Wednesday, January 21, 2009

credit for what?

My advisor runs a decent-sized research program. He seems to know practically everybody, since he’s been in the field forever and he’s a champion networker. He takes every advantage to talk up what he’s (we’re) doing. If it involves exotic/warm locales, so much the better.

Several years ago, he was discussing his research with some other academics, one of whom was an expert in a particular method. We’ll call her Professor X. This method is pretty standard and is one of several that could be used in (what turned out to be) my research topic.

Fast-forward to a couple years ago, when I was starting to develop my thesis. My advisor and I batted around ideas for what my work would involve, and I did an extensive literature search. Based on the literature and discussions with the folks funding the research, I decided to use the common method that Professor X had happened to discuss with my advisor ages ago. You can probably guess where this is going.

Some of my work was presented/published, and Professor X found out. She demanded to be given some sort of credit for the work, since she’d had a discussion with my professor about using this method on one of his research interests. Did she think up the method? No, although her group would be on my list of the top research teams that used it.

My advisor had talked to all sorts of people over the past decade about his research, and I’m quite sure any number of those people had discussed using the same method. Did this random conversation between my advisor and Professor X lead to my work? Who knows – my advisor certainly didn’t remember the specifics of the conversation.

But hey, if she wants to be acknowledged for talking to my advisor at some point in the past decade about something that was used in my project, that’s fine by me. It would have been silly to try and quantify, so Professor X got added to the list of random “additional acknowledgements”.

Is this common? Does having your name in some sort of acknowledgement section have any career or other benefit if you’re an academic? It’s not like she’s listed as an author or that she’d get any sort of royalties. I’m chalking this up to a certain academic vanity, but maybe I’m missing something.

1 comment:

Silver Fox said...

This does seem a little excessive somehow, unless the conversation in question was quite a bit more involved than it sounds like!