Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Safety in Numbers

In the last post, I discussed how going along with the crowd in your research may be risky in that you may not get as much credit (or even any) for the work you have done. People who have developed recognizable names in research have usually done so by going off on their own and discovering something new and novel. People who plod along shoulder to shoulder with other researchers may gain recognition from the other plodders, but it is rare that they gain recognition beyond that. However, plodding along is not the only risk associated with being part of the crowd.

I used the analogy last week of a beach full of beachcombers with metal detectors. The other risk of being part of the crowd is that the crowd may simply be on the wrong beach. The frequency of this occurrence probably varies quite a bit from one field to the next. However, no field of research is exempt. A promising new vein of research is discovered. Researchers flock to it. And, for a while, it is easy to get papers published in this new area. There may be special issues of journals dedicated to it. There may even be whole new journals dedicated to the emerging area. But then, time passes without much progress. A new and different area excites everyone. Before you know it, you cannot get an editor to even consider a paper in the old new vein. And then, one day, you find the beach deserted except for a few diehards who refuse to give up.

There are probably people who have invested heavily in this area. Many have probably gotten tenure based on their publications. And now they have so much invested in this area that they are unwilling to look for a new beach. So, the chances are that they give up doing research and along with that any dreams of being recognized for their contributions. The beach that no one cares about can be a lonely and disappointing place.

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