Friday, May 18, 2018

A Career Niche for Replicators?

My former colleague Roy Baumeister famously said that replication is a "career niche for bad experimenters.”* I like to use this quote in my talk. Roy is wrong, of course. As anyone who has tried to conduct a replication study knows, it requires a great deal of skill to perform replications. This leads to the question Is there a career niche for replicators?

I was asked this question yesterday when I gave a talk on Making Replication Mainstream at the marvellous Donders Institute for Cognition, Brain, and Behaviour in Nijmegen. I get asked this question regularly. My standard answer is that it is not a good career choice. Implicit in this answer is the idea that in order to become a tenured faculty member, one has to make a unique contribution to the literature. Promotion-and-tenure writers are always asked to comment on the uniqueness of a candidate’s work. Someone who only conducts replication studies would run the risk of not meeting the current requirements to become and remain faculty members.

During lunch, a group of us got to talking some more about this issue, to which I hadn't given sufficient thought, as it soon turned out.

It was pointed out that there is a sizeable group of researchers who would like to remain in science, have excellent methodological skills but don’t necessarily have the ambition/creativity/chutzpah/temerity to pursue a career as faculty member.

These researchers, was the thinking at our lunch table, are perfectly suited to conduct replication research. The field would benefit greatly from their work. If we truly want to make replication mainstream, there ought to be a career niche for them.

If faculty member is not a viable option, then what would be a good career niche for replicators? It was suggested at our table that replicators should become staff members, much like lab managers. They would not be evaluated on the originality or uniqueness of their publications. In fact, maybe they would not even be on the publications, just as lab managers often are not on publications. Faculty members select studies for replication and replicators conduct them and by doing so make a value contribution to our science.

I think this is a fair summary of our discussion. I have no strong opinions on this career niche for replicators yet but I wonder what ya'lls thoughts on this are.

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* The link is to a paywalled article but I'm sure you can scihub your way to it.