Cultural differences in subdisciplines

What PhysioProffe said about not letting students be corresponding or  communicating  authors, as well as Drug Monkey’s post about authorship a few weeks back made me think that some of these differences are driven by the style of research amongst the sub-disciplines. It’s not just a clinical science/basic science distinction (and I’m not even going to get into the atrocities that are clinical phd’s). It’s more correlated with the culture of research. In disciplines that have lots of field work (such as ecology, paleontology, even some kinds of anthropology or astronomy), or fields where there can be a large theoretical component (some parts of Biomed Engineering or population genetics or math or some parts of physics), students do their own projects and produce single authored papers.  These projects don’t need a large lab with lots of supplies to make the research feasible, and there are still lots of little funds to buy plane tickets to exotic places. The expectations for graduation (at least in the biological ones above) are 3-5 single or first authored papers. Because those folks tend to have to sing for their supper (i.e., TA), even now, they can come out of grad school and walk successfully into a faculty job.

I draw both kinds of trainees into my lab (as post-docs or PhD students). Although there is large within group  variation, it is clear that some portion can be ascribed to this background, especially concerning expectations with respect to group interaction and mentor involvement. Because the selection gradient may be steeper for the independent folks, they tend to survive better when thrown into the big bad world of faculty responsibilities. That is, the one who survive to get a degree have had to learn how to run a project on their own. They’ve already had to be successful at getting funded. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that need to be learned, not the least of which is how to play with others.

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13 responses to “Cultural differences in subdisciplines

  1. The difficulty with trainees as authors is that there is no permanence to their position. Let alone to their career in academia. When people read a paper and want to contact the author, it’s better to have author that they will be able to find.

  2. In most papers I read, there is an asterisk beside the ‘author to contact for correspondence’, and it isn’t always the first author (in those journals that don’t do it alphabetically, as well as those that do where first author is irrelevant anyway).

  3. you got a point there, isis, and institutions closing down trainees’ email account almost instantly doesn’t help either. but using a bit more than a minute for searching for the email address of any of the co-authors (i’m not always as lazy as tonight) usually works.
    everybody, no matter how far down or up the ranks should be able to contact the editor. they might need a bit of guidance at first, but if they’re first author, it’s part of the job.

  4. It’s always odd to me how confidently people make assertions about “how things work”. I assume they are right about their sub-discipline but I can tell you they are absolutely wrong about my sub-field. It’s fine that the fields work differently but the amazing level of arrogance that however a particular sub-field works is ‘correct’ for other fields is not only annoying but corrosive. I shouldn’t be surprised given that drug monkey also declared that NSF was for ‘amateur’ scientists but honestly all I can say is I’m glad he’s not my colleague. And the idea that people couldn’t find an author if they aren’t listed as the corresponding author – while the people in my field have figured out that whole google thing.

  5. Mmmm-hmmm. I can see where every word on that post of mine ol’ Potty linked to was offensive, Mac. My bad.

  6. Potnia Theron

    potty? potty? wtf. We’re not good enough friends for you to use a diminutive.

  7. POTTY! POTTY! hahahahahahah!

  8. Thanks DrugMonkey – I appreciate that and I’m sure others do too.

  9. Hey, I’d think that someone named PEE-PEE would welcome a playpal named Potty.

  10. Huh. Half the comments that were here yesterday are gone today. None seemed offensive. What gives?

  11. None missing that I noticed. Feel free to fill in whatever blanks you want.

  12. This blogge suckes asse without copy-pasting a bunche of shitte offe the Internet, like fucken shoes or Youtubes.

  13. Seems that we are inundated with negative shit (shitte–really?) all day in this science game we play without having to read this crap (as exemplifed in the comments above). In general I have felt this blog to be insightful and fun to read, up until recently. Now it seems to be filled with childish negative bullshit. Too bad, it was a nice daily diversion.

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