Does tenure need to change?

We've had a great response to the debate on whether the current way of evaluating scientists is reasonable. Add your thoughts by Wednesday (July 25) and help shape our upcoming feature on the subject

By | July 9, 2007

Do citations keep you up at night? It often seems that institutions place a higher price on specific metrics -- namely, citations and grant money -- than ever before. Scientists can have brilliant ideas and groundbreaking theories, but without the money to pay for the experiments, and the skill to craft a paper that squeezes into one of a handful of elite journals, researchers face a difficult path to promotion and tenure. But there are so many other ways to evaluate a scientist. There's mentoring, speaking at conferences, and communicating with other scientists in a public forum, including online, to name a few. Are tenure decisions getting off track? Are we evaluating scientists fairly? And once scientists become tenured, is there enough structure to ensure they continue to contribute significant science? You've told us what you think about the future of stem cell research. Now tell us how you'd like to change the system for evaluating researchers. Let us know your thoughts by clicking here and posting a comment to this article, or by sending your thoughts to mail@the-scientist.com. Tell us your age (a range is fine) and the country where you work, so we can see the factors that affect scientists in different regions. We will use your feedback to construct a feature in our September issue that captures the sentiment of the life science community about tenure. Nothing is sacred -- including tenure itself. Here are some possible questions to consider: -Do you believe reviewers of a scientist's achievements currently focus too heavily on citations? Click here and have your say. - In certain fields, such as translational medicine, citations are hard to come by. What metrics should we use to evaluate researchers in fields that tend to rack up fewer citations? Click here and have your say. -Do you believe reviewers focus too heavily on grant funding when evaluating scientists? Click here and have your say. -If you could add one metric to how scientists are evaluated, what would it be, and why? Click here and have your say. - Is tenure a good idea to begin with? Does it support a lot of tenured scientists who don't contribute as much as those still working for tenure? Click here and have your say. That's enough from us; let us know what you think on these and other issues concerning the reward structure in academia. By The Scientist Staff mail@the-scientist.com Links within this article: The readers and editors of The Scientist, "Cracking cloning," The Scientist, June 1, 2007. http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/6/1/34/1

Comments

Avatar of: Abigail Salyers

Abigail Salyers

Posts: 1

July 23, 2007

I am one of these few scientists who has actually pioneered an area - anaerobic bacteria, human intestinal microbiota - which is now becoming very fashionable. The problem for young scientists is that it is not just the emphasis on the number of publications but the identity of the journal. I never submit to Science or Nature because I don't like country club science, but even if I had it is unlikely that my articles would have been accepted because the field was not yet "hot". Now it is, and the second generation is publishing in Science and Nature. I am concerned that young scientists are being pushed into fashionable areas to the exclusion of the pioneer areas. If no one is out there in the tents and mud, where are the Hilton hotels of the future going to come from? So, I would like to see some consideration given to what the young scientist is tryiing to accomplish, not just to the "impact" of the journals in which they publish.

July 24, 2007

From Osher Doctorow Ph.D.\n\nIn my other two postings, I've expressed opposition to tenure and suggested that it be replaced by fixed unrenewable 5-year contracts because of the lack of Creative Geniuses and the over-abundance of Ingenious Imitators.\n\nIf we must have tenure, however, then I would suggest making it very difficult and based on research Creative Genius as follows, using as examples my fields of mathematics/statistics and physics.\n\n1. The vast majority of scientific papers make small modifications to somebody else's theory and should not be grounds for tenure.\n\n2. Tenure should only be granted for Original Theories with at least considerable experimental and/or observational support, at roughly the level of Creative Genius of the Nobel Prize in physics or the Nobel Prize in economics which several mathematicians have won. \n\n3. Only a few USA universities (roughly 10) consistently produce works of Creative Genius in mathematics and physics, including Princeton, Stanford, Chicago, U. Texas Austin, U. Florida northern branches (including Gainesville), CalTech, MIT, U. Virginia, George Mason U. of Fairfax Virginia, West Point. Three universities are close behind, namely Johns Hopkins U. and U. Maryland, both of Maryland, and Rutgers U. of New Jersey. This is not based on "popularity" or "reputation" among mathematicians or physicists but rather my analysis of published papers in arXiv and Front for the Mathematics ArXiv.\n\n4. No USA university other than those in 3 above should have tenure for faculty in mathematics or physics, though the Institute for Advanced Study for Princeton (located on the Princeton campus but independent of it) definitely meets the criteria for tenure.\n\nOsher Doctorow
Avatar of: John Nolan

John Nolan

Posts: 1

July 24, 2007

Over the last 40 or so years in the UK at least I have seen the terms and conditions of employment of scientific staff become more onerous and tenure become a more and more distant dream.\nOn the other hand the administrative staff in scientific establishments have enjoyed significant improvements in their employment conditions. They have increased their pay, carreer prospects and status. It seems sometimes that the function of a research institute is to provide employment for more and better paid administration staff.\nResearch, by its very nature needs to be done by the brightest and best. The carreer structure for researchers is lilkely to be:- Degree, PhD, three year Post Doc, three to five year extension followed by rejection for tenure. Unemployment and carreer change at age thirty or so then follow. No wonder promising researchers opt. for accountancy and other highly paid and safe occupations and are lost to science.

July 24, 2007

Why cannot we include also the contribution that every scientist does to the well-being, the quality of life and the human development? The science must reach the general public and not to remain only in the academic area... the problem is how to do it...

July 24, 2007

Yes. Truly, reviewers must focus on citations but that is not their main role. Within each field, everybody can today identify the most cited papers. The main role of reviewers is to identify new fields and new ideas within a field and discuss them critically.

July 24, 2007

Yes. The evaluation of a scientist must be exclusively the evaluation of his discoveries and/or his contribution to one discovery. One reviewer must decline evaluation responsibility if he does not find himself competent to discuss reported discoveries in one specific field.

July 24, 2007

Metric is inevitable and there are enough metrics (papers, citation, funding, ?) to guide evaluation. Now, I should not add more metric. On the contrary, I should strength the rational analyses of the claimed discoveries and the reliability of the results. Excess of metric shadows the need to assume the responsibility of arguments and probably contributes to the lost of scientist confidence on the power of reasoning.

July 24, 2007

Tenure is a good idea if exceptional. At present, it supports a lot of tenured scientists who do not contribute to scientific discoveries and, even worse, to good teaching.
Avatar of: Nejat Düzgünes

Nejat Düzgünes

Posts: 10

July 24, 2007

While citations and grants are quantitative measures that university administrators and faculty committees may use to evaluate scientists for tenure decisions, they skew the view of what a true scientist and faculty member worthy of tenure should be.\n\nShould a university give tenure to a scientist who develops an important method used and cited by others, but who does not care about the careers of graduate students and post-docs in his/her lab and makes them compete against each other for his/her own benefit?\n\nShould a university grant tenure to a scientist who brings in lots of grant money, but does not interact collegially with fellow faculty members, and does not care about the quality of his/her lectures to\nundergraduates?\n\nIf bringing in grant funding is a criterion for tenure, the majority of tenure-track scientists would be in trouble. The former president of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts wrote in the February 2007 American Society for Cell Biology Newsletter: ?Even the best peer-review system cannot reliably distinguish between a research\nproposal in the top 10 percent and one in the top 15 percent. Thus, the careers of outstanding researchers can be terminated through bad luck in a chance selection process-one that resembles a game of Russian roulette.? Under these conditions, it would be absurd and not in the best interest of universities to base tenure decisions on grant funding.\n\nI would suggest the following criteria for tenure for research scientists (not in any order of significance):\n\n1. Consistent productivity in terms of presentations at meetings and primary publications\n\n2. Publication of reviews and book chapters\n\n3. Pursuit of significant research topics\n\n4. Dedication to mentoring undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and fostering their careers\n\n5. Taking undergraduate teaching seriously and inspiring undergraduates\n\n6. Funded grants and grant applications with favorable and improving reviews\n\n7. Citations\n\n8. Fostering a collegial atmosphere of collaboration and learning at the university, and being respectful of faculty and students\n\n9. Pursuing collaborative work with other scientists if possible\n\n10. Reviewing manuscripts from journals and grant applications from granting agencies\n\nA combination of these criteria are likely to identify scientist who are truly dedicated to their science and to the well-being of the university and the next generation of scientists. Mere attention to citations and grants will not identify such individuals.\n\nI would also suggest that tenured faculty be reviewed every 5 years to provide constructive feedback and to express the expectations of the university in case the faculty member is perceived as being non-productive.

July 24, 2007

First tenure should only be granted to those who have proven and documented track of research and scholarship. It should not be granted by a committee that grants tenure through back door (No dossier ever submitted, No peer evaluation ever considered).\nImpact of a scientist / teacher should be measured by the product (students/graduate students trained) and their honest evaluation of their mentor\nOf course good publications / scholarly reviews and other regional/national/international recognition should be considered.\nImpact of work done by the researcher should be considered not just the volume of work. We see hundreds of papers written on insulin resistance for instance. But not a single work has translated into any revolutionary treatment for diabetes that is superior to any existing old therapies. To me therefore, impact factor for research in insulin resistance would be zero.\nOn the other hand research that has yielded newer insulin analogues have had huger impact on diabetes management. Its impact factor would be 5 on a scale of 1-5.\n
Avatar of: Mariana Kant

Mariana Kant

Posts: 1

July 24, 2007

Hi,\n\nTenure is one way to help honest people to work hard (academic) without worrying about the next year employment. \n\nWe need to ensure that a professor that has one or more grants has also the time to do her/his research. We need an academic standard for the basic level of the teaching load in our Canadian universities (which is very different from one university to other) with additional release proportional to her/his grant level.\n\nRegards,\n
Avatar of: Ruth Rosin

Ruth Rosin

Posts: 117

July 25, 2007

Tenure cannot be made to depend on the importance of a scientist's discoveries, simply because that importance is often fully realized only many years later.
Avatar of: Lucy Shanaman

Lucy Shanaman

Posts: 1

July 26, 2007

It is a great problem when so many prople in positions of power in academia routinely find a way to add their names to work where they had almost no input of intellectual product. It is a greater problem when students and new graduates routinely offer intellectual input into research projects, only to find their name left off of the published paper. \n\nPlacing such a high value on citations provides the motive for that practice to be perpetuated. The qualities that make someone a good teacher and mentor take a back seat to abilities that can make a person look good on paper. \n\nWhat has happened to the concept that teachers should primarely be in learning institutes in order to teach?

July 27, 2007

Thank you to everyone who posted comments on this subject, we've been amazed with the response and the many interesting issues that you've raised. Please do keep the conversation flowing, and stay tuned for our September issue where you can read, and of course comment on, the feature that you helped to create.\n \nThanks and best wishes,\n \nThe Scientist staff\n
Avatar of: Carla Falugi

Carla Falugi

Posts: 2

July 27, 2007

it is more and more difficult to meet the approval of referees: why? \nThe evaluators seem to become lesser and lesser tolerant, and very often reject paper cause of their own basic errors. This is because science has at present so many branches that it is very easy to be completely ignorant about some of them, and completely unable to understand the work of people dealing with similar (but not same) topics
Avatar of: Carla Falugi

Carla Falugi

Posts: 2

July 27, 2007

Some high impact factor journals are somehow lobbistic in publishing articles of unknown scientists. Thus, it is difficult for a young scientist to enter the pathway for publishing their papers in certain journals, unless they come from a scientific school that already has an opened way to those journals.\nMoreover, certain journals publish mainly the results of a very expensive kind of research, and at present in some nations, the scientists have very good research, but very low funding. Thus this good research remains undiscovered by the scientific world, because it is published in scarcely diffused journals
Avatar of: Jack von Borstel

Jack von Borstel

Posts: 9

September 5, 2007

Anyone who wants to get rid of tenure should remember the days of Joe McCarthy who was trying to get into the University system to "get rid of all the communists there". Tenure thus saved our best scholars.\n\nEven before McCarthy, anyone who was suspicious of being a communist was reason enough to fire a Professor. In fact the tenure system was initiated throughout the U.S. because a Professor at the University of Pittsburgh was fired because he was believed to be a communist -- and he was not.\n\nEvery University then inaugurated the tenure system as a safeguard for free speech by the academic community.\n\nIt is bad enough that a government can rewrite EPA documents to please industry before distribution. Think what fun they would have if tenure was not present in the University system.
Avatar of: Rick Seip

Rick Seip

Posts: 1

September 7, 2007

I was tenured and, sadly, left for personal reasons. It was a great feeling to know that I had job security. Further, let me relate tenure to the peer review process. Tenure helps to keep peer review standards high. It gives the reviewer the needed security to fairly and strictly judge others' work without the pressure to accept a manuscript whose findings may constitute a basis for corporate ventures that are increasingly important to academic institutions...
Avatar of: Alyssa

Alyssa

Posts: 1

September 7, 2007

I think that the idea of tenure is a great idea, and, in most cases, works well. However, I have had a few professors who have told the class, point blank, "I can do whatever I want - I have tenure. I can ignore the departmental rules because I have tenure". Mind you, these have been the cases in just a few of the professors that I've had in undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. I think that the best possible change would be to limit the idea that tenure allows anything to happen. The stability aspect is great, but professors should not feel as though they are immune from the University's or college's rules.
Avatar of: Kristy Kain

Kristy Kain

Posts: 1

September 11, 2007

It would benefit the scientific community as a whole to see financial and career incentives offered for good mentoring (getting your postdocs into jobs they keep). Additionally, the younger members of the scientific process, hit hardest by the tenure structure, require more support than the system currently offers to thrive without the conflict of interest attached to industry money. This may mean creating staff positions for the brunt of the research workforce and developing realistic projections of the number of PI level scientists accepted into training positions. In my estimation, we are training far too many PhD level researchers because this provides a number of people who work hard, suffer long hours, write their own papers and don?t get paid well under the guise of ?training?. However, this creates a real bottleneck that is exacerbated by the current tenure structure, since postdocs and junior faculty are most affected.
Avatar of: jinli Chang

jinli Chang

Posts: 1

September 18, 2007

I think tenure track looks like insured box, once you get in, you don't have to work hard.\nNot every scientist works for science, some work for money, life,or personal desires. I called them a pseudoscientists.To have tenure track is good for these pseudoscientist. For real scientists, having tenure track or not is the same.
Avatar of: arun prasad

arun prasad

Posts: 1

June 20, 2009

dear sir \n i have written a new contemprory theory on cosmo physics. i want to send to you.

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