Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fostering Productivity

Everyone is always talking about research productivity as measured by some meaningless parameter (# of papers or citation index or whatever). And people love doing comparisons: productivity of men vs. women. Married vs. single. Children vs. no children. And this often comes up in discussions of expected performance as an assistant professor level - where productivity is especially important. But really, how important is important.

I have known (not been friends with, but known) Asst. Profs who essentially took role call 6 days a week. at 7am. Then a natural disaster of sorts hit the lab, and no research could be accomplished for 6 months. The lab had to be re-built and equipment had to be re-ordered. The building still existed (to be clear: this was not New Orleans).

The graduate students all got to take a vacation. The PI got to see his kids. And, at the end 6 months (when the lab was re-built), new science was still there.

I view this as a sign or maybe a lesson. All of science and engineering isn't going to be solved in a day or a year or a decade - but time flies. In the famous words of Ferris: life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around, you might miss it.

Productivity is really in the eyes of the beholder. And science can't be forced. I could make my students show up to work at 7am. But they may have nothing to do at the lab - maybe they are in the middle of some process that doesn't require them to actually be at the lab. My behavior would just create resentment, which doesn't exactly foster the type of creative atmosphere necessary for innovative science.

But I'm new at this. My peers keep telling me that in a couple years I'll come around. I really hope not.

1 comment:

Candid Engineer said...

Just finished perusing your archives. A belated welcome to the blogosphere, esp. to a fellow engineer! It seems that we are few and far in between around here. I look forward to reading your experiences and advice as I will (likely) be applying for TT positions next year.

As for this specific post, I would hope you never ask your students to get in at 7, even 10 years from now! We both know that the best work comes from people who are happy.