If you've been following my twitter account (@profgears), undoubtedly you've seen a flurry of tweets about student expectations, terrible advisors, and politics of publishing. This stemmed from GMP's post the other day over at Academic Jungle and DrugMonkey's post on the subject clearly in GMP's camp. DrugMonkey's post heading The Care and Feeding of your PI: a tip for grad students and postdocs should tell you all you need to know about their position on the matter.
I clearly disagree.
As a grad student, you're not there to serve a professor at their beck and call. As a professor, you're not there to wipe the nose of your students. Both should have expectations and duties that are clearly laid out. I've already discussed this a few weeks ago. The professor (or PI, or whatever you want to call them) is supposed to be the student's professional mentor. The prof is supposed to be the student's guidem helping transition from a student to being a autonomous researcher.
This clearly breaks down when there is a lack of communication between both parties. For instance, the prof expects the student to publish as many papers as they can before graduation. But you'd be surprised how many students don't know that and how many profs don't tell their students that. So you have a prof that's expecting paper drafts and a student wondering what to do with their data. The student tries to schedule meetings but the prof has little time to discuss it. Months go by. Still no paper. There is increasing frustration on both sides.
Inevitably, a downward spiral happens and things turn to shit. The prof did a bad job of mentoring their student, yet from the prof's perspective, their student is a slacker. The prof thinks their student isn't working enough and so the student gets even less time than the minuscule amount the prof already gives them. The student gets frustrated because their mentor and career guide doesn't respond back to them and now the student starts worrying about graduation deadlines and whether they are even going to get a recommendation.
At this point, both are in the wrong because they didn't communicate with each other. But the professor is always in the power position and it should never be abused. And it sure sounds like some Profs/PIs do abuse that power by holding graduation and recommendations over their students' heads. Those are the same Profs/PIs that are supposed to be mentoring their students. That's a terrible situation to be in if you're the student because the one person you're supposed to go to for advice is giving you shitty advice and guidance. In the odd chance that student makes it to the next level, how likely is it for them to mimic their advisor's behavior? I say that's highly likely and I sure as hell don't want to be that kind of prof.
On the topic of publishing and who gets coauthorship, it's very hard to describe in 140 characters. My general feeling is this. Anyone who contributed to the writing, data gathering, interpretation, and oversight should be a coauthor. However, everyone one of those people should be capable of writing a significant chunk of the article. That doesn't mean only the person who wrote the article should be the sole author.
Here's how you test it. Ask each person if they could write the draft. If someone says they could probably get 60% of is done, that's fine (that's a significant chunk). If they said 10%, they don't belong as a coauthor. That's what the acknowledgements section is for.
In practice, most groups aren't that strict because everyone needs more papers to be considered successful. But if I adhered strictly to that, I'd be missing my prof on every paper. And for me, when I'm in that same situation, I want to be involved enough to always pass that test. Otherwise, I would and should expect my student to submit it without my name on it because I haven't contributed enough. But if it comes to that point, then there's obviously something else going on in our advisee-advisor relationship and there's a bigger problem at hand than coauthorship on a paper.