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Academics Not Productive Enough? Sack 'em 356

Posted by timothy
from the wish-I-could-sack-'em-for-being-poor-teachers dept.
ananyo writes "One hundred academics at the University of Sydney, Australia, have this week been told they will lose their jobs for not publishing frequently enough. The move is part of a wider cost-cutting plans designed to pay for new buildings and refurbishment to the university. Letters were posted to researchers on Monday 20 February, informing them their positions were being terminated because they hadn't published at least four 'research outputs' over the past three years. It is unclear which research fields the academics work in. Another 64 academics were told they had a choice between leaving and moving to a teaching-only position, he said."
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Academics Not Productive Enough? Sack 'em

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  • That'll work well. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sethstorm (512897) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:52AM (#39135765) Homepage

    So if they were to publish more to make up for a quota, wouldn't that'd lower the quality a bit?

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:55AM (#39135781) Homepage Journal
      Yes. Any questions?
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:59AM (#39135817) Journal
      Of course not. How could quality be going down if the metric we are using because it is easy and convenient is going up? That would be difficult to model and therefore unthinkable. Why, it might even require me to have some subject-matter knowledge in the areas that my human resources do! I am way too focused on lining my bookshelf with copies of books about management fads for shit like that.
      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gma i l . com> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:11PM (#39138717) Journal

        Has anyone else noticed that the word "quality" has become almost a dirty word, a word one never utters unless its with nostalgia for when people and companies actually gave a shit? Now some of it you can blame on the government because getting rid of lead solder was just fucking stupid because the amount of waste being made from devices failing earlier is causing more pollution than the lead was, but as we see in TFA even universities are getting into the "We don't give a shit about quality, just crank that shit out" business.

        Personally i think its sad how everything is becoming cheap and plastic and worthless, that's what it really is. Hell you can't even spend more and get quality as all you'll get is the same crap and if the company has a problem with the crap they'll just rig it so it'll last one day past the warranty and fuck you over, HP Nvidia laptop anyone? Maybe its just me but it seemed that people used to take pride in things, take pride in doing a good job, but not anymore. Now its get in, get out, get paid, fuck everything else. Now we are gonna see science and learning become yet more crap factories, just churning out endless piles of stupid useless shit to meet some stupid quota. Damned shame is what it is, just a damned shame.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:00AM (#39135829)

      I'd recommend a study on it. Seriously, right now unless you want to lose your job.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:09AM (#39135899) Journal
      In general, I'd agree, but publishing just over one paper per year shouldn't be hard for any moderately competent researcher. At the very least, they can publish something saying 'we tried this approach, and now we can show why it's a bad idea'.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:13AM (#39135941)

        But which is more productive - writing up "this failed" for publication or getting to work on the next project? I'm a little biased here in that I'm a mathematician, so negative results are generally of the form "I wasn't able to show what I wanted to but still believe the conjecture is true/now believe it to be false.

        • by hvm2hvm (1208954) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:24AM (#39136035) Homepage
          In the short run you are better just continuing with the next approach. However if all the people keep publishing said "failures" and constantly look for other researchers' failures then in the long run, everyone does more research because they know what attempts are going to fail beforehand.

          Ideally, researchers would also publish the attempt when they get started on it s.t. there aren't too many people working on the same approach but then you need to factor in the fact that an approach might be to tough for a researcher in which case he should let someone else do it. (Of course, this also assumes that all people are honest and their skills perfectly quantifiable which is obviously wrong)
        • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:29AM (#39136111)
          This isn't necessarily an "either/or" senario. Writting up negative results is just as important as writing up positive ones. That way other researchers in the field know what not to try. My bias comes from the life sciences, where a lack of expected response to a product is just as important as its presence. You may not want to go out and write up a full journal article, and instead go the route of presenting an abstract at a relevent conference, but that still counts as a 'research output' most places, even if it is of lesser impact than a journal article.

          We academics are hired to perform a job, and as much of a PITA as publication can be, it is one of the major job requirements. Not doing a part of your job well enough is definitely grounds for termination, assuming the academic didn't have some sort of tenure protections.
          • by PlatyPaul (690601) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:48AM (#39136305) Homepage Journal
            Speaking as a computer scientist: negative results in my field are massively discounted, unless you are proving impossibility. Producing a less accurate image feature, or a less effective scheduling algorithm, is not generally considered publish-worthy.
            • by BeardedChimp (1416531) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:28AM (#39136667)
              If you don't publish, what prevents people from investing time in that less effective scheduling algorithm again and again?
            • by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:30AM (#39136681) Homepage

              Speaking as a computer scientist: negative results in my field are massively discounted, unless you are proving impossibility. Producing a less accurate image feature, or a less effective scheduling algorithm, is not generally considered publish-worthy.

              ^^^ This. I'll dare to say that negative results are massively discounted not just in CS, but in other fields as well. It is a lot easier to publish a rosy (and completely irrelevant) scenario than a realistic, but modest negative one. That on itself is what makes academic publishing so hard. It's not the research process that makes it hard/impossible for many academics to publish so frequently, it is the publishing process itself that is anything short of corrupt IMO.

        • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:31AM (#39136137)

          But which is more productive - writing up "this failed"

          Writing up "this failed" is absolutely just as (if not more) productive. Too many published papers are "this works" and not "this didn't work". A huge part of science, mathematics, etc. is failing and then explaining how and why you failed.

          What's the worst that can happen? "Oh noes, Professor Straya tried a completely logical methodology but it didn't work out?" The only fear is to be exposed as incompetent (contaminated experiment, bad methodology, etc.) and that's a good thing as well.

        • As a researcher writing papers is part of your job.
          Almost every job requires you to do something that sucks.

          Your paycheck doesn't come out of thin air. If it is a Government Grant then it is coming out of Tax Payers, if it is from the university it is from Students Tuition, Grants (Public (Government(Tax Payers)) and Private (Rich People/Companies), Alumni etc... Basically a group of people who hope to see their money put to good use, that will make their lives more profitable or help the general community
        • by FrangoAssado (561740) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @01:29PM (#39138119)

          That's a really interesting question. I don't know about Mathematics, but in Physics, its pretty damn important to publish negative results. Feynman used to tell a story to show that (available here [lhup.edu]). Basically, the story goes something like this:

          Robert Millikan [wikipedia.org], which was already a famous experimental physicist, published a (now famous) experiment that determined the charge of a single electron [wikipedia.org]. This was the first time such a thing had been done, so it was a really big deal. A lot of other physicists replicated the experiment, with lots of papers published all around. The thing about experiments is that the value measured always has an uncertainty, and experimenters make mistakes, so it's very common for later experiments to correct previously-measured values. The strange thing about this case is that, if you plot the "known" value for the electron charge over time, you get a curve that gradually grows from the value measured in the first experiment to the value we now know is correct (because today we have many different ways to measure the value, so we're pretty sure of it).

          So, why is the plot a gradual curve and not a straight jump to the correct answer? Why didn't the second experiment get the correct value right away? The answer is embarrassing. Since Millikan was so famous, subsequent experimenters didn't publish their results if the value they got was too far from the "currently accepted" value -- they thought of their results as "negative results", even though they probably had less error than the "currently accepted" value. The ones that got published were the ones with similar errors to the previous ones, or the ones that kept tweaking their setup (introducing all kinds of random errors) until they got a value that was closer to the original.

          Nowadays, physicists are very careful not to make mistakes like this. Part of that care means that you don't pay too much attention to the "expected" result, so you really should publish negative results. Of course, that's just the theory -- no one likes to publish negative results, because most of the time, they're just a waste of time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Good luck getting something like that published for example in Computer Science. Reviewers won't even bother reading past the abstract. "No significant contribution", "nothing novel", etc.

      • by godrik (1287354) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:25AM (#39136069)

        I agree with you. The point of OP remains. forcing people to have a publication count won't solve anything. Close to the deadline, people will start submitting crappy papers until they pass the quota.

        You can not put a simple counting rule to administrate people whose job is to understand, develop and bypass models. Researcher are the less suitable people for being subject to this type of rules.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:25AM (#39136073)

        What about:

        First year: "We have built up this experiment, and we are now collecting data."
        Second year: "We are still in the process of collecting data; up to now we haven't seen anything interesting."
        Third year: "We are still in the process of collecting data; up to now we haven't seen anything interesting."

        No journal would publish any of that.

        However, the following would make the headlines if the researcher hadn't been fired due to three years without publication:
        Fourth year: "We have proof for superluminal supersymmetric magnetic monopoles!"

        Yes, I'm exaggerating. But the point is, some things just need time.

        The right thing to do if someone has few publications is not saying "sorry, you've got too few publications, you're fired" but to ask "you've got very few publications, what are you doing?" And only if he can't give a good answer to that, firing him is justified.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        It sounds like they're counting more than just papers. "Research output" sounds like it includes abstracts as well. Any non-tenured prof would probably get the sack if his 5 year review came up and he'd published so little.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by j33px0r (722130)

        One of the expectations when hired in many academia roles is to publish papers. If you don't want to publish papers then perhaps you should be taking on a different career or different position. If you are hired on as an assistant/associate professor at a major university, they will often only assign you 2-3 courses to teach per semester with summer courses being extra money in your pocket. Teaching 2-3 courses per semester is a part-time job and they are not typically paying you to be a member of a profess

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      "Publish or Perish" has been a part of academia for as long as I can remember (in the U.S. anyway). When I was in academia, it was the ONLY way to get tenure. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of bad stuff like profs cooking numbers and fabricating sources just to get an article out of it and insisting on putting their names as co-authors on all their grad students' papers (even if they didn't write a word).

      • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:33AM (#39136157)

        ...insisting on putting their names as co-authors on all their grad students' papers (even if they didn't write a word)

        Not sure what the problem is here. Maybe it's because of the field you are in, but in my field (animal science) it is expected that your major advisor be on every manuscript. Usually becasue they played a major role in designing the experiment, procuring the funding, and paying the students stipend. My advisor's primariy contribution to the writing process of my manuscripts was as an editor, but he definitely made "meaningful intellectual contributions" to the research projects described, which has always been the bar for co-authorship in my opinion.

      • I'm going to throw a Car Analogy out here:

        Old guy walks back into bank, waits in line and when he gets to teller, asks her to validate his parking stub. She tells him no so he steps aside and requests to speak to bank manager. When manager comes over he informs them that he's closing his accounts (plural) with the bank due to poor customer service for the refusal to validate the parking stub he'd forgot to have done when he was first in. Same teller. Manager discovers that said customer holds account in ex

    • by iamwahoo2 (594922) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:10AM (#39136487)

      It is not a quota. Quota's are given in advance and you work to meet them. In this case the University needed to reduce research salaries. They just happened to choose this existing metric to make a decision on how to meet their salary reduction goals. There is no indication that this metric will be used in the future. It is very easy to criticize the use of this metric, but beeing currently part of a work force that requires similar efficiency improvements, I can tell you that their is no metric or means that will not be criticized for being unfair to some individuals. In my own personal opinion, this approach is a hell of a lot better than the typical practice of protecting the highest paid and longest retained individuals.

    • by Theovon (109752)

      It depends. Just because the university has required them to increase their research output doesn't mean the peer-reviewed venues are going to lower their standards. They won't get too far by just doing MORE research. They have to do HIGHER QUALITY research, so that they are able to publish in higher-tier venues. One of those counts a lot more than 10 publications in low-ranked journals that no one reads or cites.

      I'm a nobody grad student, yet I have papers in MICRO and HPCA. Mind you, I have a good ad

  • by MagusSlurpy (592575) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:53AM (#39135773) Homepage

    . . ."publish or perish" just because we appreciate alliteration.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:11AM (#39135923) Journal
      And for people outside academia, here's the obligatory SMBC [smbc-comics.com]...
      • by Coryoth (254751) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:45AM (#39136289) Homepage Journal

        The dilemma with "publish or perish" is that the metric is stupid. Saying its "Do your job or get fired" is all well and good, but it is more akin to being a programmer and the sole measure of "doing your job" is "number of lines of code written (including comments)" -- it's frustrating because it encourages and rewards what most would consider "doing your job badly".

        • by Theovon (109752)

          Bad analogy. What adacemics have to do is akin to writing more lines of code that are reviewed by 4 or 5 other distinguished academics. There are a few bad journals out there, but most venues work very hard to get good reviewers and accept the best papers. You can write all you want, but only the good papers get published. (There's a certain amount of randomness about which borderline papers get accepted, but the exceptional ones are not overlooked.) And not all venues count the same either.

    • RTFAing for some extra discussion material, it looks like they were told even as recently as late last year that producing only four publications every five years would be acceptable. The University is guzzling funds in construction projects instead, at the cost of its academic integrity and ability to attract researchers. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like kickbacks are involved. Unfortunately, like here in Canada, Australia has no functioning critical apparatus and outing people for corrup
  • I thought I smelled something awful.
  • Game show? (Score:5, Funny)

    by owenferguson (521762) <{owenferguson} {at} {hotmail.com}> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:56AM (#39135791)
    Surely they could make this into some sort of a reality TV gameshow. "So you think you can publish!" People from the general public could read the various works, and vote by phone for who gets kicked out...
  • Good riddance (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SirBitBucket (1292924) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:56AM (#39135797)
    There are far too many in "accedemia" who just get tenure and do nothing. How about schools focus on TEACHING, specifically undergrads.... Universities these days just worry about publishing and other things that get them grants, but don't care too much about the students, especially the undergrads, which is all the degree most of them are going to get... Put people out in their field and they will learn far more in a week than in a semester of school.
    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:08AM (#39135889) Homepage

      There are far too many in "accedemia" [...] How about schools focus on TEACHING

      Based on the evidence presented before me, I feel inclined to agree.

      • Re:Good riddance (Score:5, Interesting)

        by robthebloke (1308483) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:20AM (#39136575)
        Ex-Lecturer here! There are two aspects to every university. On one hand you have the academics. On the other you have the financial and admin side. Most academics care a great deal for their students! They may appear a bit aloof, they may appear to be thinking about other things, they may appear somewhat dis-interested in students, but if you understand what happens behind closed doors, you'd understand why. Most meetings between academics and admin depts go like this:

        Admin: We're doubling the intake of students next year, and we think you can do that with 25% less staff.
        Academic: We can't double intake, reduce teaching, and still maintain the quality.
        Admin: Sure you can, let me show you an excel spreadsheet.....
        Academics: Those sums are complete nonsense, it's simply not possible, here's the proof.
        Admin: Then let's take away your classrooms and computing equipment, and you can do all your lectures via skype.
        Academics: That's not going to happen.
        Admin: It is happening. Deal with it.
        Academics: Then we'll find our own funding....

        12 months later:
        Admin: You've got the largest amount of funding in the university, we're going to distribute that out to other courses.
        Academics: You can't. We're 100% funded by companies. You simply cannot take that money from us, the sponsors will not agree to it.
        Admin: Tough. We need to even up the distribution of funds. By the way, cut teaching staff by 25%.
        Sponsor: You've used the funding for things it was not intended, we're withdrawing all future funding
        Academic: We're f*****d
        Admin: No you aren't, simply go out and find more sponsors for the course. You did it last year, it should be easy to do again right?
        Academic: I quit.

        At least, that's why I no longer lecture anyway. It's a thankless task. You're constantly screwed over by admins trying to make a quick buck here and there. Your teaching suffers as a result, and the students end up thinking you're a lazy miserable so and so. If you concentrate entirely on teaching, your students get royally shafted. I've never met an academic who didn't have his/her students as their first priority. Most of what goes on behind the scenes is rarely, if ever, seen by the students..... so students often get the wrong idea about their lecturers.
      • by istartedi (132515)

        Everybody in macadamia is nuts!

    • by wisty (1335733)

      You get what you pay for. Academics are paid to publish, and (to a lessor extent) get good student ratings.

    • by langelgjm (860756) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:14AM (#39135953) Journal
      So, how exactly will firing professors for not publishing "enough" encourage professors to care more about students and teaching, and less about publishing?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:40AM (#39136225)

        It won't. Clearly. But you are missing the point.

        The whole publish or perish paradigm is set up because publishing professors typically have a stronger ability to get grants, which then help fund the university (which typically takes a portion of the grant money into a more general fund). Grant givers almost always look at the publication record of the applicants, and those who are publishing more are MUCH more likely to get the grant. And yes, this is even in cases where supposedly the grants are given 'blind'. Well-known authors in any field develop a distinct style and those who are familiar with the field are likely to recognize that style. Thus grants are given to people who are already productive.

        In the end, science research as funded via universities is a bit of a circular situation and it's all a bit self-congratulatory for the people at the top of their field. Which is of course why anyone wanting to do research in a field needs to attach themselves to one of the top researchers during under-grad/graduate years, so that they get the chance to be 2nd (or 3rd or 5th) author on a number of papers published by the BIGNAME. Then after they do that for a while, they get to be first author and BIGNAME moves to last author, but their names become strongly associated, and eventually the rising star gets to move into their own celebrity status, while the BIGNAME just keeps getting more recognition.

        If I sound bitter, it may be because this is system is hardly designed to foster innovation, and is hardly conducive to outsiders being brought in. The real rule is conformity to the status quo. If you start out trying to make your own name, or trying to publish things that go against the grain, then you will get quietly ignored by the publishers. Personally, I'm no longer in research, and I'm just as well off gone from that particular insanity.

        I have a good friend who has a PhD in astrophysics, but because all he really wants to do is teach, no one will ever know much about him. Will he ever make some great discovery about astrophysics? LIkely not, even though he's as intelligent as any person you'll likely meet. But because he has a passion for passing on the knowledge he has to new students of physics rather than spend years fiddling around with galactic simulations, he'll likely always have lower pay than most professors, and he'll likely never get mentioned as an important figure in astrophysics. And let's be honest, saying, "I inspired thousands of students to continue learning about physics" sounds trite and boring, but saying "I figured out why some stars go supernova and others don't" sounds much more 'important'. Honestly though, the professors that teach the rising students the basic grounding in a subject so that *the new students* of a subject can go on and make important discoveries are the ones that deserve a lot of credit. The professors that ignore students that aren't actively doing research *with them* are often (not always) doing little more than polishing an already sparkly name. Yes, they bring in money for the universities. Yes, the research they do is *often* important, and yes, we need people who are willing to do real research. Yet, at the end of the day, if we don't have people who are competent at actually *teaching*, then we are going to eventually get ourselves into trouble when all the students decide to go get an MBA so they can actually make a decent living.

        • by Theovon (109752)

          I have to agree with you on the issue of teaching. Some professors are brilliant at teaching, but they're looked down upon because they've taught at the expense of research.

          As for getting papers published, I don't know how it is in your area, but I'm in Computer Architecture, and I haven't seen any problems with bias towards big names. My advisor's former advisor is on the boards of some conferenes. But how can anyone tell when all of the submissions are double-blind? We actually try to figure out who s

    • by pavon (30274) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:15AM (#39135957)

      The professors who follow your advice and focus on teaching rather than publishing make up the bulk of the people being fired here (plus a few slackers who neither teach well nor publish). The ones being kept are the ones who can get grants and crank out papers like printing press, and most likely treat students as a low priority.

      • by mx+b (2078162) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:42AM (#39136251)

        Indeed. I recently interviewed for professor positions. I often seem to get blank/unimpressed expressions when I describe that my interest is teaching, making a good connection with students, and researching teaching methods to make my work more effective and beneficial to students. Personally, I love it. Fun job, and while my students don't believe me, I often learn as much as they do. It's wonderful to view subjects with fresh eyes, vicariously through my students. It also forces me to re-evaluate my own understanding when answering questions. I find it much more satisfying profession that research or industry work.

        The come back to this statement is usually "Well what research did you do for your doctorate, what research are you in now? What papers do you have published? Do you have industry experience?". I usually tell them the relevant info, followed by "...but that's not my primary interest, I enjoy working with students better than working in a lab".

        That never seems to go over well so far, but I feel like I need to stick to my guns on this subject. Universities and colleges should be focused on the students. This doesn't mean you can't do research part of the time, but students are what pay the bills, and ultimately I want enough students to come after me to continue any work I start long after I'm gone. What's the point of all of our hard work in research if we do not have a next generation to pass it to? If the next generation cannot understand it or further the research? In any case, I definitely feel like its harder to get in the door if you aren't obsessively focused on research.

        Quick Anecdote: I remember during graduate school, most of the professors that were "well-known" effectively ignored me and did their best not to give me time and answer questions or help in any manner. They just gave commandments about what to do in lab for them so they could publish more papers and get their name thrown around more; if you're lucky, they might include you as a co-author. My favorite professors, the ones I actually sat and had conversation with and learned what I know now from, were the ones that spent a lot of time on teaching, but in conversation I found out they constantly had to justify their existence to the bean-counters in the administration office; being a teacher or even doing teaching research wasn't enough. They had to come up with all sorts of things -- faculty sponsor of club/organization, etc. -- to prevent themselves from ending up on the chopping block. And now i find myself in the same situation. It's a sad state of affairs, really. Why can't we be allowed to do our job without side project interference?

    • Re:Good riddance (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:29AM (#39136103) Homepage
      The purpose of modern universities is not to teach students. They are businesses which make money by providing a resort town to 20-somethings, runing minor-league professional sports teams, and doing scientific research. The whole "education" thing is just a method of attracting 20-somethings to their resort, and publishing attracts more students than good classes do.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Universities aren't for teaching undergrads. They're for doing research and giving undergrads a chance to learn as part of that process. If you're an undergrad who doesn't intend to go to grad school and you want to be spoon fed, find a college with a good university transfer agreement.

      Not that a good professor shouldn't be able to teach, but the primary function of a university is not to pour knowledge into undergraduate heads.

    • One of my favorite Futurama scenes:

      Mayor Poopenmayer: Professor Wernstrom, can you save my city?
      Professor Wernstrom: Of course, but it'll cost you. First, I'll need tenure.
      Mayor Poopenmayer: Done.
      Professor Wernstrom: And a big research grant.
      Mayor Poopenmayer: You got it.
      Professor Wernstrom: Also, access to a lab, and five graduate students, at least three of them Chinese.
      Mayor Poopenmayer: All right, done. What's your plan?
      Professor Wernstrom: What plan? I'm set for life. Au revoir, suckers!
      Leela: That rat

    • by Creepy (93888)

      Sadly, the same thing happened at my university in the US. Here it seems to be school policy, at my school it was department policy. My favorite and most motivating teacher as an undergrad got canned under this policy. My second favorite teacher only survived because of his patents and pending patents were bringing in massive amounts of money, and the 4 worst teachers I ever had are still teaching today (I was going to say 6, but I just checked the department listing and #5 has since retired). If I had one

  • Tenure (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Relayman (1068986) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @09:57AM (#39135805)
    That's why we have tenure in the United States. "Publish or perish" exists until the professor gets tenure and then it's not as much as an issue any more.
    • I thought we had tenure to better prevent students from learning from apathetic and burned out professors.

      • Re:Tenure (Score:5, Interesting)

        by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:06AM (#39135873)
        Or to prevent mixing whackos with experts breaking ground in radical directions. That is what tenure is supposed to grant, the freedom and protection to go iin new directions or challenge conventional paradigms without fear of being discarded for going against the status quo.

        But just like many well intended benefits of track record and experience (see also social security), it became interpretted by many as the start of a good paying and low effort pension.
      • Re:Tenure (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:09AM (#39135897) Homepage Journal
        Yes; instead it ensures that they learn from apathetic and chronically absent professors. In some Canadian university departments we actually have a system of accountability for lecturers based on students' opinions; in the CS department where I'm doing my undergrad, a Scantron-based survey is incorporated into the decision to give raises. Even tenured bigshots who rake in huge multi-million dollar medical grants are prone. I've seen other departments also send out a round of automated e-mail when considering professors for tenure. The whole system works wonders for preventing the kinds of abuses and irregularities that might occur elsewhere.
    • It Tenure what makes schools in the United States so affordable and so superior to those in other countries?
      Or is it something more?

    • Re:Tenure (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sohmc (595388) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:12AM (#39135929) Journal

      I'm not an academic but my understanding of tenure is to allow the professor to publish topics that may be controversial. That way, the school can't dump the professor for publishing something that goes against the grain.

      Of course, professors are still human and many of them abuse tenure but I'm sure there are professors that actually use the protection that tenure provides them to do extraordinary work that otherwise might have gotten them fired for not toeing the university line. (The easiest examples that comes to mind is global warming, creationism, etc.)

  • Dare I say... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:05AM (#39135853)
    Good? If you're not teaching full-time then you'd better be publishing. If you're not teaching or publishing, what the hell are you doing? A hard quota on papers-per-time-period seems like a terrible idea, but sacking guys who legitimately aren't producing (or moving them to full-time teaching) seems like a no-brainer. Unless, of course, you have some Nobel laureate on staff and want to keep him around just to beef up your department's "cred".
    • Re:Dare I say... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:23AM (#39136033)
      Except that the demand for publishing lots of papers results in:
      1. Researchers chasing low-hanging fruit and ignoring hard problems.
      2. Researchers taking one good result and publishing lots of tiny variations on that result, essentially publishing the same paper over and over again.
      3. Lack of cooperation and secrecy among researchers

      Research is not about the quantity of results that are published, it is about the quality and importance of those results.

    • Re:Dare I say... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:41AM (#39136239)

      If you're not teaching or publishing, what the hell are you doing?

      Actually doing the research which the publications should be based upon, and which will be taught in 30 years. Editing or writing textbooks. Pulling in grants which will pay for research equipment, laboratory space, materials and expendables, travel, publication costs, and incidentally feed, house, and clothe you, your students, and the higher-ups. Serving on administrative councils which are necessary evils, but massive time-sinks. Writing and running necessary simulations so that future research projects can be green- or red-lighted before these time-sinks are encountered again.

      If you think that time researching in a University is spent either in the classroom, or at one's desk pumping out papers left and right, you're sorely mistaken.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a academic who recently saw the light and left for industry, I can tell you exactly what they're doing (at least in the U.S.): activities related to grantsmanship and serving on committees! Getting a grant is a mixed blessing. First, you have to figure out how exactly to spend the money, including hiring people to actually do the work (e.g. graduate students, post docs, etc). Then, you need to write regular progress reports and keep track of the time and effort for people working on the project (account

  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:05AM (#39135865)

    Or rather not. Counting publications is a completely useless metric. In most fields you can publish things just a little different than what you published before, i.e. basically worthless. There are conferences as well that basically take everything. The only thing this does is waste money and time. Stupid.

  • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:19AM (#39135989)

    As an academic early in his "career" (postdoc) I'm skeptical about absolute publication quotas. While it is true that in Southern Europe, where I live, many academics are lazy, it is my impression that in certain domains, especially in the humanities, many of the people that publish a lot are mediocre to say the least. The peer reviewing system in the humanities already gives a huge advantage to people publishing intellectually modest to plain stupid papers, as it is much easier to get an uncontroversial paper that only makes minor points past the reviewers than a controversial paper with new ideas. (This is probably not such a problem in natural sciences, because they have better evaluation criteria.)

    Sure, the top people in the field almost always publish a lot -- 4 or more papers a year is quite common -- but I claim that in the middle field this measure does not work. Too much publication pressure primarily encourages people not to strife for substantial results, but in the end its these rare gems that drive research.

    That being said, 4 papers in 3 years is a very low demand, as long as we're not talking about indexed papers in A-tier journals. At least people should be able to demonstrate that they have written something even if they don't get all of it published in time. But perhaps there should also be an upper limit---no more than 3 papers a year.

    • by PlatyPaul (690601)
      Varies field-to-field. Publishing 5 times in a year is not a big deal in computer science, but publishing 5 times in a year in economics is (from what I hear) impossible even for the cream of the crop.
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:21AM (#39136011) Homepage

    Another 64 academics were told they had a choice between leaving and moving to a teaching-only position, he said

    If the teaching-only position is an option for most of them, then that seems to be a reasonable compromise. The West simply doesn't have the money anymore to throw at professors who are neither prolific researchers nor teachers. There are plenty of students who work very hard for the university who could benefit from having their stipends increased by cannibalizing the salaries of "researchers" who don't really publish much of anything.

    I think this quote might hint at who is really being targeted:

    “The mood is bloody,” agreed Jake Lynch, Director of the university’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. “The union accurately reflects the frustration of many researchers.”

    There are a lot of humanities, liberal arts and social sciences professors who claim to be "researchers" but aren't productive in any sense that the sciences or engineering disciplines would recognize. Based on the friends I had in the sciences and engineering, I can't believe that most of the professors overseeing the researcher graduate students aren't regarded as highly productive by their universities because they put in solid time and effort every year at the very least guiding the researchers doing the grunt work. Admittedly, that's an American experience, but I have a feeling that their College of Arts and Letters, not Science and Engineering, is what is starting to feel the bean counters' medusa-like gaze...

  • by bigsexyjoe (581721) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:23AM (#39136031)

    The professors' union has a good point. Enrollment is increasing and management miscalculated the student fees they would need to take in. So now the professors have to:
    a) publish more
    b) teach more
    leaving little time for:
    c) publish papers that are risky and innovative (the kind that actually move human knowledge forward)

    You have wonder how we can encourage the best and the brightest to be academics. We work them to death making them earn a degree, we work them to death making them actually get hired, then they have to still build their reputation. And know they are saying that they'll get fired for not publishing more when they are already teaching more.

  • Screw that. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GauteL (29207) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:24AM (#39136049)

    It is my experience that many academics these days are pushed into "pork" activities, that is industry oriented work that brings in money for the university, but has little or no academic value.

    In the UK it is particularly common that research fellows are hired for specific pork-based projects on short-term contracts, and also has to cover teaching due to a shortage or unwillingness of staff on higher pay-grades. Actual research you're meant to do on your spare time.

    Well screw that. These days an academic career gives you less pay, longer work hours and less job security than an industry job. You're much more likely to get a permanent job in industry. In academia you have to go through 4-5 short term contracts before you're likely to get a permanent job.

    I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the sacked academics has been pressurised into pork work for years and then get let go when the bacon runs out, because they've been too deep in pig fat to publish.

  • Publish Failures! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GiantRobotMonster (1159813) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:25AM (#39136067)

    We need a lot more people publishing "We tried X to do Y, but it didn't work because of Z."
    They may not be exciting and sexy, but they are good data points to have.

    Are there a whole lot of academics out there who aren't writing anything at all?
    Are they writing absolute crap, that journals are rightly refusing to publish?
    Are they perhaps keeping all of their research secret, so that they can commercialise it themselves and diddle their institutions at the same time?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

  • by geogob (569250) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:28AM (#39136091)

    Although I agree that some people deserve the boot, such a policy - like most academic policies nowadays - only encourage production of large quantities of low-quality material. (That just a polite way of saying "huge piles of shit").

    Going through published material is really depressing. Most of it is either republished stuff (à la "the same article few months ago : now with a new figure") or stuff that wouldn't even find its way into a textbooks due to lack of interest.

    The groups I've been working with are on the top of our field. These groups published very little (maybe a paper or two per year, for the whole group), but always groundbreaking content or content of high interest for the community - and thus hold very high reputation in the community. I like it that way. Rather than wasting my time writing worthless papers (because writing a good paper takes time if you are not writing it with 3 keyboard keys - ctrl, c and v), I rather do actual work and publish it when it's mature enough.

    Sadly, this view is not very common and I believe we get through with our way only because we are closer to engineering than to what people refer to as scientific research.

  • by sirwired (27582) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:33AM (#39136151)

    Professors are supposed to be teaching AND researching. If the focus was on teaching (especially undergrads) we wouldn't need professors for that kind of work; any post-doc would do, and do it for cheap.

    While turning professors into publication factories would indeed be a BAD idea, four "research outputs" over three years is not exactly a high bar to cross.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:47AM (#39136301) Homepage
    You've bungied in and saved academia with the power of Metrics! Now that you've determined the method to use to judge people whose work you can't even begin to comprehend, you can bag your non-performance-related flat fee and sproiiiing off to your next lucrative challenge!
  • by Reverse Gear (891207) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @10:58AM (#39136395) Homepage

    I know from my brother who is working on a university in mathematics research that 4 publications in 3 years is extremely many in his subject, he has worked extremely hard for 3 years to make 2 publications in topology.
    I have been told it is a common problem for mathematicians that they don't make as many publications as in other fields of science, in geophysics working as researcher (which I don't I work in the private) it would be a reasonable demand with 4 publications on 3 years.

  • by pacc (163090) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @11:42AM (#39136799) Homepage

    http://www.aip.org/history/gap/Millikan/Millikan.html [aip.org]
    After 10 years of teaching he knew that he had to publish something great or give up research and becoming a professor.

    This proves that you only need one paper, if it also give you the Nobel prize.

  • by bizitch (546406) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:49PM (#39139879) Homepage

    Just need to modify the SCIgen Automatic CS Paper Generator a bit and voila! Instant publishing ;)

    http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/ [mit.edu]

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