Australia's systems for assessing research careers 'not fit for purpose'

Media statement by Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley

The current system for assessing research careers for hiring, promotion and funding is not fit for purpose. 

Assessment practices tend to focus on how many publications a researcher has, the number of citations and journal status, as well as success in grant funding rounds. 

While there are good reasons for this, the system has evolved over time to be self-perpetuating, reinforce the status quo, and make it more difficult for women and other groups to flourish in research careers.

It has given rise to an unhelpful nexus between universities, publishers, funders and global ranking agencies, as universities and researchers chase higher international rankings through publication numbers and prestigious journals, and rankings take on an outsize level of importance. 

Narrow research metrics create perverse incentives and a “publish or perish” mentality. Researchers may be incentivised to publish iteratively, and to chase citations, rather than focussing on quality.

The current practices do not incentivise innovative or multidisciplinary research, nor recognise the breadth of roles in a healthy science and research system. 

They fail to recognise experience outside the research sector. As a result, they get in the way of mobility between the university sector, industry and government. 

My office commissioned the Australian Council of Learned Academies to report on how current research assessment practices impact on research careers, and alternatives, including international initiatives.

Today I’m releasing that report.

To drive Australia's knowledge economy and solve complex problems, we need a highly skilled and diverse research workforce, collaboration across sectors and disciplines, and career mobility.

This means finding new ways to assess research careers to ensure the research sector remains strong, diverse and effective, and the discoveries of science and research are translated into new technologies that can be scaled up nationally. 

This report feeds into other pieces of work from my office, from the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), and from other parts of government. Through the NSTC, my office has also commissioned research on STEM Career Pathways, looking at barriers to retention in research careers, and mobility between sectors. Separately, the Department of Industry, Science and Resources has a review underway looking specifically at diversity in STEM. 


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