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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Equitable Authorship of the Senior Design Thesis

Rafael Guerrero

It is important to recognize the separate contributions of your teammates to the success of the design project. As you begin to compile your team’s thesis, take note of how each member contributed to certain aspects of the design, class deliverables, and in leadership and organization. It may become clear that not only was it sometimes necessary to delegate a single individual to complete a task, but that their skill-set or areas of expertise made them the best teammate to handle that task. Similarly, there may be areas of the thesis related to specific aspects of the design process or tests that would best be written by specific team members. Altogether, however, there is still an expectation that team members are equally devoted to spending the appropriate amount of time and effort to ensuring the success and completion of the project and thesis. Fairness suggests that fair treatment of all members of a design team would best be achieved through equitable division of the work related to the writing of the senior thesis.

Considerations regarding Fairness and Justice in equitable authorship of the senior thesis include:

Team leadership:

  • If your team has a distinct project leader or leaders, sections on team management and conflict resolution may be best reserved for them to complete. If this is not the case, it may be best for you and your team to agree upon how to discuss how your team responsibilities are divided in the thesis.

Individual design work:

  • As a design team, you and your teammates may each be responsible for the design of an individual piece or subassembly of your total design. While the component may be individually authored, it is still part of the design as a whole. Consider how this part or subassembly be discussed in your thesis, and which individual(s) would best be responsible for writing this section.

Specific individual skills and specialties:

  • Sometimes a team member may have taken a class or may have a skill needed for design or analysis work that the rest of the team may not have. While they may not be able to contribute equally to work and design in other aspects of the project, they may still contribute equally by being the individual responsible for completing that specific design or analysis work.
  • In interdisciplinary projects, teammates from different disciplines will best handle work that is relevant to their skill-sets as engineers from that discipline--whether that be code or a specific electrical subsystem of the design. That means that not all team members may contribute equally to each particular part of the design work.

Other classes and extracurricular involvements:

  • An expectation of equal commitment and contribution may also be made more difficult if you and your teammates have different course loads. While it may be important to expect all teammates to have the completion of the thesis as a priority, this expectation should come with the respect that there may be other pressing assignments, projects, and commitments that an individual may have.
  • Emergencies and physical/mental self care are also important to consider when deciding the fair level of contribution in the thesis. If a team member is needing time to address something and cannot contribute the same as others, it is important to discuss as a team how work will be best divided to ensure all team members contribute to the completion of the senior thesis.


  • If only some members of your design team were able to travel to your target community, it may be best for those individuals or that individual to be responsible for coverage and results of travel in the senior thesis.

Personal Link

A significant part of the senior design thesis for mechanical engineering teams is what is known as the analysis report. This report includes a discussion of the methods used to conduct stress analysis and examine failure theories on individual components and subassemblies of the design. Of the four members in my design team, only one of us had taken a class in Finite Element Analysis (FEA) using Abaqus during our senior year. Because of this, he became the point individual when it came to verifying design changes in Abaqus before fabrication-- a role that took up a large amount of his time in design work within the team. This meant that he spent less work in fabrication and technical writing for team deliverables for the senior design course.

While this was the case, our team understood that his work in FEA for our team was essentially an equal contribution on his part. This made it so that for a significant portion of our winter quarter, the rest of our team spent extensive time machining prototype components in the mechanical engineering machine shop to allow him to spend the time conducting FEA on our design to ensure we could build these pieces. When it came to the senior thesis, the same team member was assigned sole authorship of the analysis report because was also the sole person responsible for conducting analysis in Abaqus for the completion of our entire thesis. This allowed for the rest of our team to work in parallel, providing for equitable contributions to the thesis.

Jun 29, 2018