happy new 2016

A slightly early happy new year post!

It has certainly been a bit of a roller-coaster year for me – finishing in Australia, spending 5 months in Sweden, before returning to my home town to set up my own company. Things are settling down nicely now (thankfully).

It would not be appropriate for me to air dirty linen in public about some of my experiences in academia. However, suffice to say, in private conversations with a lot of my former colleagues I heard similar complaints and frustrations with the way the profession is going. Of course, not every institution suffers from the same problems; I’m sure there are some places that have very few, and the universities I worked at all had excellent qualities, each one it its own way. Indeed perhaps the problems stem more with the profession more generally, and the funding environment, which forces the universities simply to react in certain ways.

My hope for 2016, to help my former colleagues, is that professional organisations are more supportive of researchers, that credit is given where it is due, and that funding agencies no longer favour certain groups simply due to their wider institutional reputation, rather than technical expertise. One gripe I will mention is the very marked deterioration in citation that I saw in my field: over the last 5-10 years I increasingly saw practices that would certainly fail PhDs, and maybe even undergraduate theses. I saw papers that seemed like they were rushed to a shocking degree (with no proper literature review), or alternatively were deliberately referencing certain other papers to game the funding systems (which, in a number of countries, increasingly rely on citations).

As a final thought I will return to the issue of how groups within academia are being pushed to work, via funding and incentive structures: they must act like consultancies, with key performance indicators and applied (as opposed to theoretical/blue skies) outcomes. My response to that was to become a consultancy myself: after all, why would potential clients pay for layers of administration and a quasi-consultant when they can get the real deal for a much cheaper price?

Of course that can be taken as plug for my services, but hey we all need to make a living 🙂

And on that note, happy new year!