic libraries, and is interested in scholarly communications, bibliometrics, copyright and many other things besides.

She blogs at A Librarian Abroad, and tweets at @JennyDelasalle. Her ORCID is 0000-0002-2241-4525

We are pleased to publish her article describing research collaboration and Piirus, a not-for-profit service provided by the University of Warwick.


Contacts and collaboration are increasingly important to researchers. From the sparking of early ideas, to co-authorship which increases outputs and helps authors to reach new audiences, and on again to partnerships with organisations or industry which offer sources of funding and routes to impact: collaboration activities are increasingly seen as a part of research excellence.

The importance of collaboration

As the 2014 UK government report “Growing the best and brightest: the drivers of research excellence” (3 Mb PDF) identifies, features of successful collaborations include personal contacts and openness. Curt Rice, from the University of Tromsø points out that co-authorship is sometimes seen as a sign of co-operativeness, and is on the increase. Curt refers to the so-called “Matthew effect”, where “those who have much, get more”, a phenomenon also identified in bibliometric studies and that once more emphasise the importance of a researcher’s network of contacts.

Read more of this post

Top 5 reasons I’ll follow you on Twitter

Photo by Leon Ephraim | unsplash.com

Photo by Leon Ephraim | unsplash.com

Everyone’s in a hurry these days.

Time-poor researchers who are encouraged by their institutions and supervisors to ‘get on social media’ are definitely in a hurry. Many of them want to know in about five minutes flat what it’s all about, how much time will it take, and whether they can be bothered.

OK, maybe they’ll put in ten minutes.

When I first started giving workshops on researchers and social media, I found myself lowering the threshold when I talked about getting involved. I was presenting good ways that people could get value out of social media in a relatively short time. I spoke about how creating an accessible, professional digital footprint doesn’t need to take that long. I gave – and still give – examples of how to ‘be found’ and gain profile without having to be tethered to Twitter all day.

Recently, though, I’ve started getting a bit antsy about this demand for immediate reward without spending time.

This ‘where’s my golden doughnut?’ attitude, usually coming from those who appear to be set against social media anyway (and were ‘forced’ onto it by their Heads of School or other research leaders), contains a distinct derisive tone. Especially about Twitter.

I recently read and shared @professornever’s post on Academic Twitter. I was intrigued by the way she described her contrasting experiences with a political/social interest Twitter account, and an academic one. One of the key points of difference she noted was the fact that fewer people were likely to ‘follow back’ on academic twitter than on her other account.

On this point, Katherine Firth (@katrinafee) says:

“I think a major thing about building a community in academic Twitter is that people look at what you say, rather than whether you follow them. So it’s harder to get started–but pretty egalitarian once you are contributing to the conversation!” [my emphasis]

READ MORE

Do you have a toxic collaborator?

What's yours? (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

What’s yours? (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

At some time in everyone’s academic lives, there will be cause for collaboration angst.

It may all start golden: big ideas, excitement about working with new colleagues, the potential for fancy-pants funding and intellectual glory.

And if you were invited onto a prestigious team by a favoured prof…well, you’d almost fall over signing up, right?

Then, down the track, you’re looking at the fifth ‘I still haven’t done it’ email from Collaborator 2, or – worse still – finding no email from Collaborator 3…ever.

How many times is it physiologically safe to roll one’s eyes at Collaborator 4 for declaring yet again that they should be first author?

I’ve written before about how to find research friends and make co-writing work, which have focused for the most part on the positive habits and traits that lead to successful, satisfying collaborations.

This post focuses on the flipside.

Finding out that your co-writer or co-investigator is awful to work with could be a gradual soul-destroying process, or a very rapid soul-destroying process. Either way? Soul destroyed.

Added to the mix are complicated intersections of status, power and privilege, and often emotional baggage from professional (or deeper) friendships. The earlier you can see that the collaboration isn’t going to work, the easier it may be to duck out of the project, or at least implement processes that will mean you emerge with your sanity and sense of self intact.

Here are 5 signs that you may have a toxic collaborator: READ MORE