A Bone to Pick

A couple of weeks ago, a Bones episode, The Don’t In The Do (http://www.fox.com/bones/full-episodes/14378485/the-don-t-in-the-do) focused on one of the interns’ struggle to get a paper published. As I was watching the episode, it was driving me crazy that the culture around publishing in the episode was either a) misrepresented in the episode or b) drastically different than in my field (biology). Throughout the episode, Bones’ student/intern Arastoo was very excited that an article of his was being published in a well-respected peer-reviewed journal. Being published is a big deal for graduate students like me, as publications are the currency in academia.

However, in biology, it is (basically) unheard of for a graduate student to write a paper all on their own without their advisor co-writing it. The convention in the US for publishing in biology is the person who did the majority of the experimental design and work, typically the graduate student or post-doctoral fellow, is the first author on the paper. The last author is usually the advisor/supervising researcher/primary investigator (PI), whose main contribution tends to be in concept design, consultation during data analysis, and interpretation of the results. Thus, in this Bones episode, Arastoo would have been the first author and Bones would have been the second author. This bugged me at first, but I acknowledge that in other disciplines, such as biological/forensic anthropology, might have different conventions. I did look into it a bit, and although this is a screenshot of what the first page of the Journal of Forensic Anthropology table of contents looked like in Bones: , the majority of articles in the Journal of Physical Anthropology has primarily co-authored papers. The papers that are written by single authors are written by full PhDs. Since this seems to be Arastoo’s first paper, it seems like he’s probably still a graduate student.

Additionally, towards the end of the episode Bones said she was given Arastoo’s paper to review. This really surprised me, since Bones is a pretty ethical person. In academia, it is generally considered unethical to review a paper written by one of your own students. Although, since you’re generally on the papers they’re publishing anyway, the issue doesn’t arise all that often.

Despite these complaints, I really appreciated the fact that Bones made a point of highlighting how difficult it can be to live the life of a scientist in academia. It seems like it’s always about figuring out what the next experiment is going to be, so that you can garner funding and write interesting papers. There was one exchange that made me laugh out loud. Hodgins suggests that Arastoo take a moment to enjoy his publication, and Arastoo responds: “That’s not how it works! Academia’s a bitch, bro!”


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