Researchers are hired because they are proven researchers, publishers and grant winners. People who can lead research projects and make breakthroughs.
However they quickly find themselves with several extra tasks. Dealing with equipment breaking, faulty reagents and people management. In some cases, they are not supported financially from their institution – they don’t even have a salary and so are funded through their own grants. Moreover, in some institutes there is a lack of training for management skills which is sorely needed as not all great scientists and PIs are also good bosses. Even peer review which is essential for the scientific process, is unpaid work done for journals where the publishing costs are already high.
Furthermore, they are encouraged to take on more responsibilities such as committees, organising events or overseeing other lab spaces. These are important tasks in academia but over time this leads to people being hired for one skill set, but then being expected to do tasks that don’t match those skills. Underrepresented demographics can particularly suffer from this – some professors have to sit in a committee meeting weekly in the name of representation. All of these things distract from the scientific process and has just become an expectation that these additional tasks are done unpaid.
Notice that I have not listed teaching yet. Some teaching is an important part of science and universities and of course needs to be encouraged.
As a response to this some researchers have advocated saying “no” to these responsibilities, known as “quiet quitting”.
Whilst quiet quitting may change the academic culture slowly, it also calls for institutions to support their scientists. This could be done by allowing researchers to outsource these responsibilities to people better suited to the job. For example:
- Technical support team that will source and maintain important lab equipment.
- Keeping overhead costs and rent to an acceptable level
- People who can liaise with suppliers to get the correct reagents in time and negotiate when reagents are faulty
- Institutional subscriptions for useful software packages such as those for inventory management, making figures and reference management.
- Structured process of getting grant application feedback before submission to increase their success rate
- Services to help with statistics, data presentation and diagrams/charts/figures.
- Proper compensation for sitting on committees or other responsibilities
With these resources, researchers can spend more time doing research and less time on other chores.