Lab Size Study Stirs Debate

Do bigger labs churn out more high-impact papers? Not necessarily, according to a new analysis.

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob started with The Scientist as a staff writer in 2007. Before joining the team, he worked as a reporter at Audubon and earned a master’s degree in science journalism...

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

Feb 9, 2015

WIKIMEDIA, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH AT BRADFORDIn the “publish-or-perish” world of academia, it’s often assumed that bigger labs produce more papers than their less-populated counterparts. Not so, proposed the authors of a new analysis of nearly five years worth of work at 400 labs in the U.K. If cranking out well-cited studies is the aim, the ideal lab consists of 10 to 15 members, according to three University of Sussex researchers who published their study last month as a  PeerJ preprint. The Sussex team also found evidence based on authorship to suggest that principal investigators (PIs) are five times more productive than other lab members on average, and post docs are three times more productive than PhD candidates.

The study found a positive linear relationship between group size and publication output, but when impact factor and number of citations were factored into the analysis, the importance of more lab members...

But Pallen added that he wasn’t convinced that 10 to 15 members was the ideal lab size. The analysis may not have included enough data from large groups, he said.