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Know your authorship rights from the outset

To avoid conflicts at a later stage, PhD researchers need to discuss authorship rights with their supervisor at the beginning of every research project.

This advice comes from Vitae, the research careers organisation, whose latest postgraduate researcher bulletin focuses on the authorship issues postgrads face when publishing papers.

“It’s really important to have conversations between supervisor and researcher about how the whole process will be managed,” says Janet Metcalfe, head of Vitae. “Either party can make assumptions about how it’s going to work without ever having that conversation with the other. If you’re not having those conversations, the chances are you will bump up against those preconceptions at some stage when it’s much harder to talk about.”

Researchers are advised to be aware of how authorship rules differ between disciplines, journals and institutions. “Most universities have policies relating to authorship, and that information is available to postgraduate researchers,” says Metcalfe, adding that supervisors should feel obliged to make this clear to students.

Postgrads expecting to be credited for yet-to-be-published research are advised to stay in touch with their supervisor once they have finished their PhD. “That’s one of the challenges, particularly if you move to a different occupation or to a different institution,” adds Metcalfe.

She describes discussing future papers as an important part of the process of closing down a research project that should be done “before you say goodbye to everybody”.