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Reflections on co-authorship practices

Reflections on co-authorship practices

In their paper from January 2023, Goddiksen and colleagues report on important discrepancies between general norms related to co-authorship, such as the one provided by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), and the actual practices that Doctoral candidates experience. The paper reports how approximately three in ten of respondents reported that they had granted at least one guest authorship to “a person in power”. Of those who answered yes to this question, half of them indicated that they had done so because they had been told to do so by the person in power. At Eurodoc we are not surprised by these findings, this form of power abuse is well known within academia. However, as researchers ourselves we are pleased to see research (on research) being done on the topic.

The challenge lies in that authorship plays too large a role in today's research assessment. As a doctoral candidate or early career researcher, your future academic career depends on you being able to publish. To do so, you are dependent on the support and encouragement of your supervisor and other seniors in your field. But not all support warrants authorship on articles. However, in today's funding landscape, they are in return also depending on publishing (as much as possible) in order to secure funding in the future. This publish or perish culture, can result in questionable power relations and dominant norms that are far from being of the meritocratic nature that we would expect of academia.

This is why Eurodoc welcomes the Coalition on Reforming Research Assessment (CoARA), a massive movement initiated by the European commission in 2022, that produced an agreement to reform the current research assessment and fosters that process through the new coalition. It is our understanding that the current hyperfocus on publication numbers incentivizes bad practices regarding authorship, such as those described above. In general we are convinced that the traditional lists of authors are an outdated practice as they do not properly reflect the individuals' actual contributions. Instead, rewards and accountability should be shared based on the actual contribution of each individual collaborator. This includes giving credit when it is due and for what it is due for. A good step forward in the right direction is the adoption of the CRediT Contributor Roles Taxonomy. For an elaboration on this, we encourage you to read this article by former board member in Eurodoc Mathew Tata. 

An important requirement for the necessary change in scientific culture is a change in how we assess research and which activities, practices and outputs we reward. However, while the reform of the research assessment is absolutely crucial, it can and should not stand alone. As the article by Goddiksen et al also shows there are very diverting practices for what warrants an authorship.

So on one hand, the paper highlights the limits of research assessment that might take for granted good practices that do not always reflect reality. And on the other hand, it also demonstrates how limited, and then necessary, is the training of ECRs in the sense of good authorship practices that might represent a pivotal factor to create a new and meritocratic common practice.

The challenge will be to fill the existing gap on the adoption of good practices on authorship, paying attention to the existing differences among different research areas. This aim cannot prescind from an active involvement of ECRs in the process and may be supported by more “research on the research” and on how it is actually practised and experienced.

We look forward to facing this challenge and we hope that you will join us,


Eurodoc, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers, is a grassroots federation of 25 national associations of early-career researchers (ECRs) from 23 countries across Europe. Eurodoc was established in 2002 and is based in Brussels. As a representative of doctoral candidates and junior researchers at the European level, Eurodoc engages with all major stakeholders in research and innovation in Europe.