Tips for publishing with students

Graduate and undergraduate students can be tremendous assets to your research endeavors and can serve as the embodiment of a merger between your teaching and research activity. For all the benefits of working with students, some concerns and challenges exist. In today’s post, I want to share some tips for publishing with students that you can use to make sure that your publishing relationships with students go well for everyone involved.

tips for publishing with students

Photo credit: Alan Levine

With any students that you might work with but particularly doctoral students, there is a consistent balancing act needed.

Doctoral students are important academic labor for furthering your work, particularly in laboratory-based disciplines. However, doctoral students are more than just grist for achieving your research expectations and when you take on a student there must be some balance with the academic needs of the student.

This can be particularly true for assistant professors who may be so worried about their own research activities— understandably— that they can fail to full appreciate the responsibility to help a student develop opportunities to establish their own scholarly career.

The following tips may be useful for any of your co-authoring relationships, but particularly when working with students.

The issue of authorship can be a touchy subject for early career faculty and doctoral students.

In many fields, there is a standard nomenclature for authorship order so this is less of a concern. In fields where authorship order is an indication of contribution, the decision of author order with students presents a potential minefield.

It is critical that you discuss contribution and authorship at the beginning of the project so that everyone is clear and on the same page regarding expectations for the project.

Many institutions will look favorably on research conducted with students whether they are undergraduate or graduate students when considering a candidate for tenure. This type of work is viewed as a sign of your mentorship and ability to work with students which can be a strong statement in support of your case.

I once had a senior colleague describe this type of work as receiving bonus points because everyone knows that your role in co-authoring with a student is different than with a peer colleague.

Especially if you are in a field that values co-authorship with students or tends to not publish much with students, you may even want to note in some small way on your CV or in your tenure dossier that a publication was work with students.

An additional difference that may impact how work with students is viewed is the type of institution you work at and the expectations for research at your institution.

It certainly isn’t always the case that institutions with lower levels of research expectations are more open to work with students but there are a couple of reasons why you can often find this to be the case.

First, universities with lower research expectations will often have larger numbers of students particularly in professional fields such as education.

In these institutions, faculty often carry higher graduate teaching and advising loads thus there are simply more potential students to work with on research projects.

Second, research expectations at these types of universities are often more open to broader publication outlets that make it easier to include students.

If you work at one of these institutions or have senior colleagues who previously served on the faculty of an institution of this type, you will likely hear advice to publish frequently with students.

This advice would include helping students publish from their dissertation work or taking class papers and bringing them up to a publishable quality.

If this type of publishing is something that your institution will recognize, you can consider this advice in the context of your career and local setting.

However, if your institution has high research expectations for tenure or would look poorly on a faculty member co-authoring an article based on an advisee’s dissertation, you obviously want to avoid this kind of advice as not appropriate for your situation.

A final note of caution should be mentioned when thinking about your research relationship with students and co-authoring.

In many instances, the inclusion of a student on a research project is a no-brainer decision. There may be questions about authorship order or the level of intellectual contribution, but not the inclusion of a student. To be certain, if a student provides intellectual contribution they should receive authorship credit and you do not want to take credit for a student’s intellectual work.

This does not mean that if a student only provides research assistance on a project that they automatically get authorship credit. Again, there are norms in your field and you should see guidance on making sure that you are doing right by your students.

Moreover, while many tenure review committees view working with students favorable, there may be instances where excessive work with a student leads to questions of your independence. For example, you never want your tenure review to raise questions of if you are riding on the coattails of your students.

You may find that you have a colleague with strong opinions on this point or find yourself in a department where there is baggage on this issue perhaps due to a case that happened before you even arrived at the institution.

At the end of the day, you want to have a good understanding of the norms around co-authoring with students so you are aware of any unwritten rules that might be at work in evaluating your co-authorship with students.

Working with students is an enormous benefit of your faculty role even in the pre-tenure years. Not only can students supercharge your research activities, but they also provide a mentorship and teaching opportunity that in many ways may have led you to faculty work in the first place.

For all of these reasons, I strongly encourage you to work with students as it can be a powerful win-win opportunity for both your work as well as advancing your students academic experience.

However, you should go into work with students with a full understanding of the potential pitfalls of these relationships.

Throughout my career, I’ve found these to be among the most rewarding of all of my faculty work and I trust you will find them beneficial as well. If you take the time to follow these tips for publishing with students and think through potential problems, seek advice, and openly communicate with your students, working with students can provide tremendous benefits for your faculty career.