Seeing a friend’s name in print

Yesterday was another of those days. An article of a friend of mine got published. In fact, this year has seen quite a bumper crop of such papers. Thing is, I always have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, I’m really happy for them, especially since I often know how hard they have worked to achieve these publications. Then I think: hold on, I don’t measure my friends by the number of their publications or their cumulative impact factor, so why do I care if and what they’ve published?

I guess part of it is that, of course, in academia, publications are important. As it was recently put in this blog post: “You may be suffering under the illusion that something else in your career matters, but you’d be wrong. Nothing else matters, other than publications.” There’s a lot of truth in this, and so, just as I’d be happy for any other achievement which might be important to them, I’m also happy about their publications.

But there’s also something else: Knowing the people behind the publications. Knowing they’re nice people. Knowing that some have had their ups and downs: terrible bosses, long periods without results, self-doubt, troubled times struggling to combine their career with long-distance relationships, you name it… Also, knowing that while publications are important to them, they have other interests, too. Knowing they are colourful, interesting personalities. People with whom you can hit the town and spend long hours chatting about everything and nothing. Knowing that they work hard, but they can also take a break when needed. Knowing, they’re really enthusiastic about the actual science they do. So much, that some have taken really risky career choices to pursue their dream topic.

Bottom line is, when I see a friend’s name in print, it not only makes me happy. It also gives me hope. Hope that research isn’t just about working extensive hours in the lab and not taking all of your annual leave. It’s also about being creative and inspired and maybe about being a nice person. Seeing many friends’ names in print gives me even more hope. Maybe if enough of these friends stay in academia we will one day tip the balance, away from workaholic PIs with no personal skills to scientists who are prepared to say “No” to a bullshit system.

On authorship and risk

I have a long-standing argument with a good friend about who should co-author a paper. The particular disagreement is about the role of someone, who has substantially helped to write and shape the story of a paper.

My friend argues that if you have:
–       consistently followed the course of a project
–       provided advice and guidance in group meetings and in one-on-one discussions
–       and also helped write the paper,
but have not done any wet lab experiments or actual hands-on analysis of the data,
then you’re essentially doing the job of the PI, and thus, should be a co-author.

Generally, I agree. But when push comes to shove I’m not sure I would include people with such involvement on a publication. So, for the last couple of months I’ve been pondering why, and finally think I’ve come up with an answer: it’s a question of risk. Continue reading