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Authorship Credit in Student-Faculty Publications

Following discussions with the Council of Graduate Deans and with graduate group chairs, the Graduate Council of the Faculties has unanimously approved a resolution that requires
all graduate groups at the University to prepare written guidelines clarifying the criteria
that should be used to determine authorship credit in faculty-student collaborations for the
disciplines represented in the graduate group. Interested faculty and graduate students
should speak to their graduate group chair about plans for preparing and disseminating
the guidelines within their graduate group.

Why is a policy needed?

1. For students who intend to pursue academic and/or research careers, scholarly publications that reflect the product of their research work are essential to being considered for a job and establishing a career.

2. Faculty members are almost always directly involved in the student's scholarly work as mentors, employers, collaborators, or consultants.

3. When publications emerge from collaborative faculty-student effort, it is not always clear who should be given authorship credit, and in what order the authors' names should appear on the published work.

4. The Vice Provost, the Council of Graduate Deans and the Graduate Council of the Faculties have been made aware over the years that there is widespread uncertainty among graduate students about what constitutes fair practices for the determination of authorship. Practices vary widely between and within departments at Penn.

5. Graduate students are understandably reluctant to raise issues of authorship at the beginning of projects, and skeptical about the efficacy of raising issues once the work has been completed. Students feel that authorship credit is a difficult issue to raise, because their questioning of the arrangements can be interpreted as a challenge to the mentor on whom the student depends for intellectual and/or financial support as well as future letters of recommendation.

6. The lack of clarity concerning fairness in authorship is evident not only among graduate students. Faculty members, too, are often uncertain about fair practices. Some feel that their intellectual and written contribution to a student's published work has not been sufficiently acknowledged.

7. As part of their appropriate professional education, young scholars need to learn about how questions of joint-authorship are decided. Guidelines can facilitate discussions between students and their faculty mentors which further such learning.

Diversity of practices in different disciplines and departments

In considering the task of formulating a university-wide policy on Fairness in Authorship Credit, the Graduate Council of the Faculties is aware that different traditions of joint authorship exist in different disciplines and departments.

  • In some fields, the Principal Investigator of the lab is first author of all publications.
  • In some fields faculty members rarely or never receive authorship credit on student publications, no matter what their contribution to the project or the product.
  • In some fields, authorship depends on intellectual leadership and actual contribution to the ideas for the project and the written product.
  • In some fields, authorship rules are clear; in others they are subject to negotiation.
  • In some fields, research assistants and research fellows are automatically included as authors when the outcome results from paid work. In other fields, these students are automatically excluded as authors when the outcome results from paid work.

A University-wide process for establishing authorship credit

In light of the variability, ambiguity, and uncertainty regarding faculty-student authorship of published work, there are no specific rules that can be enunciated by the Graduate Council of the Faculties that will address the situation in all departments and academic disciplines. Instead, the Graduate Council of the Faculties is mandating a set of processes within each graduate group that will clarify expectations concerning authorship for each student and faculty member.

Graduate groups are being asked to publish and publicize general guidelines concerning authorship and make them available to all graduate students, with a copy to the Dean of the School and Janice F. Madden, Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

--Janice F. Madden, Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, February 10, 1998, Volume 44, Number 21