I feel foolish for not understanding my career’s performance metrics until recently and after five years as a tenure-track lecturer.
My university had put in place a metric of two research articles per year for each staff member. Seems simple enough…just publish two scientific articles per year.
How I thought the metric was calculated was wrong
In a recent staff awareness meeting, the principal explained the metric is calculated as the total number of publications divided by the number of staff members. If I published two articles that had two unique authors then my research productivity would be 2/2 or 1 article. So, two research articles published with co-authors are not counted as the same as two research articles published by myself as a sole author.
In addition, the metric is used to benchmark research productivity. All research faculty are expected to have 2n papers after n years on the job. So after 5 years, I’m expected to have 10 papers, which I have until the metric is applied. According to the metric, those 10 papers whittle down to 3.78 papers after accounting for co-authors. This is less than 5, the number of articles where I’m the first author. I feel blindsided.
No one told me this at the start of my job, And, I guess that not even my immediate supervisor, the head of the department, or my mentor, a deputy dean, understood what upper administration meant by two research articles per staff member per year. Also, the metric is contrary to the research productivity guide used by my head of department and dean. The guide proposes different weightings to the types of publications (books, book chapters, peer-reviewed articles, conference proceedings) which the research productivity metric does not account for.
My personal opinion of the performance metric
This method for calculating research productivity is demoralizing. It does not consider whether your contribution to an article is greater than other authors. For example, I did the bulk of the work and was the first author for two papers. The metric is simple for administrators to use because they have no other creative ways to assess research productivity as other indices such as the number of citations, and the h-index and i10-index are dependent on the scholarly field you are in.
The simple metric is short-sighted as it reduces the importance of collaborations. Collaborations are important in scientific research. Collaborations allow groups to share resources (data, equipment), create new lines of research that span multi-disciplines, divide the laborious work among several individuals, access grant funding and pursue bigger scientific and social problems.
The simple research productivity metric my university has will cause scientists to play small and to revert to tactics of chopping a piece of work into small parts for more publishable units. That reaction could lead to a longer period of seeing a holistic solution to a problem.
My plan of action
So what will I do given that this metric is being used?
First, I will champion my own case in how my articles are seen by my assessors. One key thing is to demonstrate the impact of my scientific research on the cover letters of my promotion application. I also need to document the research projects I am the main lead of in my CV, the publications resulting from each project and the contribution of each member of the collaboration. I have control over how I present my case for promotion.
Secondly, I will continue with my collaborations but will add a personal line of research. Also, I will need to consider whether I actually need a collaborator for some projects especially those where the collaborator is not contributing any resources, the research is not creating new lines of multi-disciplinary research, or equal distribution of labour. In a way, the metric will help me to reduce alliances that really do not add to my research projects and to be more discernable about how I share my research resources.
What can you take away from this?
To advance in your career you need to understand how the performance metrics are calculated by the key decision-makers in your organization. These will be the HR managers and the CEO. In my case, the department head was not a key decision-maker in the promotion. The department head simply verifies the information in your promotion package and presents your case on your behalf. Attend all performance-related meetings and ask questions. Even if you feel certain about the definition of a metric, ask the key decision-makers to define the metric carefully.
Also, speak with people who have been through the process from other departments. One mistake I made was to have one mentor. Identify a few people who you could turn to for advice rather than having one mentor. Multiple perspectives will help you to better plan for your career.
Clarity on performance metrics and the promotion process is key. If you’re to play the career advancement game you need to know what targets to hit.
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