Who writes the papers?

Writing my first paper as a grad student was quite an ordeal. Even though I had written research reports for both my rotations as a master’s student, I struggled finding the right tone and get to the point. And I was very eager to get it submitted, because my PI only allowed me to go to my first SfN when my manuscript was submitted. So I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I harassed my advisor to read it, but in turn was pretty disappointed by the amount of red ink on my manuscript when I got it back. I remember being sad that the final version of the manuscript probably only had about 5 of my original words in it. 
Writing this first paper was kind of a rite of passage and writing all the subsequent papers seemed like a breeze compared to the pain of getting that first manuscript ready. So I’m always surprised when I hear people tell that their advisors write their papers for them. Sometimes it makes sense that this happens: I’ve seen situations where grad students weren’t staying in academia and didn’t really care if their stuff got published or not. In that case I can imagine that an advisor will write the manuscript and submit the paper. But is also happens to grad students AND post-docs who want to learn how to write a paper. I’ve heard several stories of post-docs who were either told by their advisor that he read their draft but decided to re-write the whole thing himself or who were told not to even bother writing a first draft, because the advisor would take care of it. I can kind of understand this from the advisor’s point of view: that you don’t want to go through a couple rounds of writing and editing with someone who doesn’t write as good as you. But as a grad student and as a post-doc you also need to learn how to write a paper (or a grant proposal for that matter), so in my opinion it is just very bad mentoring if you don’t allow people to write their papers.


Filed under life in the lab, publishing papers, science, writing

5 responses to “Who writes the papers?

  1. I was shocked when I found out some grad students didn't write their own papers. Some of them have moved onto post-docs now. They're getting the short end of the stick in terms of training in my opinion. It might sound like a sweet deal now…but what about when they end up writing a manuscript during their post doc and it's their first time. And what if they are horrible at it? In the eyes of their post-doc advisor, won't that reflect badly on them as well as their PhD advisor?

  2. Yes I totally agree. And what if you happen to have both a PhD and a post-doc advisor who writes your papers for you? Then you find yourself in a faculty position without ever having written a paper… And by that time I guess there's no one to write papers for you.

  3. Drugmonkey

    The ability to get that shit DONE is a key trait of scientists. PIs have only so much patience with slooooooow ass trainees. Yes, you need to extend them the training. But if trainees spend their time online whining about who “lets” them write rather than putting a significantly changed draft, consistent with the PI's comments back on te desk….

  4. I agree with you that as a trainee it is your own responsibility to get stuff written. But here I was talking about PIs who don't allow trainees to write anything or who just dismiss whatever the trainees come up with. I have multiple examples around me of people who want to learn to write papers but have PIs who decide to do all the writing themselves.

  5. Pingback: Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part II | InBabyAttachMode

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