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Can I be co-first author on a paper I'm including in my dissertation?

Question

Hello,

Thank you in advance for your help. I read online in the dissertation guide the following:

"If you choose the papers option, your dissertation or thesis is organized as a series of relatively independent chapters or papers that you have submitted or will be submitting to journals in the field. You must be the only author or the first author of the papers to be used in the dissertation."

Can I be co-first author on a paper I'm including? I assume that counts given that it only says I must be first author (and not the only first author), but I wanted to double check.

Thank you,

Dissertation Writer


Response

Dear Dissertation Writer

A thesis or dissertation is generally expected to be the original work of the sole author, but you are correct that the Graduate School does allow students to submit a “papers option” thesis or dissertation if graduate field has agreed that this format is acceptable.  The Thesis Guidebook does not specifically address the question of whether a co-first authored paper could be used in a thesis, but the clear intent of the policy as it’s described in the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty is that the student’s portion of the work must be “substantive.”  Here’s the exact language of the policy, as described on page 34:

Papers Option

In fields that have so authorized, the special committee may permit a student to submit a thesis or dissertation consisting of publishable papers that are not necessarily related. In such cases, it is important that the special committee and the student determine, early in the student’s program, if the papers option is acceptable to the committee. Papers may include multiple authors, but the work of the student must be substantive. A special committee decision to allow this option must be unanimous.

Because authorship issues can be complex, I encourage you to discuss your plans with your full committee and DGS.  If there have any questions about a co-authored paper I’d suggest you to contact Jan Allen, Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs, for more specific information.  You’ll notice that the same page in the Code of legislation also includes information about a “Partnership Option.”  This seldom-used arrangement would be appropriate if a collaborator or co-author was responsible for a significant portion of the content.  It requires a petition and approval by the General Committee, Graduate School’s governance body.

Sincerely,

Jason

Jason Kahabka, associate dean for administration