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Academic career: teaching and impact to carry more weight

Rector Rianne Letschert and TU colleague take initiative

MAASTRICHT/THE NETHERLANDS. For a career in science you will no longer need to solely focus yourself on research. Knowledge institutes and science funders feel that being a good teacher and doing useful research are also very important.

Academics can be good in many areas, but when it comes to applications for subsidies and PhD tracks, there is only one thing that counts: their research achievements. Even worse, spending too much time teaching can be an obstacle for an academic career.

Knowledge institutes and science funders already decided a year ago that this system of acknowledging and valuating should be revised. The question is of course, how to do so? After discussions with academics, unions and others involved, they have now come up with a number of proposals.


The dominance of research achievements is beginning “to feel inadequate,” say the universities, the UMCs, science society KNAW and science funders NWO and ZonMw in a joint statement. The checklists (with numbers of publications, citations et cetera) need to be abandoned, because it leads to more work pressure and interferes with the balance between the fields of science.

Other talents must also be included in the assessment. Things like teaching, research impact, leadership and (for physicians) patient care. “It is really not realistic, and moreover unnecessary, that every academic should excel in every core domain,” the organisations write in their position paper.

Researchers can distinguish themselves in one or more of these specialisations. During their career, they still have the opportunity to switch. Teaching and research will continue to be the showpieces. “Academics will always have to be sufficiently competent in at least these two domains.”

Across boundaries

Subsequently, everyone can contribute to the team, the department or the consortium of researchers from his or her own expertise. Because ‘team science’ - an idea that has been propagated by UM rector Rianne Letschert for some time now, she and the rector of TU Eindhoven being the initiators of these plans - will encourage collaboration between the various disciplines. “This doesn't mean that there is no longer room for monodisciplinary studies and careers. On the contrary, a strong disciplinary base is the condition for useful translation across boundaries”.

In the assessment of research proposals by science funders more emphasis will be placed on quality, content, creativity, and the contribution to society. The organisations believe that open science is inextricably bound to the new system of acknowledging and valuating.

Culture change

Great plans, but how to put them into practice? Next year, VSNU will come up with a ‘national’ framework for this new system of acknowledgment and valuation. In 2021, this will find its way to the collective bargaining agreement and the job matrix. A “revised university function classification system” should then apply. The knowledge institutes also want the new acknowledgment and valuation system to be brought to the attention more by setting up new committees, programmes and courses.

The science funders will in turn work on a “pallet of funding instruments, which will contain clear differentiating criteria that will serve a more diverse group of researchers”. They will talk to academics about what ‘talent’ and ‘good research’ are exactly. Committees that assess grant applications will receive training and instructions on accelerating the “desired culture change”. They will also invest more in rewarding team science.

HOP, Melanie Zierse




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