I’ve been a minor author on a few papers recently. They’re good papers (I think) and I’m glad to be associated with them. In one of them, we solved a problem that I’d always wanted to solve but my own mathematical skills weren’t up to the task. It was a good example of a collaboration that developed in an organic, rather than an imposed way.
In all my previous papers, I’ve been first author, corresponding author, or both. I’ve quite a few single author papers which is rare enough in science and engineering. To a large extent this is because I’m not a great collaborator and tend to work mainly on my own. It doesn’t help that I’m an engineer in a department dominated by biologists. All of this means that my overall output is not huge (~ 30 papers) but there is a certain satisfaction about publishing work where you have been the major or only contributor. I suspect mathematicians and people in the humanities (humanitarians?) can understand this because they experience it regularly. Indeed, I’m sure many from outside the science and technology world find the scientific publishing business a bit odd.
When I see someone who has published hundreds of papers, including many in which they have had a tiny role, it makes me think. Where is the satisfaction in that? I suppose, many high achievers in academia love the cut and thrust of networking, forming alliances, getting large grants , managing large groups of people and acquiring an element of ‘power’. They also get promoted of course. It’s probably fair to say also that important advances in science often (but not always) require large, multidisciplinary groups.
Nonetheless, having been involved in a large proposal just recently, it reminded me how tedious the whole ‘business’ of science and technology is. If you’re an experimental scientist, though, you simply can’t opt out as theoreticians can.
Anyway, I’ve almost six clear months now to work on my textbook. Intense but hugely satisfying. I’m the sole author of course.