Friday, 2 November 2007

WISER - Measuring Excellence

What is excellence? How does one assess excellence? What criteria should be used? And who should do the assessing? The measurement of excellence is frequently discussed in relation to academia and academics, whether it be in appointing a professor, awarding a grant, or evaluating the productivity of an academic. But can one really measure ‘excellence’? At the WISER Festival, this very topic was debated. Prof. Ana Proykova, a professor of physics at the University of Sofia, discussed both the quantitative and qualitative elements of excellence. The number of publications, citations, patents, grants, students and collaborators are an objective way of quantifying excellence. The quality of the work is judged by the reviewers of the work and reflected by the international reputation of the journal in which the work is published. However, Prof. Flavia Zucco, head of research at the Institute of Neurobiology and Molecular Medicine at the National Research Council in Rome, argued that scientific excellence rewards assertiveness and single mindedness, while other skills such as flexibility, creativity, diplomacy and competence are deemed less important. She referred to Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, the physics Nobel Prize laureate, who noted that women bring specific skills to research that men often lack, including the ability to create teams in research, giving students the freedom they need and keeping egos in check. Prof. Zucco remarked that the differences between men and women should be valued in the academic arena. Ms. Marieke van den Brink, a PhD student at the Institute of Gender Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, is addressing such issues in her research. In a recent publication, she posed the question ‘Does excellence have a gender?’ in relation to the appointment of professors at universities in the Netherlands. More than 60% of the professors recruited in the Netherlands between 1999 and 2003 were appointed by a closed application process (non-advertised positions). Although Ms. van den Brink had hypothesized that such procedures may disadvantage women, the findings did not confirm this. Thus, the so-called ‘old boys’ network appears to be equally advantageous for women in the Netherlands. However, her results did show that female applicants have a greater chance of being appointed to a position when there are more women on the selection committee. This may reflect the differences in the measurement of ‘excellence’ as perceived by men and women, as women may pay more attention to gender-specific behaviour. Should gender differences be considered when assessing excellence? Probably, but integrating gender awareness into the measurement of excellence is a whole new debate.


Jean-Baptiste Perrin said...

Excellence is winning the Pub Quizz night three or four times in a row... ;-)

Anonymous said...

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- David