Thursday, December 6, 2012

They're just not that into us

Well, for a while I was pretty upset.  This was my first reaction:

Then I was *sure* it was a typo, because of what was written in the 03 section report; and then I figured out it wasn’t, and got really upset.  Luckily instead of dabbling further in ‘career-destroying tweet’ waters, I went off and gunned down a bunch of Egyptian cultists

You see, I consider the 2012 ERA rankings a *personal* smack-down and humiliation because I was the one who was crankiest about us not submitting anything last time around and falling off the radar, who pushed hardest for going in this year, was most confident that the assessors would see through any spin and hype to the bone and sinews beneath, and most confident that we could and would make a 3.  

But I have reached a kind of equilibrium.  There are lots of people who have suffered worse. St. Sebastian, for instance:  

And I am a contrarian who always regarded the whole process with caustic cynicism, so it is not like I have any starry-eyed illusions about the results being objective or having any intrinsic meaning.

More importantly, I have realised that what is being measured as ‘research quality’ has nothing to do with what we in a university fulfilling the traditional functions of a university consider to be ‘research quality’.

In a publicly-funded university that has a legally mandated mission to deliver the ‘whole of knowledge’ to its community, we believe that the interests of our academic staff in chemistry should cover the ‘whole of chemistry’.  We think that every potential PhD candidate interested in any branch of chemistry should be able to do their PhD with a respected chemist and publish work of internationally-recognised quality. We think this is in the best interest of our students and the best interests of the nation.

The ERA exercise would clearly be happier if all our students and all our resources were funnelled to one high-flier publishing in one field so we could meet a totally arbitrary cut-off of number of papers for a four digit 03** code. But that is the opposite of what we’re about.  I suppose that means by the ARC’s lights that we see research as subordinate to teaching. If so, so be it. Teaching is the rationale for our existence.