Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How many papers should academics publish per year?

Post-doctoral researchers in Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen were told this week that they need to be publishing, on average, 3.25 papers per year in order to have a competitive chance of getting a research fellowship.

I always get worried when I hear exact numbers being quoted as 'what you NEED to have'. The number, apparently was determined by asking research councils that give fellowship grants what they look for. A good idea in theory, the ones that answered the request said they want (on average) 3.25 papers per year. But do the people that receive fellowships really have that record? That isn't clear.

With a decrease in research council funding is more research being funded by industry? I don't know, as I don't have the numbers. I'm just speculating, but, if you are industry funded my experience has been so far that you are likely to publish less as your results will go towards things like patents and be kept internally for the company. Still valid work and science BUT are you less likely to get a lifelong career in academia because of a reduction in the number of published papers?

My other question is about how science is done and the never ending push for published papers. Peer reviewed, published research is an essential part of science (and a bit of professional conflict should be encouraged!).


There are numerous graphs that show on a global scale that the number of scientific papers published per year constantly rising. The number of scientific journals to publish in is also rising. As is the funding for scientific research and the numbers of researchers around the globe. But where is the balance between publishing number, investment and the numbers of scientific researchers? An impossible question to answer?

I know when I read published research in the literature I quite often spot flaws in experimental design and experiments that haven't been replicated. Stuff that really probably shouldn't have been published at that point in time, but did the researcher who published the work need that publication in order to be employed for the next 12 months?

Does the structure of papers restrict science? If science is mostly done to be published then experimental design, time and effort is focused on what is needed to publish the work - rather than what is needed for the project as a whole.

This is where I think Universities and research councils could do more to help, why focus on individuals and individual number publications? Would it not be better to encourage work in groups, make the sharing of resources and ideas easier (especially within institutions). I see academic science in the U.K., at the moment, as every man for himself. Is this the best way of getting the most out of researchers?

View from a Post-Doctoral Researcher

It's survival of the fittest. The question “fight or flight” has come into my head once or twice, it’s just unfortunate that so much of “scientific success” is based on luck, right place right time, and having the luxury of time to really get to grips with a scientific question without having to balance this with the prospect of being unemployed in the next 6 months! I do actually think that aiming for publication is a good target, it focuses the mind however the onus put on postdocs to be able to publish 3 papers per year when they are on 1 year contracts is unrealistic, particularly when 6 months into the job you are faced with the reality of redeployment!

I see other post-doc researchers at the same stage in career as me who have a number of technicians that do work for them, so quite clearly they will be more productive in terms of publications than me when they have a whole team behind him.

Perhaps industry funding should be considered separately from research council funding without being thought of as the lesser of the two but this is the way it is and when funding is so tight I guess the bar has to be continually raised. It’s just the times that we live in unfortunately. I guess the choice is there to leave if it’s not for you, it just seems a shame when you might actually enjoy the research, just not everything else that seems to have to go with it.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Have a Happy, Scientifically Correct Valentine's Day

I'm going to share a secret. I LOVE Valentine's day. But I don't do soppy, romantic gestures very well.

So if you, like me struggle to share your feelings with that special someone and you live too far away from London (like me) to enjoy one of these fabulously, amazing real heart cakes (yes, these are for eating!) I have created a science themed Pinterest board, for your science love pleasure. Featuring everyones love favourites, the brain, serotonin, dopamine and Carl Sagan.

Hope you enjoy it.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Don't forget to keep your eyes and ears open for any dubious 'science' valentines stories/research appearing in the news and online :-) Maybe we will all be enlightened with the 'love formula'.

Source: lily-vanilli.blogspot.com via hapsci on Pinterest

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Why Good Biologists are Better Than Sherlock

Me, pretending to be Sherlock with my 'critical thinking' hat on
Sherlock Holmes is famous for his ability to apply logical reasoning. His amazing ability to watch, to observe, to put two and two together and make a conclusion. A critical thinker, his theories are not wild and are only based on fact. He studies, finds ways to find and gather all the information he can.. and then boom, hits everyone with the name of the culprit.

My argument, is that a good biologist (actually, any good scientist) needs to be at least as good as Sherlock to perform, and if they want to be really successful they have to be better.

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Cosmic Comic - Interview with Helen Keen

Published in Issue 1 (June 2011) of Au Science Magazine. Find out more about Helen here

Helen’s show, 'It IS rocket science' is a humorous look at the people involved in space exploration. It was recently aired on BBC Radio 4 and has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. I caught up with Helen in Aberdeen where she did a short version of her show for, 'Skeptics in the Pub' in March.

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