I want out of a toxic relationship with a research team. How do I do it?
January 15, 2013 5:55 PM Subscribe
Hello fellow academics. I have a situation, that I am sure you're familiar with: I want out of a research team that has been, rather pitifully, working toward a publication for the last 2 years, the end result of which is a majestic, incoherent piece of garbage that has already been rejected by various top conferences and journals. I want out but the problem is that I've done most of the work as second author and I'd rather not see my hard work be attributed to the first author on the manuscript should it somehow get published. What is the best solution in this case?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Two or so years ago I agreed to work with a research team consisting of a new assistant professor (tenure track) and a few other professors. My role, from what I was lead to believe (although admittedly these roles were never clearly defined as they should have been), was to be the primary methodologist and analyst on a study that had already been presented a few time before in various forms at small conferences and as book chapters. After reading the previous studies and looking over the data myself it was obvious to me that this team was trying to milk this data set for all it was worth, despite the fact that their previous attempts to use it for something theoretically interesting and novel fell flat. It also became apparent to me after a few meetings that the team expected me, for whatever reason, to come up with NEW research questions/hypotheses that could be applied to the data...yes, no literature reviews had ever been conducted until AFTER the data was analyzed. Yeesh. It was a case of "here is some neat data we found, what can we do with it?" I realize I should have said "I'm out" then and there because I really detest that approach to research. Instead, I suggested that the first author conduct a literature review based around the data before I wasted my time analyzing it. That never really happened.
Fast forward after a year of passive aggressive heel-dragging on my part and pressure on the first author's part and I ended up conducting the bulk of the literature review, chose a suitable theoretical framework, formed some decent research questions, and conducted the appropriate analyses. However, because I refused to basically write the entire manuscript by myself and because the first author never REALLY took the time to learn anything about the theoretical framework of the study, the manuscript is now an incoherent mess. The first author decided to add extra theories, extra research questions, extra analyses, and essentially a load of nonsense to the literature review that has absolutely nothing to do with what I originally set out do to (which is more than I should have been asked to do in the first place). We submitted it to a few conferences and top journals against my advice (as none were appropriate fits) only to be rejected. I thought that would be the end of it, but no. First author's tenure review is coming up this year and he/she has been hounding the team (and specifically me) to get this published in a top journal, which I consider to be a pipe dream. Even if it was trimmed and polished it wouldn't be top journal material. I have no idea what the first author has published in the time he/she has been at my university, but I haven't been able to find anything peer-reviewed in the searches I have conducted, which means he/she is probably doing one last, desperate push before his/her tenure review. In fact, the entire time I was made very aware that we should all be helping out said first author get tenure, as if he/she was incapable of doing it himself/herself.
My perception of the ordeal:
Needless to say I've felt fairly used throughout the whole ordeal and I more than likely let myself be used out of some weird sense of pride as a problem solver. The first author has barely done a lick of work on a manuscript that he/she wants to be essentially the shining piece of his/her tenure portfolio. It won't ever be published in a top journal, and I am fairly sick of being nudged to help him/her out when he/she obviously doesn't have the skill to get anything published independently. I feel as though I have done more than my fair share of the work in trying to make this piece of poop into a cupcake. The problem is the work I contributed to the manuscript has SOME merit, even though I would have NEVER gone about a study the way this team did if I were flying solo. I presented my portion as a separate paper at a conference and received nothing but positive feedback, so I know for a fact that it could be published somewhere reputable. I'd rather not have what I consider to be my novel, new concept to be attributed to the first author. Essentially, I refuse to earn tenure for someone else. He/she is obviously incompetent and don't deserve to work at a research university, but unfortunately that is not for me to decide.
So my question is: How do out get out of this sort of toxic relationship without forfeiting my work to someone who doesn't deserve the credit? How does one even go about initiating such a break up?
TLDR: I did the bulk of the work on a manuscript (including the literature review, methods, and analyses) but I am only the second author. The first author has done squat except turn the manuscript into a coherent pile of crap. I feel used in what seems like a push for me to write the first author's way into tenure. I'd love to say "I'm out" but the work I contributed to the manuscript has merit and I don't want that to be attributed to the first author should it ever get published. How can I get out of this arrangement and keep the intellectual rights to my portion of the manuscript for future publications?