Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Age of Discovery (How old are people when they do their best scientific research?)

Science is an extremely competitive field, getting research funding requires an excellent track record and researchers judge themselves against their peers. I wrote a blog post about the number of publications scientists are 'supposed' to have per year in order to be competitive on fellowships and grant applications a few years ago. I am surprised at the number of people that find that post by  searching for 'How many research papers should I have?' . It's a worry or thought most researchers have throughout their careers. There is of course no magic number and there's a need for a track record of quality publications vs a quantity of publications.

The ultimate accolade for a scientist is being awarded a Nobel Prize and I came across an interesting infographic about the age of Nobel Prize winners (when they completed their prize winning work) and also how that relates to the age at which they wrote their PhD dissertation. I have included it at the bottom of this post. Before 1905 2/3rds of Nobel Prize winners completed their 'winning' work before the age of 40. Post 1905 the average age is 48. I am surprised that the average dissertation age is 33. I thought it would be more in the mid-20s.

Of course the age of someone when they make a world changing discovery is also influenced by their peers, mentors and often by the technology and equipment available at the time.

If you want to hear from Nobel Prize winners about their career paths and hear their advice for current researchers. I've just discovered this resource of videos of Nobel Prize winners inspiring others through their stories. I'm looking forward to watching quite a few of these. This video is about choosing a research project but there are also videos on dealing with surprises and setbacks during your research career.

How should young scientists choose a research project?

The infographic about Nobel Prize winners is below. I always try and remember when reading lists and summaries though, especially when it comes to research,  that all projects and research pathways are unique and no two people take the same path. 

Source: Online-PHd-Programs.org

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Can Research Groups communicate as a collective rather than as individuals?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I'm speaking to more and more research groups about how they can get online and share their work via social media.

I used some of the thoughts and diagrams from 'An introduction to social media for Scientists' published in PLOS Biology 2013 to illustrate some of the thoughts, barriers and journeys to engaging online in a short talk I gave..

I'm looking to speak to more people and read more case studies about how collective research groups have shared their science openly online - rather than the science being communicated by single individuals -  which I see to be more commonplace. Research rarely exists in isolation so I see more groups moving to this collated model.

Communicating as a group is, in theory, easier than as a single entity as there is potentially more to discuss and potentially less onus on one individual to provide all the narrative. That said, it is more difficult for people to communicate as a group as you are representing more voices and within a research environment everyone needs to be happy about what is being said. Relationships within research groups aren't always easy and that can mean that communication can stall. Communicating as a group also takes more input from people to organise and co-ordinate so although individuals might not have to contribute as much content, their time might be dedicated to the outputs in other ways.

For the receiver it may be difficult to engage with a group communication rather than an individual as it can lose the personal connection. Especially on twitter, group accounts can become static and exist only to announce outputs and information, rather than real engagement with an audience.

The use of social media by scientists has been criticised by some, including a Nobel Laureate,  as being 'self-promotion' and that, isn't 'science'. I was at that discussion and disagreed with it completely at the time but would communication by groups, rather than individuals avoid this? Or does it just prevent many of the benefits that can come from social media if used as an individual voice?

I am really interested in discussing this further and some ways people have used to overcome the barriers to communicating as a group.

Here's my prezi talk for those that are interested!

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