Every week, The Sassy Scientist answers a question on geodynamics, related topics, academic life, the universe or anything in between with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Do you have a question for The Sassy Scientist? Submit your question here.
How do you deal with bad co-authors (i.e. people who make writing papers more complicated and unpleasant than it needs to be) that are also senior scientists?
Annoy them as much as possible. Relentlessly, but politely. Haunt their dreams. In case they are located within the same university, don’t just start emailing them willy-nilly. You can do so much more. Knock on their door every single day. Invite them for a coffee or join ‘em for lunch. Use casual conversations to fortuitously steer the topic towards your manuscript. Conveniently leave the office at the same time as your co-authors and come back in the morning when they do. Simply butter them up as much as possible, without presenting yourself too needy or a suck-up. It should be their idea to respond quicker to your requests. For those not in your institution, other rules apply. Try to set deadlines several weeks in advance of your actual goal, and up the ante in terms of email check-ins the days building up to their deadline.
Trust me. This is the only way that may turn out fruitful. I’ve tried to cross the only other path: patience. Just utter patience. Problem being that you cannot actually do that much. You’ll end up frustrated anyway. Tread carefully though; if your co-authors have some big toes and cannot be too bothered with your progress, the best way is to simply wait and see. A long wait may result in a finalized manuscript, while a short wait will result in tears. There are three grades of co-authors; 1) happies [quick responders with real constructive comments], 2) fickles [oftentimes tardy with the same comments on repeat], and 3) grumpies [no explanation needed]. Your job is to push every co-author into that first grade by smooching and appearing to be interested in whatever they’re up to. Preferably done before you start writing a manuscript. Remember that you do actually need them. Turn that frown upside down and start grinning like a Cheshire cat.
The Sassy Scientist
PS: This post was written with some sore cheek muscles.