Monday, August 23, 2010

If horses were wishes

Photo by Stuck in Customs
Sometimes I wish I had a cadre of graduate students to help me out with my research. The irony is that in order to prove to future employers that I am able to supervise graduate students, I need to prove that I am capable of "independent research". But the grim reality of independent research in my subfield means sitting in the lab all day and all night alone, toiling away. I do get help along the way, I do "outsource" when I can, but in the end it's up to me to wrap together the whole kit n' caboodle and make the magic happen.

I guess it's different in the biosciences or physics where a whole team of people are working late in the lab on an experiment. But in my field you pretty much fly solo. Even when I collaborate with other researchers, somehow it's still just me writing the bulk of the software, collecting the data, analyzing the results, and writing the paper. (And, apparently, complaining on my blog :))

How collaborative is your work?


  1. My work is super-collaborative. In my sub-field, the experiments are so complicated and require such different areas of expertise, that almost all the major papers have at least 2 PIs, and anywhere from 4 to 12 authors. On top of that, the culture at National Lab was very collaborative (for a variety of reasons).

    In some ways you are lucky. This has actually burned me a few times--I've been told by other faculty after searches and also by some funding agencies that my papers have too many authors, so they don't know how much I contributed (even though I was first author on a lot of them!). Grrrrr.

  2. 12 authors seems like a lot, but it doesn't sound as bad as particle physics. My friend is routinely on papers with 50 co-authors! I think I heard that's the norm in one of their main journals, Physics Letters.

    But that's a shame it's burned you. You'd think with 12 authors if you were first, second, or last they'd be able to tell you did the bulk of the work.

  3. I collaborate a lot. I do theory/computation and am often paired up with an experimental collaborator or two. Often, it's me plus 1 or 2 other PI's, and then roughly a student per PI plus maybe a couple of people like techs or material supplier. These papers where there is theory+experiement have the potential to make it into GlamourMags, so they are good for all of us, but I must admit that being a theorist I usually play second fiddle to BigShot experimentalists even when the theory carries the paper... However, on the upside, it is very easy to delineate what I and my student/postoc did vs what the rest of the people did. This was tremendously important for my tenure case (where letter writers were asked, among other things, what my contributions were).

    I also publish alone (more and more rarely, less and less time, plus I think I am honestly getting stupider -- age plus too many mind-numbing activitites) and with just my group members (so 2 or 3 coauthors, of which I the only PI).

    I think most of my students like working as part of collaboration -- just having more people to bounce ideas around makes you more optimistic when you get stuck. And it's cool knowing people measure what you calculate, or even better: you predict and then someone goes on and measures it!

    Collaborations are awesome if you have people with similar work philosophy and approach to science and paper/proposal writing. If not, it's a major drag...

    I have to learn to write shorter comments. :)

  4. Oh neat, I didn't realize you were a theory person. That does sound nice to have collaborators who can essentially test out your theories. (And get GlamourMag publications out of the deal!)

    I hear you on the work philosophy. I've gotten burned by that a bit here and there. But if I can sense someone is going to be that way I try to make sure they're not on the critical path. Sadly that's not always possible - sometimes I have to collaborate with someone because they have the equipment I need, but I try to give a lot of leeway time when that's the case.

    No problem about comment length - me blogcasa es su blogcasa!