08 January 2017

Try to work for money

I already lost quite some time I perhaps should have spent on doing my Sheffield work to teaching. I hope things would get better soon after that! But then the first week of January all went a bit pear-shaped. On Monday I expected the heating to be still off, so I did not manage to motivate myself to get my arse into the lab until 11AM. On Tuesday I skedaddled. And on Wednesday I first did some marking work for James, then went to the dentist, and then spent the rest of the day working on what is known as internal REF. For thsose unfamiliar with REF: it is some strange way in which the British government tries to reward universities for good research output. It makes all universities submit what they think are their best manuscripts, and their best case studies of research impact, and these are then evaluated by a committee and graded. If you get a higher overall grade you get more money. The system has, in my eyes, a fair number of disadvantages; first, it can be a runaway system: more money means more good people and more equipment etc etc so gets you better research. If you don't do so well it may be hard to break out of that. And another problem is: the committees are not experts in the field of everything they need to judge. It's hard to have a good idea of the originality, robustness and impact of a scientific article in a field you are not in! And it takes a lot of time as well. A small effect of it is British scientists catering to REF; it can pay off to make your research seem more global and original and important than it is (by, for instance, giving a regional paper a rather global title). The non-expert committee members might buy into it!

So what was I doing with it? Universities tend to have their staff assess each other's publications, and I was asked to do that with four articles of three colleagues. Two were in my field; the other two weren't. I think many people had more than four to assess! All that takes another large amount of time. I think it may be easier to just collect very simple data of how many articles one has published in journal with what impact factor, and how many citations these got corrected for how long ago they were published. And then add the amount of research money raised. That data is collected in minutes and probably more reliable than the whole REF thing. Oh well! The ball is rolling now, it won't stop for me. And I wasn't overly keen spending half a day on helping a university that wasn't paying me with a system I don't like and which I have already assisted by bringing in publications, but I was swayed by the argument that me having submitted publications at the university's explicit request (way back when I was still employed here), other people were spending time on mine, so it would be churlish not to spend time on theirs. There I went.

By Thursday morning I had only done six hours of paid work that week. Oh dear! At least that day would not have any major distractions, but on Thursday I always leave early-ish for underground reasons. Friday I knew I would be able to stay long. And next week I will start making lots of hours as I have to visit the BGS again, and this time the offices in Edinburgh. That will add some hours to my spreadsheet!

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