Saturday, September 26, 2015

If my name is on it then I need to sign off on it!

It is surprising and disappointing to me how this issue continues to comes up. Hence, I thought I would write a post about it.

Here are a few concrete examples.
  • A student submits an abstract to a conference without the permission of co-authors.
  • A university vice-president signs a letter of support for the application of a faculty member for a prestigious fellowship. The letter was actually written by the applicant and contains ridiculous claims about the international status of the applicant.
  • The senior author of a paper allows a postdoc to submit a paper even though she has not actually looked at the manuscript because she is so “busy.” The manuscript is full of typos and the referencing is poor.
  • A Ph.D student submits a dissertation proposal to a departmental review committee even though he has has not shown the document to his advisor.
  • An advisor shows the results of a student at a conference without letting them know.
  • A student gives a terrible talk at a conference. The advisor never saw a practise of the talk or the slides beforehand.
Such incidents may reflect equally poorly on both the senior and junior people involved.
They vary from the unethical to the unprofessional to just lacking common courtesy.

On the one hand, I don’t think senior people should be micro-managing control freaks who are constantly reviewing and checking everything their “underlings” do.
The amount of liberty and trust that I give students, postdocs, and collaborators is based on my prior experience with them. For some I say, “I want you to give a practise talk before the conference” or “Don’t resubmit the paper without showing me the final version”. For others I give more liberty. I trust them and am willing to be responsible for any failings.

The key is open and honest communication.
When in doubt, don’t be hesistant to ask.
Always keep everyone involved in the loop. Too much communication and information is always better than too little.

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