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The Changing Face of Scientific Collaboration

Academics, it’s often said, don’t play well with others. But that cliché doesn’t apply to all of us. Humanists may derive their practices from the myth of the solitary genius laboring in the garret, but the laboratory sciences are justly known for their culture of collaboration.

Bench scientists, as they’re also called, are socialized into lab-based groups. Under the direction of a senior scientist, the staff of a university research lab — graduate students, postdocs, research assistants and other staff members, and sometimes undergraduates, too — become a team that works together on experiments.

When the results of those experiments are published, the articles often have numerous co-authors. Although the first name on the list is traditionally recognized as the lead author (the person who did the largest share of the most important work) and the last position reserved for the director of the lab, there has historically been less distinction among the names in the middle. The ethos is genuinely collaborative.

Scientists have trouble being recognized on the main stage without a major grant, and many research universities won’t grant tenure to a scientist unless he or she has won at least one.

But that culture of collaboration has been changing for some time, and the pace of the shift may be accelerating. Once animated by a spirit of collective enterprise, scientists now increasingly ask who did exactly what to produce the result, and what percentage of the whole may be apportioned to each co-author.

For more from this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, go to The Changing Face of Scientific Collaboration.