Publish and Flourish: Taking a Broader Approach to Measure Success in Science

Figure of two lamp posts
Traditional measures of career success in science have too narrow a focus on publications, according to a new report. (PLOS Biology)

The way success in scientific careers is measured needs to change if science is to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable, according to a group of women scientists including Professor Tessa Hill and postdoctoral researcher Alyssa Griffin at the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Science and Bodega Marine Laboratory. A paper by the group was published June 15 in PLOS Biology.

Success in science has often been defined by the concept “Publish or perish.” Success is often quantified through the number of peer-reviewed journal publications a scientist produces and by two measures of their quality: how often they are cited in other papers (citation index) and an “impact factor” which is supposed to measure the influence of the journal in which they appear.

But these metrics have been widely criticized as flawed. They disadvantage women, people of color and others who do not have the advantages of white men in getting their work published, shared and accepted, the authors write. And the narrow focus on publications does not reflect the wide variety of work that scientists do that contributes to the scientific and academic enterprise.

Publish and Flourish

The group proposes a new paradigm for success in science, “Publish and Flourish.” This would take a wider view of scientific achievement, including how science is integrated into society by working with governments and industry, public outreach and engagement with news media. It would also included strengthening and evaluating mentorship in science, assessing mentorship in multiple dimensions beyond the number of papers produced by a mentee. Institutions can promote mentorship by establishing and elevating professional awards in mentorship. Some grant making bodies have already begun doing this, including the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Athena Scientific Women’s Academic Network.

Transforming the traditional rewards system can make science more innovative and inclusive and make it a safer and healthier place to work, the authors write.

“Acknowledging that there is a diverse range of contributions and career pathways will broaden the value system in science. By embracing inclusive approaches and not forcing people to assimilate into sexist and racist norms, we can grow a more equitable model for science that addresses and actively works to counter injustices,” they write in the conclusion.

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