Our next question in our ask us anything series comes from Liz: For undergraduate researchers, what is enough of a contribution to merit co-authorship versus acknowledgements?
In general, I expect undergraduate co-authors to earn authorship in the same way as anyone else. The general principle is that you need to make an intellectual contribution to the ms, not simply collect data as instructed by someone else. Merely collecting data as instructed by someone else gets you acknowledgment but not authorship in my view. More here and here.
In practice, the deal I typically offer summer undergraduate research assistants is that, if they collect the data as directed and make thoughtful editorial comments on a draft ms reporting those data, that earns them co-authorship. That is a slightly lower standard for co-authorship than I apply to myself. If, say, a graduate student comes up with her own project, with only modest feedback from me, and then writes it up with only editorial suggestions from me, I wouldn’t consider myself to have made enough of an intellectual contribution to have earned co-authorship.
What Jeremy said. Although I note that sometimes collecting the data can involve an intellectual contribution (e.g. if the initial pilots come up short and modifications have to be made and the data collector is integral to that). I would also note that rigorously defending the integrity of authorship when undergrads are involved made a lot of sense in the days of one to two author papers, but when most papers already have 4-5 authors and one undergrad has done all the data collection for the paper even if they added little creative value, that would earn authorship in my book. Odds are they put in more work than one of the other co-authors.