Credit Where Credit is Due.

Many scientists get involved in the field primarily out of a genuine intellectual curiosity that needs to be sated. Often times we are working with limited budgets, possibly utilizing grants or other public/private means in order to further our understanding of a particular subject. With many of these pursuits the financial rewards might not be great, and possibly also due to a historical precedent this is very pronounced in the scientific community, being awarded credit and being provided with recognition for one’s findings is a very big deal. Frankly it is a big deal in every profession so here is a little life lesson we can all learn from.

Ben, a third-year graduate student, had been working on a research project that involved an important new experimental technique. For a national meeting in his discipline, Ben wrote an abstract and gave a brief presentation that mentioned the new technique. After his presentation, he was surprised and pleased when Dr. Freeman, a leading researcher from another university, engaged him in an extended conversation. Dr. Freeman asked Ben extensively about the new technique, and Ben described it fully. Ben’s own faculty advisor often encouraged his students not to keep secrets from other researchers, and Ben was flattered that Dr. Freeman would be so interested in his work.

Six months later Ben was leafing through a journal when he noticed an article by Dr. Freeman. The article described an experiment that clearly depended on the technique that Ben had developed. He didn’t mind; in fact, he was again somewhat flattered that his technique had so strongly influenced Dr. Freeman’s work. But when he turned to the citations, expecting to see a reference to his abstract or presentation, his name was nowhere to be found.

  1. Does Ben have any way of receiving credit for his work?
  2. Should he contact Dr. Freeman in an effort to have his work recognized?
  3. Is Ben’s faculty advisor mistaken in encouraging his students to be so open about their work?

“Credit Where Credit is Due” is Part 12 of our “On Being a Scientist” series, where we explore the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 13.

Further Reading: On Being a Scientist, National Academy Press

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