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A Strange Turn into Research Policy.

28 August 2014

Twitter is a fascinating, self-contradictory place for scientists. A huge and robust community. By turns enlightened and enlightening, ruthlessly orthodox, whimsical and humorless, unified and fragmented, quixotic and hypocritical, absolutist and relativist. Just as it is impossible to pin down any individual to a label-board, so the community of scientists and academics on twitter defies any description. But it is a fertile soil for planting and harvesting ideas.

And it has led my own research in directions it never would have gone if not for my interaction there. Including things that are not part of my job, I’ll get no credit for from work, and will not help me advance any currently conceivable career path. I have two papers currently under review which fall under the broad category of “research policy”. I’m not trained in research policy any more than any PI who is required to receive basic ethics and policy instruction. But a couple of things that came out of interactions on twitter led me to conduct (or assist in conducting) a few interesting experiments, and now I’m trying to publish the results.

If I were a professor, this would probably help me, career-wise. One of them involves simulation, and the other is a really cool result that may have broad implications for research ethics. And neither of them would ever have happened except for twitter. In the latter case because it is the result of a collaboration with better researchers than I am that I met on twitter, and in the former because it is a topic I had little interest in until I discovered the impact is has on people through my interactions on twitter. As a professor, I could let these ideas take me where they take me.

But as a hospital engineer, I have this whole other job to do, which has nothing to do with these topics. I’m working on publishing there too, and on developing a position for myself where publishing matters, and I am rewarded for putting papers out there. I’m building a (mostly) hard-money quality-improvement research program here where none has existed before. And doing it in a mildly-clandestine manner, in the sense that I want to establish it, and make it robust and integrated with my department’s QI activities, without exposing myself to the risk of becoming a soft-money researcher. I don’t want my bosses to decide I’m doing so much research that I should be grant-supported.

It just goes to show the strange paths a career can take. I have no training in policy, and yet now I am poised to (hopefully) publish two papers with policy findings. One of which at least ostensibly relates to my professional expertise, in that it involves a computer-simulated thought experiment. In the event I am ever truly aiming for a professorship, these publications, and the ones from my job, will provide evidence of my academic acumen and ambition. That’s important. Hopefully, in about 8 weeks, I’ll have a good grant score to report too.

I don’t know, exactly, how much twitter has influenced my career. I know it supported my willingness to change cities when my funding was running out at my last job. I know that it has helped me develop new lines in inquiry. It’s a strange, wonderful, maddening place. And it’s helped position me to make a contribution to a field I never imagined having anything to contribute to. That’s gratifying. Or, it will be, if the papers get published.

What an odd place this world is. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. But I’m doing something. And it feels like I’m moving forward.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 August 2014 09:05

    Twitter has helped me beat depression and led to some opportunities that I’m not sure will relate to my career per se, but easily could…and will hopefully help me transition to someplace where I’m happier in life than I am now (already made a huge difference). Twitter is great, and I hope it always maintains it’s core functionality.

  2. rhwoodman permalink
    2 September 2014 05:03

    I certainly enjoy your presence on Twitter, and I, like you, have learned and grown from my interactions with folks on Twitter.

  3. Syd permalink
    2 September 2014 21:59

    I haven’t had the enlightening experiences that you have using Twitter. I guess I just prefer the old fashioned direct communication of email or phone calls.

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