“Incrementing productivity” is oftentimes framed in terms of incentives. The simpler incentives are, of course, monetary incentives. Academia is in this respect not so different from the business world – or so think many university managers and administrators. Some well endowed universities pay a premium to productive researchers: for instance, €3,000 for an article in an A+ journal, or maybe a lighter teaching load. The intrinsic value of discovery, and the thrills of fame, are no longer or not only the principal movers for scientific production. Not everyone agrees.
Brian Martin, a social scientist at Wollolong, Australia, suggests to explore “less traveled paths”, starting from the observation that research is not the preserve of a few superproductive superstars, but of a more distributed system. If monetary incentives can indeed motivate a superstar, it is also a fact that they can discourage those who do not receive the incentives. Below a certain threshold, the less productive researcher can be so de-motivated that she does not invest anymore in innovating, considering that she is not really up to the job. Thus, in order to uncover the research potential below the superstar level, other paths ought to be followed. To enlist them: preferring regular, day-to-day writing to binge writing, using creativity improving techniques, accepting that chance plays a role and even considering oneself as a lucky researcher, pursuing individual happiness, doing physical exercise, trusting the wisdom of the crowds and encouraging group work. Martin relies on recent results of the cognitive sciences about creativity and optimal working conditions.
Consider, as an example, the first path. Writing is a necessity in scientific production, but the prototypical production sequence puts writing at the end of the “idea-planning-research-result-writing” process, as a mere expression or documentation of the work done. The alternate path consists in considering writing a s a “way of thinking”, which should start early in the research project. Martin quotes work from Robert Boice, showing that the scientific output of junior faculties with a habit of writing 15-30 minutes per day can be four to nine times higher than that of binge writers.
Research Productivity: some paths less traveled. Australian Universities’ Review, vol 51, 1, 2009, 14-20.
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