My thoughts on the new co-authorship limits for this year’s SEAC…

So, like any grad student, I have managed to find myself with several irons in the fire. This year, when the dust settled after the SEAC submission deadline I realized I was…

-Fourth author on a paper involving some of my thesis data

-Third author on a paper with some ongoing research with several other grad students.

– First author on a co-authored paper that is related to my dissertation research.

– Co-organizing a symposium with another graduate student in honor of a retiring archaeologist who means a lot to the both of us.

Now, the point of this is not to say, “Hey, look at everything I’m doing.” Instead, I’d like to say there are a lot of graduate students like me, and we happen to find ourselves involved in a lot of different projects. I’m not a rarity. I’m the norm. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, in the 21st century, every beginning grad student is read the riot act by their profs as soon as they start in a program. I image just about everywhere it’s something like, “If you want a job, you better go after <insert list of grants> and publish as much as <insert name of rock star recent graduate who recently landed a tenure track job> if you want to make it as an academic these days…”

At Arizona, that person is Todd Surovell. His term papers for Vance Haynes’s Paleoindian class and Steve Kuhn’s Hunter-Gatherer seminar were both published in Current Anthropology.

I’ll be honest. That still freaks me out, and it’s a nice reminder not to rest on my meager laurels. There is always more that can be done. I know a lot of other grad student who have a similar person in mind, and use that as motivation to roll up their sleeves and keep pouring it on.

The second reason why a lot of us find ourselves on a bunch of papers is because we’re really connected to each other through the social networking universe. As a result, my generation shares a lot of ideas, and as a whole we just get along. Why write two competing papers when you can co-author? Most of my research so far has been in Paleoindian archaeology, where sunshine fades, butterflies die, and angels fear to tread. However, several of the older generation who bear the scars of the Clovis vs. Pre-Clovis war marvel at how my generation can agree to disagree, and how we’re all friends even when our advisors clearly aren’t.

I always respond by saying, “Because of the combination of Facebook and going to conferences, we’re not simply faceless names at some other university. No one wants to be the person at the bar alone because he/she ticked everyone else off by being a jerk.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine as a teenager. I think the pot should be stirred from time to time. In fact, it’s probably a good thing that we don’t hold hands around a campfire singing kumbaya, because those disagreements end up becoming really good conversations. Those conversations then become the fodder for new ideas. Those new ideas then become abstracts that are submitted to SEAC. And then the wheels of feedback, manuscript prep, and peer-review begin churning.

In fact, that was kind of the point of point of this entire blog. It began as a not sober conversation about theory one night at SEAC between Matt Sanger and myself.

This thought brings me back to this year’s SEAC. I recently received an email from the organizers saying that I’m on too many papers, and I have to withdraw my name from one.

So, which one do I pick? The one using my thesis data that I poured my heart and soul into? The one with my fellow grad students where we’re pulling together a really cool story I’m pretty excited about? Maybe the one where I’m the first author and just be lazy and use the new rule as an excuse to avoid public speaking? How do I tell which friend that their particular iron isn’t as important as the others? How am I supposed to feel when my co-author tells me that?

More importantly…why is this rule even in place? Shouldn’t we be collaborating with each other? And frankly, as a grad student, aren’t we told to network, get our research out, and work with others?

So, I find myself wondering, am I a frustrated, uppity CV padder that needs to find a hobby?

Maybe you think so. That’s fine.

Instead, the voice in the back of my head is telling me that I really like what I study.  I really like working with my fellow graduate students. I don’t mind be the 2nd or 8th author, because just getting a chance to work with people who like the stuff I like is a lot of fun. Why does it matter if I’m on three or thirteen papers if I only have a lead author time slot on one? Is it about printing the program? Is it worth limiting collaboration to save paper in the era of pdfs, Ipads, and smart phones?

Maybe I’m just living a pipedream. Maybe we should just go all the way and tell everyone they can submit just one single authored abstract. It might make the program smaller, but I’m not sure that I would make the trip from Tucson to see that kind of show.


12 comments on “My thoughts on the new co-authorship limits for this year’s SEAC…

  1. Ginessa says:

    Well said Shane. This would not be an issue in any other field where multiple authors are the norm. It seems as if there is an anti collaboration bent to this whole thing. I might also point out the section where it is encouraged to shorten your presentation to 10 minuets if you are invited to a symposium. I don’t know if I am entirely sure what is going on here, but I know I don’t like it.

  2. Zack Gilmore says:

    Hey Shane, I am right there with you on this. I can’t figure out what the logic is behind these kinds of limits. Since all of the papers will be presented whether you’re listed as a co-author or not, it can’t possibly be a space issue. This is something that should be reevaluated for future meetings.

  3. Shane says:

    I realize that organizing a conference must be a ton of work. I’ve never done it, and I honestly almost didn’t post this because of that.

    However, I’m just confused as to why the conversation isn’t about how we make the system more efficient instead of limiting opportunities and collaboration? I think that makes this issue worthy of discussion on here.

  4. Alice says:

    Ginessa — I hadn’t seen that suggestion! WOW! As a presenter and audience member, I get a lot more out of a 20 minute presentation than a 15 minute one. 10 minutes?! That has to be aimed at making up for the few rogue agents that go on for 22…25…30 minutes. But couldn’t the same be achieved by instituting breaks between handfuls of papers? Or by distributing super soaker squirt guns to all session organizers to deploy as needed against long winded adversaries?

    In all serious, though, as Shane says, it’s obvious to anyone who has ever gone to a SEAC that putting together a conference is a HUGE pile of work for the organizers. But damn, it has always been such a worthwhile pile of work, for me at least. So how can we make it better? What if attendees could opt out of a physical program in advance (in favor of a digital option), so less need to be printed? What if some funds from SEAC (of which I have no knowledge, so this might be moot) could be set aside for conference organizers so they could hire some help to assemble the abstracts/program/index? What else? Hopefully we’ll have plenty of fodder for a rowdy/productive business meeting in Tampa.

  5. Jason O'Donoughue says:

    If I recall correctly this issue is left to the discretion of the conference organizers, so it can vary from year to year. When we hosted it in Knoxville in 2007 you could be first author on TWO papers and co-author on as many as you wanted. It was the same in Jax in 2011. I’m pretty sure that’s been the standard at most recent meetings. I can understand cutting the first-authored papers back to one, but limiting co-authorships makes little sense.

  6. Ken Sassaman says:

    The young generation of SEAC needs to take control of this organization and get it back on track. I organized two SEAC meetings and an SAA and can attest that the only demand on having an unlimited number of co-authorships is the task of cross-referencing everyone, Nothing to it. Besides you up-and-coming stars, junior faculty who need to show products in order to achieve job security (tenure!) are negatively affected by this arbitrary policy.

  7. […] Once again, Shane has proved himself as more than capable of stirring up trouble!  Here are some of my thoughts provoked by his earlier post […]

  8. Thad Bissett says:

    The intended purpose of the original rule was a good one, but in its misapplication here, it’s hitting multiple people who’ve been actively participating in multiple research projects during the last year (or longer) and who deserve credit (current and future) for their work. The program(w/abstracts) for the annual meeting serves as the document of record for a lot of papers that are based on solid, collaborative research that, for whatever reason, never make it to publication.

    For those papers, any future citations of the conference paper will be incomplete, propagating the program’s original omission of author names (and assoc. credit for work done) from a single instance to what theoretically would be a string of citations that are missing peoples’ names who deserve acknowledgement.

    No one deserves to be “Pete Bested.”

  9. David G. Anderson says:

    I fully concur with Ken on this. A lot of emails have been going back and forth on this the past few hours, and I can only hope the current SEAC leadership is listening. And work to effect change by communicating with, and becoming, the leadership, so things like this don’t happen again!

  10. Meg says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with what everyone else has said so far. The co-authorship rules only seem to hurt, not help, individuals and the discipline as a whole. I am glad to hear that people are up in arms about this, but if it does not get brought up at the board meeting or some other venue this year, I would suggest asking the student representative to do so. Andrea White, who is currently in charge of SAC, would be the person to get in touch with if we would like something discussed in the executive board meeting!

  11. T.R. Kidder says:

    Shane (and the rest who have commented). Thanks for the blog and for the thoughtful comments. I agree with most of the ideas expressed here. David Anderson said it well in a message to me: archaeology is a team sport. Absolutely! SEAC should be doing all we can to foster the teams and the sport.

    The intent of the rules as I understand it was not to limit second, third or nth authorship but to restrict first authored presentations two two– First author and discussant. However, I take full responsibility for the current situation because the meeting organizers did run this by me and the Board. I’ve no excuse for how the rules were interpreted and can only offer an apology to anyone who is negatively affected. As some of you have observed, organizing a conference is a challenge and as SEAC grows so too does the challenge of making the meeting a productive intellectual and social experience. The Board is listening to your comments. (And the comments of many others; if it helps, you are not alone.) There will be discussion of these issues at the Board meeting and I expect we will clarify any misunderstandings in the current rules. SEAC is the best, most fun academic conference I attend and neither I nor the meeting organizers want to see this change. We are, however, human, and we do make mistakes. Don’t ascribe to a conspiracy that which my incompetence can better explain.

    This said, what do we do to make SEAC annual meetings better for everyone? We are a diverse lot and change can be hard. Let me know and let the board know what you think. I’ll station myself at the bar in Tampa but until then e-mail me: T.R.

  12. David G. Anderson says:

    Thanks for the classy comment, T.R., and to all who participated in this discussion. The dialogue will help make SEAC even better in the future.

    As someone who was there when it all began, for the historical record only:

    At the Fall 2003 SEAC Board meeting, as per the minutes posted on the SEAC web site under old newsletters, the following business transpired:

    “Janet Levy proposed a number of recommendations to assist in planning the meeting. She recommended a two role rule. I [Anderson, as Secretary, taking the notes] talked about the SAA three role rule, described it, and suggested that some such rule be adopted. The other option was to go to longer meetings. John O’Hear said he doesn’t want to do anything restrict attendance. Will this make a difference? A motion was made by Adam King, and seconded by Claudine that a two role rule be adopted at future SEAC meetings (presenter, poster, or discussant/any combination). The motion was approved unanimously”

    In the absence of a detailed exposition of what this meant in the original motion, the two role rule has come to be interpreted [as the SAA has always done, and I (Anderson) argued at the time the discussion was occurring] as two primary speaking/presenting roles, where the person could not be scheduled opposite themself. That is, no person can have more than two speaking/presenting roles, as a lead author on a paper, poster, or as a discussant.

    At the SAAs there has never been a limit on the number of secondary roles a member can have… they just can’t expect the program organizers to pay any attention to them when planning the program. Inspection of the full program for the Annual Meeting in the SEAC Bulletins in the decade since the board voted demonstrates that the SAA’s approach is how the rule has been interpreted, at least until recent SEACs.

    The SEAC Executive Board should revisit this and provide guidance to future program organizers. The wording in the original motion is a bit ambiguous and should be clarified. And as someone who helped organize the 2007 meeting, and know how much time it took, I agree we do need a meeting planning manual of some kind, and develop standardized registration and program generation software.

    I am looking forward to the Tampa meeting, and thank all my colleagues who have been working to keep the organization going, and make it better!

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