DC's Improbable Science

Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

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Why do collaborative research?

August 11th, 2007 · No Comments

That is the title of a paper in the BMJ (11 August 2007, 335, 304) by Anisur Rahman (reader in rheumatology, University College London). He points out the strong disincentives to collaborative work that now exist. One disincentive is the enormous amounts of documentation that is now needed for any sort of clinical research. Another disincentive lies in the daft assessment methods that are becoming fashionable, because they give you very little credit for being one among many authors.

“it could be argued that clinical academics who wish to thrive should avoid taking part in such collaborations—unless they are a lead author”.

Download Rahman’s paper

Contradictions and stress

This paper highlights one of the things that makes academic life so stressful. We are constantly getting contradictory instructions, often from the same department (usually HR). Here are a few to start with.

  • You must produce at least three world-shattering results per year, and everyone must all publish them in the same half-dozen journals. And you must do lots of teaching. And you must fill in all the forms sent to you by HR to say how long you spend on research (but not the hours please, just the percentage). Then the next letter says you must take your full holidays and work a 38 hour week for your work-life balance.
  • We must have no bias against the appointment of women. But remember that the rules of the game make it almost impossible for a woman to get to the top in science if she wants to have children too.
  • You must do lots of collaborative and interdisciplinary work (because that is the buzzword of the moment for the failed postdocs who staff the research councils and journals. Oh, and remember that you must not submit for RAE purposes
    any paper that bears the name of a colleague with whom you collaborate.
  • You must employ only the most brilliant postdocs, but don’t be too assiduous about assessing their ability because that might cause bias. And, by the way, remember that it is essentially impossible to get rid of anyone, however incompetent.
  • In order to ensure a big grant income (to be used in assessing promotion), you must employ lots of postdocs. That ensures you won’t have time to check too carefully what they do, much less do anything original yourself.
  • You must have lots of collegiate spirit, and be able to recite by heart that excruciatingly embarrassing mission statement (oh, and by the way, your department has just been abolished).
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Tags: management bollocks · science · Universities

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