On how to be a good co-author – and finding even better ones
Connection, competence, complementarity, commitment and conferences – here is how you enter and sustain productive co-authorships
Returning from this year’s Academy of Management meeting, where I have been able to meet with many of my fantastic co-authors, is a timely moment to reflect on what is necessary for productive and rewarding co-authorships and collaborations. Over the past 20 years, I have been fortunate to work with and learn from a fairly large group of other scholars.
I have had the privilege of having been supervised by Anne-Wil Harzing and Maria Kraimer during my PhD at the University of Melbourne. Since then I worked with senior scholars like Mark Mendenhall, Margaret Shaffer, Günter Stahl, Rebecca Piekkari, Joyce Osland, and Mila Lazarova, wonderful peers like Tsedal Neeley, Eric Quintane, Helene Tenzer, Fabian Froese, and Yih-teen Lee, and PhD students and junior scholars like Maïlys George, Eren Akkan, Felipe Guzman and Virpi Outila, among many others.
As I reflect on how these collaborations came about, here are my tips for entering and sustaining effective co-authorships. For better recall, I have structured my thoughts around the following 5 Cs:
Collaborating on research projects is an intensive undertaking. More often than not, projects take longer than expected and take unexpected turns, whether this is because the data don’t quite work out as initially planned, new and more interesting questions arise, or you experience a bumpy submission and revision process. Having co-authors you feel you can lean in to and connect emotionally with is not only comforting but it also sustains your motivation and provides resilience to stick it out.
I think this is particularly crucial as we work in a profession where we have the privilege to have some agency for deciding with whom we would like to work – this is very different from having your work colleagues imposed on you by your boss! Of course, this still does not mean everyone wants to work with you so what can you do? Just like with building sustaining friendships, being open about your interests, views and ideas can help you find commonalities in others, which help to connect.
You could share some of your personal and professional self when you present your research in a seminar. Volunteering in scholarly committees, for example in the Academy of Management or the Academy of International Business, also allows you to get to know other scholars – and help others get to know you. I started several productive co-authorships through a small conference that I organized together with Markus Pudelko and Chris Carr, the EIASM workshop on International Management. Each year, we would invite two keynote speakers and had the pleasure of spending some extended time with them at the conference.
We know from social psychology that, when it comes to effective interactions, liking is not the only thing that counts; your collaborator needs to be competent too! When choosing a suitable co-author, we are naturally driven towards the stars in our field, but so are others. How can you let your own competence shine so that others become aware of what you can contribute?
I think it is important to first take stock of what you are good at and in which areas of research you would like to build expertise. This could be a particular methods expertise, access to data, the ability to conduct systematic literature reviews or meta-analyses, or in-depth knowledge of a particular stream of literature.
Academic activities that could provide you with visibility, whether the organization of a symposium at a conference, a webinar, or a professional development workshop, should ideally align well with your focus area so others know that this is where you have expertise and can contribute. Maintaining a blog or posting regularly at LinkedIn are other possibilities to showcase your area of expertise.
Closely connected to the previous C is complementarity. Co-authorships are particularly rewarding if each partner can contribute complementary skills and expertise. When my co-author Tsedal Neeley had collected both qualitative and quantitative data for a project on a global language change, she was looking for a colleague who could contribute quantitative methods expertise to further leverage the data.
A common colleague kindly shared my name, and we ended up working not only on a primarily quantitative paper that was published in Organization Science, but we also continued our rewarding collaboration and published a mixed-methods study drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data, that was ultimately published in Academy of Management Journal.
Complementary skills not only make collaborations more productive, but they also stimulate learning and professional growth. I have since embarked on a couple of qualitative studies myself where I have been able to draw on what I learnt from Tsedal.
Needless to say, maintaining a wider network and openly showcasing your expertise makes it more likely that another colleague will put forth your name in the first place.
The first three Cs touch on how you are more likely to enter a collaboration but what can you do to maintain it? Often, collaborations do not work out, and this is not only because there is insufficient connection and complementary competence.
Being a good co-author means keeping to your commitments and delivering what you promised. In several conversations I have overheard at conferences, people speak highly of other colleagues who keep their timelines, who are “uncomplicated,” and who are responsive.
These may be fairly straightforward behaviors but they are still easier said than done. We are often overcommitted and jump into too many projects, which means we have too little time to attend to each one of them. So prioritizing clearly on which projects – and which type of projects – are dearest to your heart is important for your own sanity and ability to advance your work together with your colleagues.
I have also found that managing expectations early on with your co-authors regarding when you can – and cannot – work on a project works well. And if you are initially conservative with your estimate and are then able to deliver a tad earlier, your colleagues will be even happier!
I am closing the circle with this final C because conferences are indeed an important place where you can showcase yourself as a suitable co-author and find others who you can connect with and complement. Planning your conference attendance early to be able to email colleagues you would want to meet is key. And putting your hand up for volunteer work in a research division or a conference track provides wonderful opportunities to become known in the community.
This book series Crafting your career in academia launched in August 2022 with a book on Writing Effective Promotion Applications. The series is a collection of short guides dealing with various aspects of working in academia. It is based on Anne-Wil's blog.
- The four P's of getting published
- Why does my paper get a desk-reject time and again?
- How to avoid a desk-reject in seven steps [1/8]
- Seven signs it’s time to get out: spotting toxic collaborations in academia
- On academic life: collaborations and active engagement
- Be proactive, resilient & realistic!
- How to create a sustainable academic career
- When to say no?
Copyright © 2023 Sebastian Reiche. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Sun 13 Aug 2023 13:01
B. Sebastian Reiche is Professor of Managing People in Organizations at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. His research focuses on the forms, prerequisites and consequences of global work, international HRM, global leadership, work design, and knowledge transfer. His research has been published in scholarly outlets such as Academy of Management Discoveries, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Journal of International Business Studies, Journal of Management, and Personnel Psychology, among others. He is Associate Editor of Human Resource Management Journal, co-editor of Advances in Global Leadership, and regularly blogs on topics related to expatriation and global work.