Authorship Not Taught and Not Caught in Undergraduate Research Experiences at a Research University

Abstract

This grounded study investigated the negotiation of authorship by faculty members, graduate student mentors, and their undergraduate protégés in undergraduate research experiences at a private research university in the northeastern United States. Semi-structured interviews using complementary scripts were conducted separately with 42 participants over a 3 year period to probe their knowledge and understanding of responsible authorship and publication practices and learn how faculty and students entered into authorship decision-making intended to lead to the publication of peer-reviewed technical papers. Herein the theoretical model for the negotiation of authorship developed through the analysis of these interviews is reported. The model identifies critical causal and intervening conditions responsible for the coping strategies faculty and students employ, which, in our study, appear to often produce unfortunate consequences for all involved. The undergraduate student researchers and their graduate student mentors interviewed in this study exhibited a limited understanding of authorship and the requirements for authorship in their research groups. The power differential between faculty and students, the students’ limited epistemic development, the busy-ness of the faculty, and the faculty’s failure to prioritize authorship have been identified as key factors inhibiting both undergraduate and graduate students from developing a deeper understanding of responsible authorship and publication practices. Implications for graduate education and undergraduate research are discussed, and strategies for helping all students to develop a deeper understanding of authorship are identified.

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Acknowledgements

The authors express their sincere gratitude to the faculty, graduate, and undergraduate research student participants for their candor and enthusiasm. Many thanks to John D’Angelo, Rein Kirss, Susan Schelble, Keith Taber, and the Northeastern Humanities Center Faculty Fellows for their helpful comments and suggestions on various drafts of this manuscript.

Funding

This research was funded by the Office of the Provost of Northeastern University (Boston, MA).

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Contributions

PAM developed the study design, participated in all aspects of the data collection and analysis, and worked collaboratively with LEA on writing this manuscript. ACP helped develop the original interview scripts and participated in the early data collection and analysis for faculty-student dyads. AA continued the data collection and analysis, extending the study to include interviews with graduate students. LEA completed the data collection with faculty-graduate student-undergraduate triads, analyzed all the study data, and contributed significantly to the writing of this manuscript. All authors reviewed and revised the manuscript and approved the final version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patricia Ann Mabrouk.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures used in this study were in accord with the ethical standards of Northeastern University’s Institutional Review Board, which reviewed and approved of the research protocols before the study was initiated and annually after that.

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Signed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Abbott, L.E., Andes, A., Pattani, A.C. et al. Authorship Not Taught and Not Caught in Undergraduate Research Experiences at a Research University. Sci Eng Ethics 26, 2555–2599 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-020-00220-6

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Keywords

  • Authorship
  • Undergraduate research experience
  • Research ethics
  • Responsible conduct of research