I periodically get asked about faculty productivity, most often in connection with incentives and rewards. Given that I currently run an institute where the research portfolio runs the waterfront from origin of life biochemistry to origins of the Great Recession, this is a complex question–what’s productive in one field isn’t necessarily so in another.
Let me start with the statement that, to my mind, at an institute for advanced study, assessments of productivity need to be centered on research . Yes, we train students as part of our scientific role, but at the end of the day the core product has to be the advancement of human knowledge.
Second, for scientists engaged in research that inherently requires significant resources (such as most wet-lab investigations), productivity must be measured by the level of sponsored research raised by the faculty member among other things. So it’s not unfair to measure sponsored dollars per square foot of dedicated lab for such a faculty member.
For faculty members where the dedicated resources are not so expensive (such as in most computer modeling approaches), then that sponsored research support level is not so crucially important –although I must say, it’s nice to have.
Third, in measuring advances in human knowledge, peer review is required. In some fields that includes both peer review of ideas (grant reviews) and peer review of results (publications), in other fields sometimes just one or the other, but in any case, the common denominator is external, hopefully objective, assessment of the scientific quality.
Finally, to my mind, research and teaching are inextricably entwined. One can’t be a truly productive researcher without being a productive teacher. And productive teaching to me means making a difference in the lives of many–not just a few–students. Furthermore– that difference has to be assessed by objective measures of learning outcomes.
Note that I don’t really mention service. I’ll write about faculty service in another blogpost.