Thursday, September 06, 2007


Among my favorite research projects of recent years has been a project that has been a team effort with a colleague. The work has been very interesting because there are a lot of fundamental questions to explore, and the collaboration has worked very well because of the different perspectives and expertise that we each bring to the project. I also just like working with this person. The project continues to evolve in new ways, in part because students are taking the work in different directions. This collaboration/project is a major reason I enjoy my work so much.

For some of our published work and conference presentations, my colleague has been first author and I have been second; for others, I'm first author and he is second.

Keeping all the positive things about this research and collaboration in mind.. every once in a while I am reminded that there is a tendency for some people to think only of my colleague when they think of this work.

An example: A friend at another university emailed me this week to tell me about a talk in his department by a researcher who referred to this work and used figures from our papers, but gave credit only to my collaborator when citing the source.

My colleague and I had planned to present posters together on new aspects of this work at a specialized conference later this year, but then he got asked to give an invited talk on the topic instead. My colleague is an excellent speaker, so the conveners made a great choice, but now I have to decide what to do. My first reaction was that I would just attend the conference without presenting anything, as the most interesting aspects of the research will be presented by my colleague in his talk. I hasten to note that my colleague always gives me credit in his talks for my part in the research, so I am not concerned about that issue.

Today he suggested that we both give the talk, each presenting part of the work. I didn't know what to say. It sort of makes sense to do it that way, just as we would have presented the posters together, but it would be kind of strange because he's on the conference schedule and I'm not. He was invited to speak; I wasn't. If we do a tag-team talk, I would be doubling the number of female speakers at the conference, albeit via the back door.

I need to think about it some more.

These recent incidents make me realize how unusual it is for two scientists to work as a team of equal collaborators. Perhaps in part because of this, when others think of our work, it may be instinctive to think of only one person as being the 'lead' investigator. To my knowledge, it has never happened that my colleague is the one overlooked, but I don't wish for that to happen. What I do wish for is that the results of our long-term, successful scientific collaboration will seep into the collective consciousness of people in our field to the extent that it will be unthinkable to choose one name over the other when discussing our work.


Anonymous said...

I think the tag team is a very good idea. It's an equal collaboration and this is good opportunity to highlight that. Conveners invite speakers based on the interest in/relevance of/importance of the work so if the work is equally shared between you, I think you both should speak.

Isn't it great to have wonderful collaborators? It makes doing the science such a joy!

Jamy said...

I'd accept his invitation to do part of the talk but have him clear it with the conference organizers first. If he's the only one talking, people will for sure credit him with the work.

Anonymous said...

I was at a meeting last year where there was a tag team talk, the first one I'd seen. It worked really well because each speaker covered the part of the research where they were the expert - and both were there to answer the relevant questions.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like he could be aware of the tendency of people to associate him with the research and wants to make sure that the credit is shared equally.

Take him up on it.

Anonymous said...

I think you should go with the tag team. I saw a tag team presentation earlier this year and it was great, especially when it came to questions. Having each person up there allowed each to address questions on their aspect of the work. Plus there's the obvious benefit that each person gets credit in the minds of the audience.

Anonymous said...

I would just ask (or tell) the conference organizers what you are going to do, and let them know that both you and the other speaker have agreed to do it this way.

Drugmonkey said...

ditto jamy. it is unfortunate but true that our little brains like to take the easy way out and select one person as our mental label for a given body of work. when you have a chance to move perceptions in the more accurate direction (as with your female-blind conferee example) you should make the most of it. think PR exercise if necessary.

Jess said...

I also agree with the idea that both of you do it.

Why do you think it is that HE has been getting the recognition? Do they think the male half of your team does all the work and you do nothing? You deserve recognition for your efforts!!

Good luck!

James Annan said...

I get a lot of this with jules (my wife and frequent collaborator). However, you should at least consider the possibility that your colleague also feels that he gets slightly less recognition than he deserves :-)

Do the tag-team thing, but do it well with coordinated talks and a smooth handover (pref compiled into one slideshow, especially if time is limited). But I doubt I needed to tell you that..

Anonymous said...

tag-team is ok, but sometimes ends up looking a little bit goofy. what jamy says above is untrue. there are _always_ more conferences, and usually the best solution is to make sure that _you_ are the one talking at the _next_ conference, and that things even out appropriately and properly as t -> infinity. as someone who spends his life in collaborations, I know this issue in and out. as mies van der rohe said (approximately): "Build the building, don't worry about the talk." usually ... things do tend to even out in the end in modern science, the larger issue most of the time is getting the work done and keeping good relations. and relax about it. you have tenure, for one thing. you _will_ build up _major_ karma points in your field if you stay chill about these things, trust me.

Anonymous said...

yes, tag team! and make sure to tell the conference organizers also to change the entry on the conference web page or program to show both invited speakers - I think your colleague should do that, since he was the originally invited one. If you tag team as a surprise without the official announcement it might look more like tag along than tag team.

Anonymous said...

If you don't do the tag team, a good alternative would be to have him title his talk something like "On XYZ (joint with FSP)". I've seen that at mathematics conferences, and I like it.

Anonymous said...

I've seen one really bad tag-team experience, that I think was motivated by a desire of one collaborator to give credit to the other (the man to the woman). This particular collaborating team were married, though, which adds to the mix of discomfort. But, I've since learned that they are truly collaborators with different expertise; when I watched the presentation, it looked a lot like how it would look if my husband presented work in his field, and I interrupted periodically to inject my opinion (i.e. really bad, for both of us).

I think you should only accept the tag team idea if it means that you break up the talk into two parts, and one of you follows the other, and if that fits naturally from your different expertise and the length of time required to explain each part. Some topics break down this way, others don't. I doubt if you'll interrupt your collaborator periodically, but it's easy to fall into what the two speakers think is a friendly conversation with each other, but is disruptive to the audience.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree that something about tag-team talks seems a little goofy to me. I've never seen one, and I don't doubt that it's possible to give a really good one, but I just think there's a greater risk of looking goofy. There is also the risk of looking desperate for every ounce of exposure you can get.

Anonymous said...

I was saw a tag team presentation at a Gordon conference. The invited speaker was the chair of a department, but because the work was a collaboration with a junior PI that he wanted to make sure was recognized, the sr PI invited the jr PI to present with him. It went well, however some of the more senior investigators continued to recognize only the senior PI anyway.

Anonymous said...

Do it, convention be damned. It is subtle sexism that you aren't getting recognized, the organizers may not recognize it in themselves and you can help everyone by grabbing the issue with both hands and standing up for yourself. Courage, and don't listen to the wobbly namby-pambies - rock their world!

alpinekat said...

I can see why some people are saying wait 'til the next conference and make sure that you get to talk. Tag-teams can be awkward or highly effective.

On the other hand, you said that there's only one woman set to speak at this conference? As a female physics student, it was inspiring for me to see female researchers speaking at the DNP conference last year. It's nice to have role models.

Zuska said...

Your collaborator should contact the conference committee and explain that the work is truly collaborative and thus it makes sense for both of you to present, and insist on a joint presentation - AND insist on your name in the program. Tag-teaming without your name in the program is not as good. This is a case where your research partner needs to step up to the plate and take an active role to combat subtle sexism - even if that sexism was unconscious and unintentional in this instance, it is still having a real effect. He's already gone the first step - now he needs to go the rest of the way.

Ms.PhD said...

yes, assuming the talk is more like, an hour, and less like, ten minutes, then I'm in favor of tag-team talks.

I'm always impressed by them, since splitting the talk in half and having a smooth hand-off is great for a variety of reasons.

Also, doubling the number of female speakers at the meeting is key, no matter how you do it.

I'm with pa, though, you should tell the organizers so they can put you on the schedule as co-speaker.

Granted... on some level I have to wonder why your collaborator didn't talk to the organizers immediately and say, hey, it's nice of you to invite me to speak but since it's collaborative work you should really invite us both??

Anyway glad he figured out how to share some of the glory, if a little bit belatedly.

... and now that I've read to the bottom of the comments, I see that Zuska basically already said that.

Yeah, I'm with her. Sure, you can say there's always another meeting, but on the other hand, your plane could crash on the way there. Seize the moment to set a good example for how collaborations, and science, should be done.