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Researchers do not own the work of students: New guidelines for students involved in research

Research — When students contribute to research projects, they are often subject to vague agreements. The Practice Committee at the University of Copenhagen has therefore published an advisory checklist to clarify students’ rights.

More students should be involved in research, according to the latest official strategy of the University of Copenhagen.

But problems can quickly arise between researchers and students. There is all too often no clear agreement on students’ rights when they are affiliated to a project, according to Peter Sandøe, Professor of Bioethics and Vice-Chair of the Practice Committee at the University of Copenhagen. And that’s not OK, he says:

»You need to be fair to students. You need to refrain from exploiting your position of power to get students to deliver work for you without getting anything in return.«

This is why Peter Sandøe and his colleagues in the Practice Committee, which promotes the responsible conduct of research, has just published a checklist of questions to be clarified before the collaboration starts.

Students own their own work

And there are many questions. Should the student, for example, be paid for their work? Or get credits? And – perhaps most importantly – should they be cited as one of the co-authors on any publications that emerge from the project?

»One thing that can go wrong is when a student affiliated with a research project has the expectation that they are to be co-author, but then are not,« says Peter Sandøe, referring to his own experience in the Practice Committee. »We would like our colleagues to realise that students, as a rule, own the results of their own work, like for example a master’s thesis project.«

Not everyone believes that they do, according to Peter Sandøe.

»I have some colleagues who, in all seriousness, believe that they own their students’ data. But I’ve never believed this. In my opinion, the students have the rights to what they have created themselves.«

Researchers should not exploit their position of power

The question of co-authorship comes down to the agreement that has been made between researcher and student before the collaboration starts.

The same applies to salary and credit transfer. The student does not necessarily have to have any of these things to participate in a research project. But in most cases it is fair that they get either one, or the other, according to Peter Sandøe.

But in all circumstances, the researcher must make the student aware of their rights and obligations. This also applies to, for example, any intellectual property rights or terms of confidentiality in connection with the project.

For Peter Sandøe, the new practice committee guidelines are to make researchers aware of their responsibilities when involving students in their work.

»You need to be fair to students. You have to refrain from exploiting your power to get students to deliver work for you without getting anything in return,« says Peter Sandøe. »From the outset, students need to know what they will get out of participating in a research project.«

You can read the guidelines for student involvement in research projects here.