Academic Authorship

I don’t know where this come from, but Yuhong seems upset:

A professorship is not only a position to do research, but also a resource to exploit the other’s work by acquiring the authorship.

She’s right, of course. If you seek fame and fortune through a professorship, you have to become an “academic entrepreneur” where you seek to employ people (read: students) at the lowest possible wage (what she describes as “slave labor”) so that they do the kind of research that can sustain large research grants.

Last year, I chatted with some graduate students and I realized that students actually enjoy working for such professors, and not only for the money, but also because they feel they are getting better training than with a lone crazy professor. Let’s face it: the factory model has something conforting even for the students. Working with a lone crazy professor means you won’t have fixed deadlines nor any fixed research subjects.

I simply think that a professorship is a very open ended career. There are many models, and some of them are hard to compare. I believe this derives from “academic freedom”. In practice, as long as you can find a significant number of peers to vouch for the quality of your work, no matter how you achieve it, then you are ok.

However, there are routes more rewarding or rewarded than others. Some research topics are better funded than others: Ben Laden detectors are better funded than graph theory theorems. And why not? I think it is healthy.

As long as professors not working on Ben Laden detectors, professors getting small grants, and professors having few students, still keep their jobs and don’t get insulted publicly, then we are ok and academic freedom is safe.

Update: I got too many insults by email. Ok, I didn’t mean the government should be funding Ben Laden detectors, only that it is ok for some subjects to be funded better than others.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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