Building your Publication List Part 2: the (gendered) juggle?

In my last post, I wrote about co-authoring. I want to continue thinking on this topic by talking about something we hear about less often: how co-authorship tends to be a gendered phenomenon.


You may recall that in my last post I shared with you the story of a male client who was co-authoring excessively to avoid:

  1. the isolation of writing
  2. the boredom and routine of finishing writing
  3. feeling inadequate about his own ideas


These features of writing arise for all of us whether we recognise it or not.

Female academics in particular, however, tend to have two other reasons that they co-author. Let’s look at them in turn:


They struggle to say ‘no’

As an academic, you’ll have expertise that others want to tap into. When asked to contribute to a paper because of that expertise, female academics are more likely to struggle to say ‘no’ (in order to, say, spend time writing their own sole-authored paper on the current research agenda they’re  working on at present).

Repeated often enough, this behaviour results in publishing in areas that are not relevant to her own research program or career. In other words, a female academic can end up with a publication list which has lots of co-authored papers on a range of different topics, and which is not at all coherent. It then becomes difficult to convince a selection or assessment panel (say, for promotion purposes, or applying for a Fellowship grant) that this academic is an expert in a certain field. Why? Because her ‘field’ – judging by the publication list – is incredibly unclear.


They overestimate others’ contributions, or see co-authorship as a way to build relationships

In almost all cases, academic research is not an entirely locked-away-in-an-ivory-tower-all-on-your-own activity. There is inevitably interaction with, and assistance from, other people. How one arrives at the decision of sole vs joint authorship, or even author order, differs from discipline to discipline, and there are cultural norms about how this operates.

However, there are additional factors that I want to touch on here that can influence the authorship patterns in one’s track record, particularly among female academics.  Such factors include seeing co-authorship as a component of relationship building, or overestimating others’ contributions, or assuming that co-authorship is the most appropriate acknowledgment for any level of help.


So…what to do?

I’m not about to propose any right or single solution to these patterns.  We juggle, and ultimately reconcile, these tensions in our own way, but need to bring greater awareness to the fact that they interfere with building an academic track record.

So, the particular point I want to impress upon you, particularly female readers, is that if the research has been designed by you, conducted by you, the data analysed by you (even with considerable technical support from another person), and the paper largely written by you (again, albeit with assistance in the editing, or the shaping of the paper), then there would seem to be a prima facie case for sole authorship.


Is this something to consider more deeply in your own publishing circumstances?

Comment below and share your experiences, thoughts, and struggles. I’d love to hear from you and think through these tensions together.

Leave a Comment