A roadmap towards an academia beyond quantity

By Joern Fischer

… individual academics can start the process of change within their workplaces, rather than blindly running along on an ever-faster treadmill to intellectual nowhere…

Without much further ado, I’d like to point you towards our latest (and for the time being, probably last!) paper on how to move towards an academia that is not just obsessed with quantity. The new paper, outlining a roadmap for the future, is available in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, or you can download it here: 2012_academia_beyond_quantity.

9 thoughts on “A roadmap towards an academia beyond quantity

  1. Dear Joern, Euan and Jan

    First, I want to thank you for focusing on the topic of academia’s obsession with quantity. I like reading your letters as well as the responses especially from a post-growth perspective. It convinces me (once again) that we cannot just adopt new objectives but need to deeply change existing structures to improve everyday life in academia.

    Second, from a student perspective it is difficult to grasp and follow your roadmap to change academia obsession! If aiming at a career in academia (as in every other sector) one need to follows established rules and has to join the rat race to climb the ladder. E.g. Competing with other for master programs (in my case 400 students applied, 35 have been accepted – myself included) or applying for PhD position additional qualifications and experiences counts! During my bachelor I have participated in several academia committees, worked for a Professor and finally graduated (in time) with two papers ready for submission. And for the record, I’m writing this comment wile listening to a lecture. So according to your roadmap I screwed up! However in terms of climbing the ladder I’m doing well – I guess.

    Finally, I think you are in a comfortable position for arguing for an academia, which focuses rather on quality than quantity (h-index: 25 (Joern) and 4 (Jan) according to Scopus). Similar to developing countries (as mentioned by Loyola et al., 2012), students aiming to impact academia will do that rather by quantity than quality.

    – Those with the loudest voices will be heard ; )

    Greetings from Lund (Sweden)

    Loyola, R.D. et al. (2012) Obsession with quantity: a view from the south.
    Trends Ecol. Evol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2012.07.016

    • Thanks Chris! I believe there is a fundamental difference between when you start an academic career vs when you’re in it. The responsibility to bring about change lies disproportionately with those who are “established” in some way. I also completely agree that to get started it is very useful to be engaged in a number of activities; and publish quite a lot. The point is more that at some point (when exactly???) more no longer equals better. When you’re publishing 10 papers a year, do you need 20? When you have a research team of 6 great people, do you need 12? And so on. The system currently tells us that more is always better — and that’s where I disagree. Another important point is that people differ in their strengths and how they will best contribute to the world. For some, this will be many committees, and that is indeed a great service. For others, it will be quietly sitting somewhere, thinking deeply, and then writing some wonderful books about it. This is not the same for everyone. So — I think we are at least in some agreement…?

  2. You know I have just returned from a visit (my 1st) to Romania and time & time again we kept asking why? why this? why that? which is all well & good. But, to be honest things were happening because it was PRACTICAL to do it, it was local, it was to hand, it saved too much work to do it other ways. Romanians do things (this was in the countryside rural areas btw) because they need to to survive, just to get by, to live. We I think kept ‘over intellectualising’ everything instead of trying to put ourselves in their place. remember KISS ! Keep It Simple Stupid…it is a old saying that holds true for most things…I loved Romania and cannot wait to go back to learn more of the PRACTICAL traditional way things are done…(and I hope for Romanias sake it does not change to our crazy western ways)

  3. I have halted my studies this year (BSc in Wildlife & Countryside). I had a lot on work wise and to be honest the studying in detail of everything in the countryside was SPOILING my enjoyment of justbgetting out there and enjoying the scenery and especially just enjoying finding amazing ancient trees. So, yes I have met many academics and they are great…but…I learnt way more in a week in Romania than studying for 10 years!

  4. I think this all is somehow related to the increasing ‘population pressure’ on academia.

    Romania – thanks Rob to bring this in discussion – is very special in this respect too: it is a country where being ecology researcher was not associated with ‘wealth’ (even within the country, researchers were generally ‘poor’). This situation determined very much the attractivity of this ‘career – only those go there who first of all love ecology and nature and second for ‘salary’.

    This is why, Romanian researchers are not competitive in the western sense, alsthough they mostly know the studied organisms and their ecology inside out. But they dont know how the art of packing / ‘selling’ the – often symple, and already well known – informations.

    This is very different in west+there are virtually unlimited opportunities to travel, where new niches appear e.g. for modelists etc. These many things together may increase the attractivity of academia for people in developed countries. The financial ground is generally unable allow ‘immigration’ in the permanent population of academia – generally there are more people than money to pay them in permanent positions. This is probably why, there are many temporary jobs, and the number of postdocs is increasing. Some countries even say: ‘we search postdocs which are after 3 (5?) years after the PhD’ – the pressure select even younger researchers. Plus as mentioned before somewhere, life tend to be harder in the new type of ‘megapopulation’ – not only for ecologist. A colleague told last days that an important selection criteria to go in academia is to have papers and many citations – probably this will remain true, of course context matters always.

  5. @Rob
    ‘Romanians do things (this was in the countryside rural areas btw) because they need to to survive, just to get by, to live. We I think kept ‘over intellectualising’ everything instead of trying to put ourselves in their place.’


  6. Pingback: Eyes wide open « Ecology is not a dirty word

  7. Here’s a comment kind of related, and very interesting, courtesy of Mick McCarthy, who commented on the website listed below (I’m just copying it here because it’s relevant):

    Michael McCarthy commented:

    “Ernest Rutherford, regarded as one of the greatest scientists, asked one of his students who was working long hours “When do you have time to think?” He imposed strict limits on time spent working so that his students could both spend more time with their families AND be better scientists: http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7112-720b This is borne out in modern times by one of the Australia’s leading scientists telling me that his two best ideas came to him while surfing.”

    To add your say go to http://theconversation.edu.au/cracks-in-the-ivory-tower-is-academias-culture-sustainable-8294

  8. Pingback: Academia’s obsession with quantity revisited | Ideas for Sustainability

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