Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

What's wrong with academic jobs?

by PhilipJ on 19 March 2006

In a comment over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, sciencewoman makes an excellent observation about science jobs:

It seems like one of the problems in science (both grad school and pre-tenure) is that so often your professional life hangs in the balance based on the opinions of others. There is no quantitative contract that you sign that says once you have done X, Y, and Z you graduate. Sure, there may be a three paper requirement, but fulfillment of that requirement is subjectively evaluated by your comittee. For a discipline that prides itself on objectivity, repeatability, and quantifiability, we seem to lack that in our careers.

We are peer reviewed from the minute we enter graduate school and pass our courses, and we hope that our peer reviewers (committee members) are fair. If you talk to anyone who has ever had a paper refereed, they will tell you this often isn’t the case. The same issues exist for new professors up for tenure. The problem, as sciencewoman points out, is that there is no truly objective criteria for evaluation. But given the recent issues over the arXiv trackback policy and objectively defining a “practicing scientist”, I don’t know that the alternative is any better.

  1. Alejandro Rivero    4536 days ago    #

    I am pretty sure our peer reviewers are fair, globally. The problem is, do they represent science, or do they represent the set of people who has passed across the evaluation system simply because they work better with it (or because they enjoy it)?

  2. PhilipJ    4535 days ago    #

    I’m going to agree that on average, the peer reviewing process seems fine, but it is fluctuations from the average, like those described in the Adventures in Ethics and Science entry, which make it a reasonable thing to discuss. I think any written-in-stone guidelines required for getting a PhD would result in people leaning towards the bare minimums rather than getting pushed by a committee that actually does just have a students best interests in mind.

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