academic metrics risk as an opportunity to make discoveries

academic metrics risk as an opportunity to make discoveries

Your academic CV is NOT linked to your ability to make big discoveries.

1. Andre Geim, a co-discoverer of graphene, wrote in his Nobel Lecture article:

- “So, at the age of 33 and with an h index of 1 (latest papers not yet published), I entered the Western job market for postdocs.”

2. Albert Einstein searched for a teaching position for two years. He had to accept a position at a Patent Office, where in a single year he wrote the four papers that completely revolutionized #science (the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and E=mc2).

- Only few YEARS later, he finally secured his first academic position as lecturer at the University of Bern.

Other examples include Peter Ratcliffe and Frances Arnold, who won Nobel Prizes for the discoveries they made as young PIs in newly established labs. And many others.

So, let us all keep in mind that:

1. Big discoveries are often unforeseen. They emerge from random #research and risky projects (e.g. graphene was a tiny side project!). Make sure you have such projects in your lab.

2. Most truly impactful discoveries did not require high h-indices, excessive funding or a high-IF journal.

3. Rejection of your proposal does NOT mean it proposes bad science. Such rejections represent the opinion of one person who has a rather subjective idea of what ‘good science’ means.

4. For younger people, it’s easier to do risky research. Locking them to unnecessarily complex tenure requirements makes such discoveries UNLIKELY.

A strong scientist is not defined by high “academic metrics”.

It is the ONE who proposes risky endeavors outside the conventional boundaries.

Who sees risk as an opportunity to make discoveries.

And who is constantly seeking out these risks in the lab.

#PhD #engineering #university #students #chemistry #biotech
Shengwen Calvin Li, PhD,EIC,FRSB,FRSM


The truth is that Dr. Grim is an extraordinary outlier and most of us (myself included) are ordinary people. Most of us (again myself included) are not going to win the Nobel prize, but -if we’re lucky- will make some modest contributions to advancing our field forward a little bit. For those of us who have come to terms with this reality, established metrics of productivity are a good metric. However, it’s true that they will occasionally miss the extraordinary outlier.
2 Replies on Vitaly O. Kheyfets’ comment
Andrew Akbashev I agree that the current funding system has many issues. However, it shouldn’t be a gamble either. If someone is not very productive, maybe they will surprise you with a major discovery, but the most likely scenario is that they will continue to be not very productive. However, I agree that you can’t base someone’s productivity on one metric. For example, I know junior investigators with a high h index because their PI put them on a bunch of papers. Someone else might not have had such a generous PI. These things need to be considered when evaluating someone.
1 Comment on Emile Engelbrecht’s comment
Hi, Andrew. The message this post gives, no need to say is great. However, as mentioned in previous comments, lets say young PI has cool idea which can be new discovery. and this is presented as a project to get fund. Surprisingly, it got rejected. Then? without funding how PI can run that project although she/he sees its potential. Who will change the criteria of funding agencies? Here we motivate scientists with the discoveries, meanwhile the unpleasant reality stays there. Who will change it, how and when?
6 Replies on Gulnara Yusibova’s comment
1. Our voices that become more and more heard.
2. Our presentations if we give talks about the culture, funding and impact in academia (like I do when invited for it)
3. Our articles (when we write about it in Nature/Science/etc), which is facilitated by (again) all this discussion.
4. People around us who are involved in decision making and who listen to what we say (in person).
5. Finally, the 'unhappiness' expressed by a general research public and beyond (due to low quality research published, poor education, etc) - ultimately, it's about taxes.

- It's all changing slowly. I see that some criteria are reevaluated once in 3-5 years on average, others change over 10-15 years. I am afraid to say that it will take 1-2 generations if we are lucky.

But this is why it's SO important to get younger PIs understand the essence of research, importance of risky projects, uselessness of h indices and IFs. They will lead the next generation of scientists. If they cannot become different from their advisors, how can we make it thorugh?
Andrew Akbashev how it sounds to me that we are trying to solve here the effects of the problem, but not the root of it. All these starts with the rules set in Academia. and these things will change when the head of those relevant organizations start to take action. Academia wants quantity both from students and PIs. saying that the younger generation shouldn't care about IF, your first mention of the journal above was Nature. Ironically, the Professors who claim the IF doesn't have importance, exactly the ones who have many articles in high impact journals.
These are exceptions rather than the rule. You can mention names like Einstein and think this is the norm. Your academic CV gets you to places where you find environment conducive enough to make discoveries. Nothing happens in isolation.
1 Comment on Amrish Sharma’s comment
Please also share his struggle. He is a successful man today because of those. Nothing is very straightforward in this world.
1 Comment on Anand Singh’s comment
Your posts are truly inspiring for me to stick on academia while suffering from burnouts.
1 Comment on fadeelah chundekat’s comment
Can we leverage AI based technologies to frame research questions ? So scientists can pursue those with higher likelihood of success
5 Replies on Hashwin Ganesh’s comment
Hillary, thank you. There are two big issues. One is that the committees have to find low-risk projects out of a big bucket of ideas that people submit. BUT there is a second issue. It is about young PIs who become strongly demotivated after their risky and cool ideas are rejected by funding agencies. This leads to young researchers not trying out something new and unconventional but rather sticking to the mainstream.
I agree with the point, but Geim turned 33 in 1991, and the h-index was only proposed by Hirsch in 2005. So clearly it wasn't a valued metric at the time. Geim also didn't have a Google Scholar account, LinkedIn account, or, you know, "the internet" when he entered the market for postdocs.
1 Comment on Steven Cranford’s comment
Your posts are inspiring and always works as a ray of hope for the researchers who sometimes gets stuck and tired in their paths.
You can add Newton, who invented the laws of Mechanics and calculus, sitting in his room in Cambridge. I belive that groundbreaking discoveries often come from individuals or groups who truly believe in their ideas, rather than those motivated solely by social or financial incentives that may come with big findings.
1 Comment on Yousef El Hasadi’s comment
I'm excited for my next academic adventure
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