Science teamwork and collaboration mandates a shift from Nobel Prizes to a scientific Academy Awards #science #TogetherWeStand

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The nature of science is becoming more and more collaborative. In multiple fields it is now commonplace for research studies to have upwards of a hundred authors (particle physics, genetics, etc). While teamwork and collaboration between groups of scientists with different specializations is becoming more and more valuable in science, scientists are still judged completely on an individual basis. In some cases, it can be bad for an aspiring scientist’s career to work and publish with other scientists. A new article in Nature Physics, ‘Together We Stand,’ highlights this disconnect within science. Phys.org has a great news summary of the article.

The authors argue that whereas research and science have become more of a team effort,  – the main host of scientific operations – remains largely the same in the way it operates. They point out that academic career advancement is based on individual recognition, grants are most often entrusted to a single faculty member as the principal investigator (PI) and students navigate the curriculum independently. They say this causes a misalignment of academic policies and norms with the increasingly collaborative nature of science and calls for imaginative solutions.

The article has some great data and figures on the increasing amount of team science, worth a look if you have access. The authors, Ioannis Pavlidis, Alexander Petersen, and Ioanna Semendeferi, also don’t just complain about the problem.

After analyzing these challenges, the team of researchers proposes a set of intriguing policies to address them. Their key recommendation is for academia to adapt models from other creative communities. In particular, they look to the movie industry, which has embraced a team structure and used it to its advantage. Unlike in academic projects, they say, each contribution in a film is recognized and rewarded.

“A good example is in the role of film editor,” Pavlidis said. “There are clear avenues for independent recognition with an Oscar in film editing, for instance, and the work is not simply a step along the path to directorship. The same applies for scriptwriters and sound engineers, as well as almost every role in the filmmaking process.”

YES!!! The individual winner-takes-all approach to science is inefficient and ignores many basic tenets and values of science. Many have suggested that this approach is hurting science and research, while others value the competitive environment it supports. What the authors suggest is basically modifying the winner-takes-all approach, by adding more winners and more awards! This would be much more supportive of collaborative science. The authors suggest other changes as well including, “restructuring of the grant overhead to fund more tenure-track positions, which in turn would unclog the postdoctoral lines.”

Teamwork in science should be commended, and more and more science is going to be done in teams moving forward. Why not work together and utilize each others specialties? The scientific and academic communities should take note of Hollywood… and reward and value all levels of contribution to scientific endeavors.

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