you don’t own me- authorship and other problems

A guest post from Megan, Maximum and Dulcie McPherson. Megan, a practising artist,  has just completed her PhD – yay and congratulations – and is looking for work in Melbourne and beyond.


During the week I was approached by a researcher to have a chat about doing some work for her research project.

All well and good I thought. I’d just handed in my thesis last month. I’m in the weird waiting space in-between hand in and getting the results back. I could do with some extra work; my savings are starting to look a bit sad and my 10 week research administration support contract is just about to finish.

During the conversation with the researcher a series of alarm bells rang out. The time allowance was for a day a week for 12 weeks (around 85 hours). There was no scope of the work involved or timeline to get to this arbitrary 12 days. When I asked for further elaboration, such as was there a research report that I was to write from, it came out that she wanted the data to be re-analysed. I would have to do an analysis in NVivo.

Then I asked if she had sorted the literature that she wanted to use. No. (Bell ringing chorus). There was a broad theory or paradigm to link to, but no key literature to work with. Ok, I’m thinking, this is getting out of proportion to the hours she had stipulated.

She then started to say that she was writing the first paper and she wanted me to “help” with the second paper.

Actually, she meant WRITE the second paper. Write the second paper for the research team she was a member of without authorship attribution, no mention of my contribution.

My response, when I caught my breath, was quite simple.

I told her that she needed to look at her university’s research authorship policy*. I said that there was a research integrity issue with her proposal. I suggested that I didn’t necessarily have to be first author, but I expected to be on the author list. I discussed my expectations about receiving authorship attribution and how this was decided with other projects I have been employed on.

I then explained that as I did not have an academic job I did not have research hours to give away to other projects. I was by then thinking about the next person that was approached and who might not necessarily be ready to say that the work proposal lacked research integrity. I have had a range of experiences in research in the last 10 years where my contribution has been acknowledged and sometimes it has not. I have had other academics speak up for me and my contribution.  I know it is important to speak not just for me but for others.

After the meeting videocall, I posted my reaction to Facebook. My academic friends were both angry for me and apologized that I had had this experience. The number of comments surprised me. This was not just my experience, authorship and exploitation of casual research staff is a problem.

The very least that researchers can do when employing others to do research is to estimate the job properly. Don’t expect the prospective researcher to scope your job for free. Pay for the research support with realistic hours. And ACKNOWLEDGE authorship in the publication!

I remember a few years ago an older professor explaining to a room of academics that research is not research until it is published. As an early career researcher, the research I do has to have outcomes that I can use. I need to have outcomes that are published and that contributed to my research profile. I was thinking about my “Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE)” section in my most recent funding application. With this 12 day job, there would be no publication attribution, even if I wanted to add it.

I do not have the luxury of knocking back jobs, and like everyone I need to pay my rent and buy food and the rest of my expenses. I knocked back this job back.

Have you had an experience like this? How did you respond? How can we let more experienced researchers know this is really not OK?


In recognition of the excellent support and co-research over the last months, I acknowledge the listening labour** and kinship of Maximum McPherson and Dulcie McPherson, after Susan Naomi NordstromAmelie Nordstrom, and Coonan Nordstrom’s in Guilty of Loving You: A Multispecies Narrative (2018) published recently in Qualitive Inquiry. This article is a brilliant and beautiful example of co-researcher authorship attribution both situated in theory and ethical considerations.

*Australian University authorship policy is guided by the Vancouver Protocol 

** And yes, I read what I write to my cats.

Image: Net, gathering (blue) by Megan McPherson

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, authorship, early career researchers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to you don’t own me- authorship and other problems

  1. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Reblogged this on Observations of a tired sOul..


  2. madnecessity says:

    Well done on turning it down


  3. Pingback: Reading List (14/8)

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