A measure of low academic funding

The common theme in Australian academia is that lecturers are hired on their research merits but must spend too much of their time teaching and performing administrivia, which ends up sucking the life out the research side of their job.

Certainly in my department, the more established as a lecturer you become, the lower the publication count trends in general.

Now, I know publications are not everything, because a professor will often be sitting on top of a pile of other researchers who are doing the grunt work below them. Still, in my opinion a healthy researcher should still be writing at least some of their own papers to indicate that they are still actually doing some of the research.

Could this be measured to a degree by looking at the publication output of every research group in every school in every university in Australia? Interesting results might appear after crunching the numbers on things like

  • Normalised number of publications per person.
  • Ratio of professors to academics to postdocs to postgrads.
  • Weighted number of publications per role according their ratio in the research group.

For example, let’s say that the ratio of roles is something like 1:4:6:20 (I have no idea if these numbers are feasible or representative). Papers published by a person in each role should be weighted by the inverse of these numbers, so the total number of publications per role is given equal weight (one paper by a professor is equal to twenty papers by the PhD students). Justify this by saying the time of a professor is twenty times more valuable than a grad student.

Now sum the papers per role according to these weights; if you see a large discrepancy from a 1:1:1:1 ratio of weighted publications, something is looking a little fishy. (This is just a hypothesis; I presume the numbers could be analysed a posteriori to determine that a healthy ratio might look like 1:2:4:3 or whatever.)

Even if this isn’t at all a suitable way to gauge the research health of a research group, it should at least be useful in comparing in a more detailed way the publication output between similar groups around the country. If it turns out the RMIT’s academics publish far more than Adelaide’s (after you’ve removed the masking influence of high-publishing postdocs, say), isn’t that a difference worth investigating?

Of course, my opinion on all of this comes back to basic funding at a tertiary level: the number of academics per student should be increased to give the academics more time for research. My aim at discuss ideas like “weighted numbers of publications per research role” is biased towards indicating this at some level. But I don’t have the time to actually look into the matter. (Especially being that I’m not actually part of the system at the moment.)

Does anyone do “research on engineering research”? In my opinion, they should.