It has been a while since I wrote my last post and I have mused a lot recently, possibly too much, about a recent fellowship rejection of which the only feedback I received was ‘candidate needs more papers’ (I am not sure how many is enough) and ‘interesting idea’. The former mainly refers most likely to having more first author papers suggests (who said there is no I in team) but at least I can come up with interesting ideas and more first authored papers are required. This need for more is mainly driven by the belief that more means better or more productive. The latter is not necessarily something I believe and is very field specific but it doesn’t matter what I believe, it is what the grant review panel thinks and if more is better then I need more papers.
Regarding papers. The economic downturn in conjunction with an era of big data has led to the belief that more data = better science = more answers. Combine this with science funders noble intention of promoting interdisciplinary collaborations creates a recipe where more scientists = more data = better science = more answers. Indeed in many cases this can be true and has almost become necessary with the number of authors listed on scientific publications increasing substantially since the 1950’s.
Given that scientific independence is mainly achieved, at least initially, through the credibility of having multiple first authored scientific papers. Large multidisciplinary projects, whilst generally increasing total publication number can act to dilute the proportion of first authored publications and potentially the building of an independent career ‘niche’. Therefore, in certain cases this can therefore potentially negatively impact, or at least slow career progression of an ambitious person who works on a large project. On the other hand being able to co-ordinate and manage large projects is a trend that is set to increase and actually gives the ECR very valuable tools for future projects. However I do no think these factors are often taken into consideration by fellowship panels, using the mantra of more is better. Given that multidisplinary science projects are a feature of modern scientific life I think that ideally fellowship panels and indeed individuals considering applying to multidisplinary or ‘big data’ projects should be aware that bigger isn’t necessarily better.