The cruel world of funding peer review

This article began life as a presentation for Peer review and grant funding: From evidence to practice at Melbourne University, 17 November 2017. Thanks to Adrian Barnett and Philip Clarke for inviting me to speak.


Before I begin, I should point out that I write from a position of incredible privilege. I’m not an academic – I’m a university administrator. I am securely employed, and have been for most of my working life. My job is to help academics find funding for their research.

In that role, I work with Australian academics from RMIT University. I work with artists, designers, educators, social scientists and humanities scholars, primarily on their Australian Research Council applications. A significant number of the academics that I have worked with over the last seven years have been early career researchers, generally trying to win their first major grant.

Early career researchers face a cruel world these days. Even though they are an increasingly diverse cohort, they are still generally imagined as young, full-time academics without significant outside commitments. They aren’t. Many of them have significant responsibilities outside of work, taking care of children and elderly parents or working on limited visas, far from home. Most of them have no secure work, while being expected to take on increasing levels of accountability. Their research outputs, their teaching performance and even their scholarly engagement with the world are under intense scrutiny and evaluation.

All this has interesting ramifications for the peer review system that we use for government grants.

A professor stands at the top of a pyramid of scholars and students. Advice flows downwards and cites flow upwards. When funding runs out, the scheme collapses.

Beware the Profzi Scheme, on “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com

Read more of this post

Advertisements

Research academics in Australian universities

Theses in a dumpster

All that work!, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Kaye Broadbent has published widely in the areas of gender and insecure work, women, work, and unions in Japan and in a comparative context. Her current research interests focus on the gender and employment insecurity of research staff in Australian and British universities, and labour resistance in Japan during the war.

Glenda Strachan has developed a body of research on contemporary and historical workplace change, especially issues that relate to equity and diversity and women’s working experiences.

Carolyn Troup specialises in evaluation and workplace change implementation. She has worked on a broad range of organisation health and applied health research studies in the public sector, not-for-profit and higher education sector in Australia and New Zealand. She is on Twitter at @CalTroup.

This data appears in more detail in Broadbent, Kaye, Carolyn Troup, and Glenda Strachan. 2013. “Research Staff in Australian Universities: Is There a Career Path?Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 23 (3): 276–95. doi:10.1080/10301763.2013.839082.


This research is drawn from Work and Careers in Australian Universities (WCAU), a survey of academics and allied staff in 19 Australian universities. We received nearly 22,000 responses. The survey was part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant (LP0991191), based at Griffith University and partnered by Universities Australia Executive Women, the National Tertiary Education Union, and Unisuper.

The project examined gender and employment equity in Australian universities. The survey didn’t specifically focus on research academics but many of the questions can be used to provide a glimpse into the broad context of research academic life.

READ MORE