Less research time for scientists who publish too little

Less research time for scientists who publish too little

New rules for assessing researchers at FASoS

23-06-2022 · News

MAASTRICHT. The internal assessment of researchers’ performance is to be changed at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS). “Counting publications” is to make way for a less strict approach, with more focus for interdisciplinary collaboration and (personal) circumstances. At the same time, researchers who consistently publish too little will have to forfeit research time.

The old system, in which points were assigned to peer-reviewed work from the past three years, no longer sufficed, says Sally Wyatt, vice-dean for research at FASoS. Being a co-author of a publication, for example, only yields half the number of points. “While we are actually stimulating (interdisciplinary) co-operation.”

Moreover, the system was confusing, with various scoring methods for permanent staff and researchers with a temporary contract. Aside from that, there was the idea that department heads did not even look at it anyway. “They usually have a good overview of what someone is doing, a number like that doesn’t say much.” In the new system, which links up with the Recognition and Rewards project, there will therefore be more room for interpretation. Department heads make their own estimation of the value of particular publications and contributions. Personal circumstances, such as delay experienced due to COVID-19 and the lockdowns, will also be taken into consideration, as well as the extra pressure resulting from certain responsibilities, such as being a programme director.

Forfeiting time                                                                     

However, publishing and doing research remains important. Researchers who consistently produce too little peer-reviewed work can forfeit research time if they show no improvement two years after the problem has been identified. “Because research time is expensive, and eventually we are paid to perform academic research.” In extreme cases, it will lead to a division of their time into 80 per cent for education and 20 per cent for research (where a 60/40 division is the standard at FASoS). The latter is mainly to have time left to follow the developments in the field – indispensable for being able to teach well.

Hard line

Still, concern was expressed by the academic staff fraction in the latest faculty council meeting last week. “An 80/20 division means in practice that you only have time for teaching,” a fraction member remarked. “You will never get back to research.” Also, does such a potentially far-reaching measure not require some crystal clear rules, instead of more room for interpretation?

“The whole point is that we don’t want to draw a hard line,” Wyatt said to the council. “Staff will receive the time to make improvements, taking into account their circumstances. Together with their department head, they will come to an agreement, such as ‘I will publish one article within a year’. If necessary, they will get help in achieving this, for example, in the form of writing workshops or a ‘publication buddy’ who gives feedback. Only if no improvements are made after this, will there be consequences.” It is also not the case that researchers who have published less during the past COVID-19 years have an immediate problem – another concern voiced by the academic staff fraction. “It only applies to a small handful of members of staff, who are fully aware of this too. For some of them, it could be a real relief to just be able to teach more.”

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