Saturday, 7 October 2017

The Highs of the Hybrid: Bridging the Researcher-Administrator Divide

Last week I emailed all staff about a change to the names of the teams in Research Services. The Funding Team was being rebadged the Research Development Team. Their role didn’t change, but it better reflected what they did, and fitted with what most other universities called those who worked at a very early stage with academics in developing proposals.

To be honest I felt a little guilty about the email. It was one of those messages that, if I was the recipient, I would have deleted immediately or perhaps rolled my eyes and wondered if they didn’t have anything better to do in the Registry.

I think that’s probably what happened with 99.9% of the staff. However, it was the 0.1% who wrote back. ‘How many of the Research Development Team are active researchers?’ asked the academic.

It was an odd question, but I could read between the lines and recognise the disgust with which it was delivered. The point was this: what right did those who don’t do research have to talk to those who do about ‘developing research’?

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Goldilocks Grants

The first, second and third reviewers disagree about the merits
of Goldilock's research methodology
Earlier this year Michael Lauer, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Deputy Director for Extramural Research, wrote an interesting blog post examining the productivity of its funding. He looked for a correlation between the amount of funding a project had received and the number of citations it got. This he described as “citations per dollar”.

Such a stark metric had many rolling their eyes, and the comments that followed questioned the underlying supposition. “Numbers of citations rarely correlate with greatest discoveries”, wrote one commentator. “Citation numbers are strongly biased towards fast-moving areas of inquiry”, said another. A third noted that “the number of citations a paper receives is an extremely error-prone measure of scientific merit.”

Nevertheless, I think it’s worth exploring Lauer’s work further for two reasons. First, because it is entirely appropriate for funders to try to assess the most effective use of their limited resources. Second, because the conclusion he hints at runs counter to the current drive by the majority of funders to back larger and longer projects.