Monday, 28 December 2015

Still chatting with the demons...

It's been nine months since I took the leap out of my 23 year research career and sideways into my fantastic current role; a role which I am very lucky to have. To a researcher, luck is a very close collaborator - although one who often doesn't answer their eMail. 

Nonetheless, the demons from that former life remain to be worked through. Chocolate sultanas help at this time of year. A fantastic family is much more helpful for the other 350 or so days.

This is the first Christmas in over a decade where grant writing has not directly consumed my "holidays" (I won my first grant funding in 2004, the year after I was awarded my PhD). During the other years, the shadow of the guilt from not preparing a grant has always been in the corner of my eye. The buzz of being awarded a grant began to last for shorter and shorter periods before thoughts of the next grant barged in. These are my issues of course, and they differ for, and are coped with differently by, others

Today I notice certain research career-related media stories more often, or perhaps there are more of them, but one that I read today grabbed my attention for hitting a slew of nails on the head.[1] 

I read this while enjoying my kids playing nearby, during a humid but bird-filled afternoon - things not always noticed by me during previous Christmas seasons. The need to write, review, compile and budget filled my world view with a greater urgency than some far more important aspects of real life. I see now what a bloody fool and a complete slave to the process I had become.

Anyway, the article from today posed the question, "How do you know when it’s time to give up and move on to another career?" 

Two of a few bells that tolled for me in answer to this question quite a while ago were :
  1. Not getting national grant funding - I succeeded when NH&MRC funded about 30% of Project grant applications, but certainly not at today's 15% or less. 
  2. My publication output (Figure 1) was on a decline (ignore 2016 obviously). It was always cyclical but naturally it was strongly linked to the successes and failures of #1. I needed more, or at least better, impact factors (or whatever measure you choose to use to define "bigger" journals).
    Also, the number of citations was dropping (Figure 2) as my ageing body of work was becoming less relevant to contemporary discoveries and bigger datasets- you cannot take your foot off the gas in research 

Figure 1. Number of my publications by year. Data from Scopus.
Figure 2. Number of citations of my publications by year. Data from Scopus.
There were other reasons, but these were significant indicators to me that research was better left to those who could keep up the necessary pace of grant-getting and publishing. There are so few dollars to be had for research that they should be spent on those with the ideas to test and with the intent to achieve some long term, real benefit(s). 

The reasons for leaving research differ for everyone I imagine, but check the walls for writing. It's always on them - you may simply not be able to read the words because of the particular Kool-Aid you're being served or because of the rose-coloured glasses you've chosen to wear.

References...

  1. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/postdoc-blues-how-do-you-know-when-it-is-time-to-give-up