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Authorship & Technicians

How can the contribution of technical staff be recognised in academic papers?

The reputation of our University stems from the internationally excellent research work done here. Indeed the university wants to ensure it delivers the highest quality outputs. These research outputs are often manifested in publications. In many instances technical staff make a notable contribution to the research work, so how is the contribution of technical staff being recognised in academic papers? Here are some stories from some of our technicians:

Morag Taylor (Reference 1) has been included in the authorship of papers and is a Pathology and Tumour Biology research technician. We ask her impressions of getting published:

What was the process of you being included in the list of authors?

“As a technician, I am involved in different projects within the lab. Quite often I will work a new project or technology up. When it comes to publish work related to this, it is common practise to include everyone involved in the work where possible. As well as publications, we are also included in conference papers if work we have contributed to is being presented. If we have been the main contributor to work, we can also submit this to conferences and if appropriate, to journals as well.”

What advice would you give to research technicians who would like to be named authors on papers?

“Don’t be afraid to ask to be included. If you have contributed to work, you also deserve to be included. If it is not appropriate to include you in author list, you can be included in the acknowledgments section. If you have been the main contributor to work, ask if you can write a paper about it. If you want to develop your career to post-doctoral level in the future, this will help you in the long run. You can also ask to write conference papers as well.”

Have you any other comments about research technicians and academic papers?

“Being included as an author is important for technicians to demonstrate their abilities to potential new employers. You will not be expected to be a first author on a paper, but this isn’t to say you can’t be. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you wish to be included, or would like to write a paper on your work.”

Another research technician at St James’s University Hospital, Sarah Perry (Reference 2), has an impressive listing of authorships (50 papers and 10 conference proceedings) stretching back to 1990. Inclusion as author, as with Morag earlier, seems to reflect the Principal investigator’s appreciation of Sarah’s research contribution, as well as an intent to ‘give credit where it is due’. There have also been ‘acknowledgements’ in papers as Sarah says, “where my input had been advisory only.” So being included in the ‘acknowledgements’ section of a paper is another important way for technical staff to have their involvement in the research recognised.

Sarah feels it “may have helped by often being part of a smallish team where PhD students have often been medics and required more technical support than if it were a group of pure scientists.” To increase her ability in this area Sarah also attended presentation courses and scientific writing courses offered by SDDU at the University.

Sarah adds “I think general enthusiasm and really honing technical skills and gaining as much knowledge and experience in your field helps carve out a reputation as having these skills and people often seek you out to support the research from other groups. Networking is a good way of getting your skills known. Perhaps looking after a key piece of equipment and becoming responsible for its maintenance, training etc. will also allow you to meet others users from other groups and you never know where this may lead in terms of future research and publications.”

Publishing research in peer reviewed journals is a priority of our university. The last Research Excellence Framework exercise valued these kind of research ‘outputs’ most highly (Reference 3). In turn, this converts to a higher institutional score and greater levels of future funding.

Technicians have an invaluable role to play in research projects. In varying degrees they; help design research methodologies, set up and carry out experimentation, ensure the rigour and accuracy of the research findings, set up and maintain research equipment, contrive any number of one-off ‘solutions’ to overcome challenges during a research project, and bring professionalism and energy to the research.

More and more research technicians are being credited for the contribution they have made to the research itself, by being named amongst the list of authors on academic papers. However, it’s also interesting to note that different disciplines assign differing importance to the inclusion of and order of authors on academic papers (Reference 4).

The intriguing relationship between the technicians who undertook key research experimentation and the scientists who achieved ground-breaking discoveries in the past is discussed in an interesting paper by Steven Shapin (1989) (Reference 5).

Columbia University (Reference 6) recommends the conversation about credit and authorship should be ‘front and centre’ of any new technician appointment:

“When a graduate student first comes to a laboratory, or a postdoctoral fellow or technician interviews for a job, or colleagues collaborate in a multidisciplinary project, a discussion about the practice of credit and authorship for research work should occur as soon as possible. Each party should have an understanding of what kind of work merits authorship, with the knowledge that, as the research project progresses, who is an author and the position of a name in a list of authors may change. Each party should also have an understanding of who among many authors will have primary responsibility for the writing, submission, and editing work required for a paper.”

In practice the Principal Investigator on a research project can naturally include the technicians involved when writing an academic paper, as was the case for Ailsa Rose (Reference 7) at St James’s University Hospital. Ailsa has been included as author on 9 academic papers and 1 conference paper. Her experience is that her intellectual and technical contributions have been highly valued and her advice is to speak with the Principal Investigator about plans for papers. “The principle author and PI have always included me on papers where I have made experimental contributions. I did not have to ask to be put on.” Thus, the two main ways to be recognised is by having an interest in and ability to contribute to the writing of the academic paper. To facilitate this involvement there needs to be an academic willingness for the technical staff to engage in the writing process.

Of course, inclusion in academic papers must reflect the contribution of those involved. Authorship is only an option if the individual concerned has made a significant and fundamental contribution to the research and the writing of the paper itself. There are various existing benchmarks which should be conformed to in this respect. For example, in biomedical research the Vancouver Protocol outlines “recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals ("The uniform requirements") as issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). (Reference 8)

Under the Vancouver Protocol to become eligible to be credited as an author…each and every author on a publication needs to have been involved in all three of the following:

1. Conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data.
2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content.
3. Final approval of the version to be published.

In conclusion, there are many interesting opportunities for research teams to explore in relation to the inclusion of technicians as authors, or within the acknowledgements section of academic papers. Where the technical staff member contribution has been integral to the success of the project, and resulting paper from concept to final approval, there is ample scope for these matters being discussed.

Written by Marcus Hill

1. Morag Taylor
2. Sarah Perry
3. REF Outputs – “‘Outputs’ are the product of any form of research, published between January 2008 and December 2013. They include publications such as journal articles, monographs and chapters in books, as well as outputs disseminated in other ways such as designs, performances and exhibitions.”
Source: Brief Guide 2014.pdf
4. Tscharntke, T. , Hochberg, M.E., Rand, T. A., Resh, V.H., Kraus., J. (2007) Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications
5. Shapin, S. (1989) The Invisible Technician, American Scientist Vol 77, Issue: November-December (p554-563.)
6. “Responsible authorship and peer review” – Columbia University (2003-2004)
7. Ailsa Rose Research Gate page:
8. Vancouver Protocol
9. University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Centre for Development Research Authorship Guidelines)
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