Peer Co-authoring: My Case for Academic Collaboration

“Publish or perish” is a common expression in academia.  PhD holders must achieve the required number of publications between the time of appointment to a tenure-track position and turning in the dossier to the Promotion and Tenure committee or risk restarting a grueling job search.  The stress that this pressure to publish induces has brought many a professor to the verge (or beyond) of a nervous breakdown.  While one’s service and teaching are valued, it is the research component that most often proves the most daunting.  Young assistant professors employ a number of techniques to reach the required number of publications: disassembling their dissertations into publishable articles, reworking papers from graduate school, or the old-fashioned start-from-scratch approach.  While I have not yet been granted tenure, a strategy that I have used to publish is to work with a co-author, specifically a peer.  The idea of co-authoring in academia is not a new idea, but is primarily employed in the sciences.  It is common for papers in science and engineering journals to have multiple authors; many times these authors are graduate students who give a co-author credit to their mentoring professor.  Co-authoring is less common in the humanities and might be seen as less prestigious than solo-authored works by some.  I have found that working with a co-author has been both fruitful and even enjoyable.

I work for a teaching university with publication requirements that are considerably less than those of my peers who work for research universities.  I am, however, required to publish to be granted tenure and promotion.  I decided early on in my tenure timeline to reach out to my friend from graduate school who is also a recent hire at a similar university in a different region of the U.S.  The benefits of this peer co-authoring have so far been numerous.  First, we can divide responsibilities that cater to our strengths.  She enjoys writing literature reviews, while I am better at introductions and conclusions.  We are able to work on portions separately, then revise and edit each other’s work so that our voices are evident in all sections.  Also, since my co-author is primarily a French professor and I teach Spanish, we are able to pool our student data and present a bigger picture of Second Language Acquisition.  Her students, from a suburb of a large Midwestern city, also present an interesting culture variable from my small-town Louisiana students.  Since my co-author is a friend, we find ourselves brainstorming topics over coffee (or cocktails) and our informal discussions often lead to published papers.  This way, the seemingly overwhelming obstacle of publishing turns into an enjoyable task.

Since collegiality is such an important part of being an effective professor, co-authoring shows that the authors are able to work together harmoniously. Co-authoring requires much negotiation, from dividing the labor to deciding who receives top billing (assuming the neutral alphabetical order is not employed).  A co-authored paper that comes to fruition is proof that the authors worked well together.  Working with a co-author also holds me accountable and motivates me to stick to our mutually agreed upon deadlines.  An unexpected result of co-authoring is that our research has inspired me to pursue solo projects that I probably would not have if I had not shared ideas with my peer.  What began as an “easy out” for publications has awakened a genuine interest in research that I did not have before.

There are certainly possible downsides to co-authoring:  potentially less prestige/academic impact of a paper with multiple authors, long waits between drafts, and possible disagreements over content or theory.  Despite these possible setbacks, it has been my experience that the benefits of co-authoring greatly outweigh the downsides.  Co-authoring academic papers should not be reserved for young professors.  Rather, graduate students and faculty of all ranks might incorporate it into their publication repertoire to reap the aforementioned benefits.  Now that I have been introduced to the world of academic journal publication with a friend, I feel more assured in submitting my own, solo works.  I am confident that I will continue to collaborate with a co-author or co-authors throughout my career as I have learned that there are substantial benefits to this type of collaboration.

Bryant Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Languages and Literature at Nicholls State University.


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