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Co-Authoring with a Professor

Advice on co-authoring a paper with a professor.

March 31, 2015

DeWitt Scott is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Chicago State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @dscotthighered.

Students in today’s graduate programs are being pressured more and more to publish substantial amounts of articles and book chapters before receiving their PhDs. We are constantly told that in order to compete on the cutthroat job market for academic positions, we will be expected to have a semi-extensive publication record. Such expectations have forced graduate students to seek almost every opportunity to submit work for publication.

Oftentimes, a generous faculty member who is an established scholar in his/her field identifies a promising graduate student and offers an opportunity to collaborate on a project for publication. As great as this opportunity can be, it can also pose some challenges for students. Below are strategies graduate students can use to ensure that things run smoothly and that the relationship is strengthened from the process.

Be Honest from the Beginning about What You Can Take On

When you and your professor set out to begin this journey, be sure to let him/her know exactly how much of the workload you can shoulder. Staying silent while agreeing to do the literature review, gather data, draft the methodology, and finalize the conclusion does not make you appear to be an adept scholar. It only makes you overburdened and can possibly set you up for failure. Failing to deliver on your portion of the mutually agreed upon assignments can strain the working relationship between the two of you and cause long-term problems.

Don’t be Afraid to Analyze/Critique Your Professor’s Work

Although you want to be respectful at all times and acknowledge that your professor is more experienced and seasoned than you, it is important to remember that she/he is human just like you. If you have questions about what your professor has written, claims he/she makes, or ideas that are stated, ask about them. In this process you are co-authors, and neither of you is above critique.

Hold Your Professor Accountable

If the two of you have agreed to self-imposed deadlines, and your professor repeatedly does not meet them, call him/her out on it. You cannot hesitate to be assertive during this process. Your career is at stake here as well and it is important that you are active in shaping the outcome. Respectfully convey to your professor that the two of you need to stay on task in order to produce the best possible project. No sensible scholar would be offended if this is communicated properly.

Suggest that the Two of You Present the Work at a Conference

Conference presentations are great ways to receive feedback on a paper. Presenting and discussing your work with a room full of scholars and intelligent people in your field can spark excellent ideas that will ultimately improve your paper. Seek out appropriate conferences for your topic and suggest to your professor that the two of you should consider presenting the paper. If she/he agrees, take the lead on this undertaking and draft the conference proposal. Writing the proposal and presenting the paper provides invaluable experience.

Return the Favor in the Future

If all goes well, this should be the beginning of a wonderful working relationship. After you graduate and begin to establish your career, reach back to your former-professor-turned-colleague and ask his/her assistance in collaborating on a different project. The benefits of finding a compatible working partner in academia are endless.

Partnering with your professor to co-author a work can be remarkably helpful for your career. You enhance your C.V. while building a relationship with an experienced academic. The success of the project and development of the relationship depend, in large part, on your ability to be honest, assertive, and efficient.

What suggestions do you have for partnering with a professor? Share experiences you’ve had with co-authoring!


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