This article was originally published on the Careers blog and is shared here with the permission from the American Society for Microbiology. The link to the original article is found here. This article was written by policy activist Adriana Bankston.
Career progression in academia depends on multiple factors. Traditionally, the metrics most widely used to assess how successful a researcher is and how likely they are to progress in their academic career have been quantifiable items, such as the number of grants, publications, presentations, posters, etc.
However, researchers also engage in many other, less tangible activities that are not regarded as being equally valuable to the traditional metrics. Those in academic careers are expected to mentor people, review papers and grants, serve on committees etc. Academics tend to focus less on these activities, and there is a lack of resources and training in these areas.
In many cases, expertise in performing intangible activities (e.g., writing grants and papers) is necessary for developing the quantifiable items. However, in a culture where the product is the main metric, the process of learning and teaching others how to become experts in these activities is not valued.
Although critical to academic success, these activities constitute only a small part of a researcher’s application for grant funding, job promotion, etc. As a consequence, participating in these activities is also not rewarded properly in academia. It can be difficult to assess their impact, especially if not resulting in a product right away. It may take an extended amount of time for them to have an effect on the training of academic scientists. In addition, opportunities to learn and teach these activities are not consistently present and/or encouraged at all universities, making it difficult to compare individuals to each other.
Why is training of intangible activities not regarded as critical for academic scientists as the traditional metrics? Some academics may be reluctant to changes in the system, especially if the traditional metrics have propelled them into scientific stardom. They are, therefore, less likely to advocate for change in what should be valued and rewarded in academia. And those who want to see a change in academia may lack the resources and knowledge necessary to effect it.
What general solutions might exist to how academia can better value and reward these activities? A set of standards for assessing performance of these activities across universities would make it easier to determine their value for career progression in academia and beyond. In addition, we could use these activities as teaching tools by having someone skilled in a particular area present a webinar or teach a university course on that topic. This would give some recognition to those who are already performing these tasks well and provide them with opportunities to train others.
Overall, the system of values and rewards for these activities needs to change at all levels in academia. Junior scientists should be rewarded for these activities early in their training and throughout their training. Doing so could motivate them to contribute further to the development and promotion of these activities within academia. However, senior scientists and faculty members also need to engage in these activities.
Below are my views on a few common intangible activities in academia (by no means a comprehensive list):
|Goals and outcomes
(predicted or desired)
|Ideas for change
|Serving as a mentor
|How do we effectively teach this skill to the next generation?
|Reviewing papers and grants
|How do we assess constructive and useful reviewers?
How do we find suitable reviewers for a particular field?
|Participating on committees
|How do we determine who is a valuable committee member?
How do we motivate scientists to serve on committees?
|Teaching courses and giving talks
|How do we engage students in teaching?
How do we deliver effective lectures?
|Writinggrants and papers
|How do we assess the teaching of writing skills to researchers?
|Managing labs (various aspects)
|How do we train researchers in effective management of time, people, budgets, etc.?
|Engaging in professional development
|How do we engage trainees to participate in these activities?
How do we highlight the need for these activities to faculty members?
In conclusion, thinking about the current and future values and rewards of intangible activities in academia is critical to the career success of researchers themselves and benefits the entire academic system in general. The hope is that academics will begin to discuss, improve, and embrace these ideas for change, leading to the development of more well-rounded scientists and a more sustainable scientific enterprise.
Do you have ideas of how we can improve the value of these activities in academia, and how to reward those who are already performing them well? Please comment below!
Training Inside the Lab
Training Outside the Lab