Our publication of a paper on the evolution of the Drosophila Muller F element with 1014 authors (940 of whom were undergraduate students) was a record for the journal G3, and attracted some attention. Here is a blog post from the GSA journals blog, which nicely explains the role of the student co-authors:
And Washington University was very proud of our accomplishment, as were other colleges and universities.
- Washington University: Massively parallel biology students
(This story has also been featured on the website from the American Association of Universities, on their page Undergraduate Stories: Hands-on Research Makes a Difference.)
- UC San Diego: Biology students join hundreds of undergraduates across nation to co-Author genomics research paper
- Denison University: DU students participate in national genomics research project
- College of William & Mary: One of a thousand
However, there were also some concerns that have been raised on the size of the author list:
- Neuro DoJo blog: When does authorship stop meaning anything useful?
On consideration, Nature and Quartz posted the following:
This resulted in some discussion and thoughtful comments from our students on the Nature article:
Jeannette Wong:I am also a co-author on this paper and spent several years as a research assistant with Dr. Elgin and Wilson working on the sequencing analysis. Students invest many hours in one semester working on several components of a piece of sequence: quality of data and annotation of genes and other elements. Thus, I think it is important to acknowledge the students' efforts. In addition, it was especially inspiring for me to watch the Genomics Education Partnership grow as more universities wanted to participate and provide this experience to their students. This was one of the best classes I took as an undergraduate, and I am very humbled and appreciative of the foundation and inspiration it gave me to pursue science and research.
Matthew Juergens:As a coauthor on the paper, I would have felt fine with either coauthorship or an acknowledgment in the supplementary however there was much more incentive to do more work when coauthorship was presented. Additionally, for this project, each undergrad was responsible for a certain number of basepairs of sequence, having had to generate a very detailed gene annotation report before their annotations were accepted and many times this required several rounds of going back and forth with the first author before. Finally, all coauthors were requested to give input on the final paper and the first authors were very accepting of comments. The large amount of time and learning required by undergrad students in addition to the quality of the work demanded by them, at least to me, is grounds for coauthorship. I feel studies like these using undergrads in a directed way provides them an opportunity to experience science, gives them incentive to work hard, and teaches them many valuable skills.
We also got some comments on Twitter — thanks to all of the students and members of the fly community who commented! We also got a mention on the program Radio 3 Science (with Davide Corona on 5/21/15) at the Italian radio station Rai Radio 3, and a brief write-up on the "Wissen" ("Knowledge") page of "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (a Munich newspaper) with the heading "Die Zahl: 1014 Autoren" ("The Number: 1014 Authors").
The G3 article level metrics page provides a more comprehensive list of the news stories, blog posts, and other social network discussions on the four genomes paper.
All in all, an interesting dialogue on engaging students in research!
Footnote: The physics community has been used to publications with large numbers of co-authors for some time. See below for the most recent example. However, this does not touch on the issue of bring undergraduates into the research community.
Footnote #2: Attribution of credit for multi-author papers continues to be a topic of discussion. See the following from Cell: