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!).




http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2012/01/us-science-needs-to-look-beyond-our.html

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.

Blughhh!



17 comments:

  1. Even with a whole team of techs, its hard to imagine publishing 3-4 papers a year, when the review process takes a several months as well. If that is the goal then more streamlined peer review and publishing of smaller stories ought be promoted

    ReplyDelete
  2. I too find this hard to believe. It must be far better to get quality than quantity. One high profile paper from a 3 year postdoc is going to be very, very valuable. Having said that, if you aren't on track for that then it is probably realistic to expect 2-3 good papers in total (not every year) from a postdoc. My rule of thumb is not to have a gap on your cv unless for a very good reason - including moving to a new post etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I asked around at my astrophysics department and the average here is 3-4 a year. One of my co-researchers is actually working on 3 papers at the moment, two of which are in review. I'm not sure how different research in astrophysics is to the medical sciences though!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Quality over quantity I am sure is taken into account when applying for fellowships. The 3 paper number was created as a guide from the feedback received from the research councils.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is also discipline-specific: synthetic chemists publish far more than mathematicians. And team size comes into it too - was this meant to be 3.25 papers as first author? Otherwise it is a rather meaningless statistic (since team size varies so much) which I can't see is very helpful overall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it is discipline specific, the talk was specifically for post-docs in medical sciences, and yes it was 3.25 papers as first author.

      Delete
  6. I don't doubt that you were told this, but I very much doubt this is true. Why don't you double check the figures? Have a look at the last few years BBSRC David Phillips Fellows and check how many papers they had, likewise for Wellcome, MRC etc. I know some of these people and they probably published 3 or 4 excellent papers during their postdoc period, not per year. In my own field, a postdoc on 3.25 papers per year would raise eyebrows if not alarm bells.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well that is why I posted this blog as I say, I am not sure that the people actually getting the fellowships really have this record, or if it is just something that the research councils have stated as an 'ideal'

      Delete
  7. Just to correct you slightly I recall they stated "3.25 papers per post doc year" and referenced the fact that this does not mean that application would not be successful.

    Since most felowship applications are from 3-6y PDRAs then this should equate to 10-30 papers.

    But even ~10 (where the majority of them are 1st author) publications and of high quality (IF 5+) would normally be sufficient.

    I may be wide of the mark - even a little synical... but... Althouhgh they cannot state this catagorically have you concidered maybe the University of Aberdeen cant support too many new fellows? They are, in many circumstances, obliged to support them after the fellowship which could lead to a financial time bomb. In turn may be provoking the new "managment procedure for fellowship applications".

    At least this new system will allow them to actively audit the intentions of the RAs to submit as there are further practical implications of taking on new PIs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for adding the comment. Your point about supporting new fellows may be a good one. But I am sure that they want to encourage fellows too!

      Delete
    2. Absolutely! I have no doubt that they (the directors) realise the benefits of encouraging staff developement. I think the whole new management scheme is a positive one as it will ensure most success from any viable applications. :)

      The university is a great environment but I fear its resources are becoming stretched... it is possible that those who survive are the ones that are best suited or indeed able to adapt to this competitive environment. :(

      Delete
  8. Well I wouldn't be so sure the premise is completely true:

    H. Abt, “The publication rate of scientific papers depends only on the number of scientists,” Scientometrics, vol. 73, no. 3, pp. 281–288, 2007.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I would go for quality over quantity. Quantity is nothing is no quality.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well FWIW, I am pretty sure Einstein only knocked out three papers in 1905, so I guess he would have been a tad under the average.

    ReplyDelete
  11. there is, of course, a serious research effort on this question. It is the rare scientist that always publishes 'quality'. In general, impact is a function of quantity and the best scientists publish great and not so great work. Scholarly productivity (i.e. papers per year) turns out to look like a negatively accelerated learning curve, so that the worst predictor of 'mature' levels of productivity are publications per year in the PhD and postdoctoral years, because the slope is still rising. Try doing some reading on scholarly productivity, it is useful to normalise ones expectations.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Let me provide a bit of a historical perspective. I did my postdoc work in the early 1980's in fungal biochemistry. The lab within which I worked was small. We had a part time tech who mostly kept us in clean glassware and distilled water. There was an ocassional master's student and toward the end of my tenure we picked up a second postdoc. We (mostly myself with some input from the boss)averaged a little of three peer-reviewed publications per year with myself as the lead author and the work performed ultimately led to a whole new class of medical antifungal agents so I guess our work could be considered significant. Our publication rate would have been better, but our equipment was lacking. Our ultracentrifuge had only one swinging bucket head with three tubes and was basically condemned; we used another labs scintillation counter which frequently broke down and electron microscope time and sample preparation was when the microscopes' owners weren't using it. We also spent alot of time scrounging for equipment and some, like our lyophilizer, I had to build from scratch using parts found abandoned in other labs. Because of my experience, I really do not think that attaining 3+ peer-review publications is that outlandish an expectation.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Nice blogspot! Many authors are published his own articles which is the main concept to provides the related information who are invent in old times. The youngsters are much attract to the journals articles. I really like the motive of this blog and very thankful for sharing me.
    Research Journal Articles

    ReplyDelete

Contributors