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.
12 years ago