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Vanity Academics.

18 February 2014

I have absolutely no reason to participate in academics. I am not faculty. My job doesn’t require it. In fact, my job is full-time with no academic pursuits whatsoever. Anything I choose to do with regard to publishing, grant writing, mentoring, etc., I do in addition to my regular duties. I don’t have to produce my salary (at least, not with grants), and I don’t have the kind of freedom that being a “real” PI with grant money has. Even if I’m flush with external dollars and paying my own way, I still need permission to attend conferences and whatnot.

No one really reads the papers I write. At least, I don’t think. A paper I published in 2010 on simulation now has a total of three citations, and one of them is me. Another published in 2012 has 5, and I think 3 of them are me. Other simulation work gets cited. Mine is just, well, unimportant. Apparently. It’s not particularly insightful or generalizable. It’s just work. Here’s a thing I did. Essentially case studies. Case studies aren’t evidence.

I can make a difference just doing my work in my hospital. Why am I taking up space in journals? Why am I writing grants and competing with real academics for finite funding resources?

Vanity. I want to be important. I want to be special. I want my friends on twitter to think I’m one of them: an academic producing valuable insights into the world and pushing back the frontiers of ignorance. But I’m not. I’m just a quality improvement engineer who models health care and tries to make his hospital go a little better. I can do that without wasting everybody’s time writing unread reports in minor periodicals. Without siphoning off much-needed grant money from people for whom it represents their livelihood.

I have vague ambitions that I will one day have a real academic post, or that my position here will turn into one. To do that, I’ll need to demonstrate academic credibility. But I don’t actually need any of that. I’m effective and comfortable where I am. I’ve written before that if I have this job for the remainder of my career, I’ll be happy with it.

I just don’t want to leave this world with no written record of my existence in it. I want to have a bibliography that says I was here. I did something useful, for a while. I wasn’t just a drunk who wasted space and time and talent and potential. I was here. That’s my vanity. I want people to know I was here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 February 2014 10:39

    That’s cool. That’s half of why the rest of us do it, anyway. The other half is tenure. Oh, and also? I have a grant and am a university academic, and I have to ask for permission to attend conferences. *shrug*

  2. 18 February 2014 12:47

    Actually, my understanding is that case studies *are* evidence of a sort (and there’s a bunch of good people in philosophy of science and philosophy of medicines doing work to nail down just *what* sort of evidence they can be).

    In any event, if you’re building knowledge, sharing it is a good thing. It may be just the piece of knowledge someone else is looking for to further their own project, and it’s really hard to anticipate for whom or for what the knowledge you’re sharing will be helpful.

    • 18 February 2014 13:21

      Interesting. I took an epidemiology short course at UMich where the instructor was adamant that case studies are not evidence.

      • 18 February 2014 14:09

        From the epidemiological standpoint I see case studies as a place to start, really. Oh hey, here’s this interesting thing, I wonder why that happens? Sometimes that interesting thing is pretty rare in the grand scheme of things and sometimes we need some quick insight. They certainly are not useless.

      • 18 February 2014 17:11

        So what does the phrase “anecdotal evidence” mean? It doesn’t mean “pointless crap.” Not all evidence is of the hard, quantifiable variety. There’s also qualitative evidence, y’know.

      • 18 February 2014 21:26

        Anecdotal evidence says: “This can happen.” It doesn’t say how often, or that it is likely to recur, etc.

  3. 19 February 2014 17:46

    Case studies are absolutely of value. Clearly. “Anecdotal!” triumphalists are almost as stupid as the “correlation is not causation” variety.

    • 19 February 2014 17:55

      Value? Certainly. But you can’t base treatment off them without additional information. Case studies by definition don’t give info about prevalence.

  4. Syd permalink
    21 February 2014 18:33

    I hope that you get that position too. I think that the work you do is valuable.

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