Friday, August 3, 2012

Criteria for tenure?

Previously, I posted about Stanford's criteria for tenure in chemistry. It is striking that so little consideration is given to the metrics (grant dollars, number of publications, number of graduate students, number of citations, h-index,...) that lesser institutions use to judge staff.
In this light, it was particularly interesting to read the extract below of an interesting interview with Ken Wilson about his career.

PoS [Physics of Scale]

    So by the time you come to Cornell, people don't really know what you're working on. I mean on the surface, there are many things that you're doing, but deep down, there's a commitment to try to explore how far can you go with quantum field theory.


    The people at Cornell had more of an interest to know what I was doing than people at Harvard, because they were going to have to make a decision... Of course one of the things that happened was, as you may or may not be aware, is that they gave me tenure after only two years and with no publication record. In fact, there was one or two papers on the publications list when I was taken for tenure and Francis Low complained that I should have made sure there was none. Just to prove that it was possible.
History certainly vindicated Cornell's decision!
I wonder whether this really could happen today.
Quality science and the development of quality scientists takes time....

1 comment:

  1. The problem with this approach is that it relies on arguably the worst metric of all: personal opinion. Stanford's goal of finding people who have greatly impacted their field is obviously worthy, but what better metric is there for this than citations? It takes a significant amount of chutzpah (arrogance) to rely solely on the "gut feelings" of local faculty to make this judgement. As I recall hearing (perhaps wrongly), there was significant opposition to Wilson getting tenure and only Bethe himself intervened on his behalf. Perhaps the best approach is to employ citation-based metrics with some institutionally-mandated flexibility to appreciate the exceptional cases.