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Sharing authorship for undergrad engineering research

  1. Oct 21, 2015 #1


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    I've just finished a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours.
    My academic supervisor submitted my honours research paper to a conference being held next year.
    In short:
    The extent of my supervisors contribution was approving my requests for purchase orders. I devised, built and ran the experiments at home. The first time he saw any of the work was when I handed in the paper for marking.
    A few days later, without my knowledge, he submitted the paper for the conference, the only changes were applying the required format style and adding his name as second author. I found out when I received an automated email stating I was a co-author on a paper submission. Had I known he was going to submit it I would've wanted to make a lot of improvements.

    I like my supervisor, and don't want to rock the boat (whether I get 1st class honours hinges on how he marks my other work..). I understand, in some areas, it's common practice for professors to add their name to an undergrads work to lend weight and increase the chance of publishing. However, If, on the off chance it was accepted, I'd feel a little disappointed that I'd be sharing authorship for something that is entirely my own work.
    Is this situation normal? Should I just wait and see if it's accepted or speak up now?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2015 #2


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    That's a tough spot to be in. Merely being a supervisor does not entitle one to authorship on a piece of work, although it's very rare for an undergrad (or even a graduate student) to publish without including the supervisor. This is because the supervisor will usually play a more significant role in the work. Usually the supervisor will design the project and direct the student on the execution, and give feedback on progress as it goes. Your situation sounds a lot more like someone just putting his name on work that you've done. Although sometimes there's more that goes on behind the scenes than students realize though.

    All of that said, I wouldn't make too much out of this. As you've said your mark (and perhaps even more importantly future reference letters) are likely to depend on an amicable relationship with this person. So burning a bridge is perhaps not the most strategically sound decision when it comes to your career.

    What you can take away from this is the importance of discussion roles and responsibilities at the onset of a project (something your supervisor had a responsibility to articulate and missed).
  4. Oct 21, 2015 #3


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    Cultural norms around this vary from group to group, discipline to discipline, and country to country. I'm guessing from context that you're in Australia/NZ? I think it's the norm for a supervisor to be on the work of undergrad and grad students work in order to add weight to the paper. But as Choppy points out, the extent of supervision is usually more.

    Not letting you know about submitting it to a conference is quite odd though. It seems like you've had a bit of a communication breakdown, and I'd be very surprised if I were in your shoes. I don't think that is an ok thing to do, but it's a bit different to the authorship issue.
  5. Dec 2, 2015 #4


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    I decided to say nothing see what happened and the paper was accepted.
    In hind sight, I'm glad it was submitted and don't care that I'm sharing authorship, if I was asked I would've said yes anyway. I found out today the paper is in the top 15 for the conference so has a good chance of an extended version being published in an ASME journal. I also got engaged, received a job offer and got 1st class honours so it's been a really good week!

    Yes, Sherlock, you've foiled my attempt at anonymity :wink:
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