Healthy obsessions

July 23, 2015

Lord Rees of Ludlow is surely right that significant outcomes are more likely to emerge when researchers are committed to – even obsessed with – tackling problems (“Tracing the trajectory between blue skies and the bottom line”, Opinion, 2 July). Nowhere is this more evident than in medicine and dentistry, where clinician-academics are motivated to initiate and lead rigorous and challenging trials of new treatments in large part because of continuing concerns for their own patients. So many lifesaving and life-enhancing discoveries have come from these evaluations.

But the source of this motivation is sorely lacking in some other public service disciplines because practitioners, teachers and nurses for instance, unlike doctors and dentists, mostly stop practising when they become academics. How much less likely it is that commitment to – even obsession with – solving the problems of the classroom and the hospital ward will be influential if real responsibility in these settings came to an end years previously. Diminished credibility with former peers as well as relatively low research impact was clear from the research for my 2014 report for the Cabinet Office, How to Achieve More Effective Services: the Evidence Ecosystem.

And Lord Rees makes another telling point, which is relevant to applied as well as fundamental research: it is focusing on the “tiny piece of the puzzle that seems tractable” which pays off best. Not only in fundamental science but also in public services and the retail sector, for example, does this preoccupation drive progress.

Jonathan Shepherd
Professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and director of the violence research group
Cardiff University

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together