Archive for: May, 2012

Research project versus research program

May 16 2012 Published by under Careers, Life

A research project is to a research program like a chapter is to a book.*

Having a chapter is good, but if you want to make tenure you'd better be able to demonstrate that you're working on the book.**


* A choose your own adventure one. But with the ability to pursue multiple story-lines simultaneously.
** With luck it will take your entire career to write it.

3 responses so far

How many papers for tenure reflux redux

May 15 2012 Published by under Careers, Life

A little over three years ago, back on my original blogspot blog, I wrote a post titled How Many Papers for Tenure? [I reposted it here when I first moved to Scientopia.] This remains, I believe, my all time most read post.

Now I haven't paid much attention to my old blog for a while, but recently went back there to look for something I had written. Turns out the How Many Papers for Tenure? post had garnered a couple more comments. I was struck in particular by one:

Anonymous said...
Impact Factor and Citations are far more important. Quality over quantity. But quantity doesn't hurt.
Saturday, December 31, 2011 3:44:00 PM EST

Yes and no.


Well, actually, mostly no.

Certainly quality matters. So does quantity. Your tenure decision is partly in the hands of bean counters. One could certainly get past them with fewer than expected papers if the ones you had published made a positive impact on the field. Hopefully the letters written supporting you would make that very clear.

But Impact Factor and Citations?

No. Most emphatically, no.

It's widely accepted by all but some bean counters and the glamour hounds that journal impact factor correlates rather poorly with actual long-term impact upon the field. I've certainly read many, many society-level journal papers that have had a much larger, longer-lasting impact than many Glamourmagz papers. Sure, you don't want to come up for tenure with all of your papers, or even any of them, in sub-sub-sub-basement IF level journals. On the other hand, coming up for tenure with a single Glamourmagz publication isn't so good either. You want sufficient good quality publications to show that you have established a research program. One Glamourmagz publication doesn't do that.* Even worse, there are those of us that might think you're doing your trainees a great disservice funneling all of their work into a single high profile publication from which only the first and senior authors will garner credit.**

And citations? Puh-leeeeeze. Your tenure decision should ride on what you did during tenure-track. We're talking 5-6 years here, likely with most of your publications coming in the last 3 or so years. Hardly enough time for any but the rare immediate-large-impact publication to garner more than a few citations. The impact of your work should be judged by those who have been asked to write letters of support, particularly those within your sub-field, not by how many citations you might have gathered in a couple of years.

Focus on publishing X number of good quality publications pre-tenure, where X > the average number of publications the last few people in your department had coming up. If you land a Glamourmagz publication, good for you, but don't screw yourself over by focusing solely on that. And don't worry about citations. If your work is good, they'll come along eventually.

Next thing you know someone is going to suggest h-index as a measure of tenure-track success...


* And doesn't do your chances of landing a grant as much good as you might think.
** If you want to offer up the multiple equally-contributing first author Kool Aid, go elsewhere.

19 responses so far

Never alone

May 14 2012 Published by under Careers, Life

Life's been busy here the last few weeks. I've been working my butt off organizing various things on top of running the lab etc. All good stuff. As a result of the last couple of weeks, plus some anecdata from some bloggy friends, I've been reflecting on what it takes and means to be successful in academic science.* We have a tendency to talk about how we - as in the singular I - have been/are successful. From the graduate students "I successfully completed this experiment..." to the PI's "I landed the following grants and published the following papers". I tend to say I earned tenure (I did!).

But the truth is there is almost no room for the singular I in academic science, or science in general, anymore. Hasn't been for a long time. I didn't get to where I am by myself. I landed my TT position, got funding, published papers, earned tenure, and have pushed along post-tenure through the efforts of myself and many others. Did I play a central role? Sure. I earned tenure. But there is no way I could be where I am without the help of others.

I am where I am because of the efforts of my postdoc mentor, colleagues in my department and institution, collaborators, trainees, professional and non-professional staff. Even the housekeeping staff.** I'm not so special. Nor am I unique. PI's like to boast about how they made it despite the odds/admin/poor funding rates etc. But they would never "make it" without a large network of support.

And yet there are those in similar positions to mine who feel anyone who is not faculty at a research intensive institution is somehow inferior. Not worthy of consideration. Simple peons to be used and abused. Oft times abused.

People like that make my blood boil. They are delusional douchebags who should not be tolerated.

Recognize that you cannot do what you do without the help of those around you.


* Or successful anywhere really. The above applies to pretty much all walks of life.
** Try running a successful research program when your lab and office is piled high with trash.

7 responses so far