Research output higher among postdocs in universities

Plos One study also reveals that parenthood has little impact on publishing productivity

May 1, 2014

Postdoctoral researchers based in universities publish more on average than those based in research centres, according to new research.

The study, published in Plos One, also found that postdoctoral researchers with children tend to have the same research output as those without children.

And the survey of around 200 postdoctoral researchers revealed that two-thirds believe that their job prospects are “difficult”.

The authors, Fatima Felisberti, a senior lecturer in psychology at Kingston University, and Rebecca Sear, a reader at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, surveyed postdoctoral researchers via emails sent to heads of departments at UK universities and an invitation posted on the Vitae website.

They say that it is not clear why postdoctoral researchers in universities publish more than those in research centres.

“It could be linked to the use of more complex equipment and techniques in highly specialised research centres, which could have led to more time-consuming experiments and, therefore, fewer publications,” they say in the paper published on 4 April. Groups at research centres tend to be larger, which could lead to each individual in the group having a “relatively small output”, add Dr Felisberti and Dr Sear.

Male and female postdoctoral researchers did not differ in publishing productivity, but male postdoctoral researchers reported spending more time on administrative duties than did females.

“The question as to whether this early imbalance in administrative duties was related to the gender discrepancies found later in academic tenured positions remains open,” say Dr Felisberti and Dr Sear.

The data reveal that male postdoctoral researchers with children had a slightly higher output compared with females with children, but this was not statistically significant.

Dr Felisberti and Dr Sear say that the “common perception” was that children affect the working life of scholars by “reducing the time available for academic work”, and that this was particularly true for mothers.

“It is possible that the presence of children in the after-work environment has a positive effect by helping parents in demanding jobs to ‘unwind’ and stop job-related rumination,” they add.

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