Ironic trends in academia

Academics, particularly abroad, are being increasingly pressured to publish ever more papers every year. Their job, or rather the likelihood of finding another after the current contract expires, depends on the statistics where the key performance indicator is the number of papers published. The situation took a turn to the worse when world governments significantly cut spending on research due to the economic crisis.

The consequences of this situation are numerous: publications are representing smaller and smaller increments, research is increasingly being carried out by junior researchers while the senior-to-junior researchers ratio is getting smaller, low quality conferences are on the increase, etc. The result is that huge discoveries which were possible in previous academic settings, are close to impossible in this climate. Academia is becoming more and more alienated in the number of publications but losing its focus on what really matters.

Research institutions and funding agencies across the world are becoming ever more short-sighted, pushing for quick and practical results. But alas, the more we try to do away with the inherent risks of research, the more sterile we make it. Let us not forget that countless discoveries which in their conception were deemed to be useless, today form the basis of crucial technology. Take the example of complex numbers which were conceived for purely academic purposes – today these numbers are heavily used in several fields such as physics, electrical engineering, economics, and so on.

Ironically, the increased pressure and competitiveness on academics, has only served to lower the quality of research – researchers might be busier than ever writing project proposals and reports, supervising students and churning out papers, but the quality, the innovation, and the pioneering elements are slowly being eaten away.

In a world where research is key to innovation, where more and more people are qualified to work in research jobs, and where academia is one of the most rewarding jobs, this is indeed a sad state of affairs.

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