Scientists can be good at many different things, but currently only one area counts when it comes to funding applications and PhD programmes: research performance. In fact, spending too much time on teaching and education can actually stand in the way of an academic career.

One year ago, knowledge institutions and providers of academic funding decided that it was time to rethink this method of recognizing and evaluating performance. But the big question, of course, is how? After consultations with scientists, trade unions and other stakeholders, they have published a number of proposals.

Ticking the right boxes

The dominance of research performance is ‘really beginning to grate’, say universities, university medical centres, the KNAW science association and funding providers the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and ZonMw in a joint statement. We must put an end to check-box culture (including numbers of publications, citations and the like) because this encourages a high workload and disrupts the balance between scientific fields.

Other areas of talent also need to be included in the evaluation process. This includes teaching and education, research impact, leadership and (for medics) patient care. ‘It’s unrealistic, and also unnecessary, for every scientist to excel in each one of the core domains,’ the organizations state in their position paper.

Researchers can work on their profile in one or more of these specializations. Over the course of their career, they could still choose to change course. Education and research remain the two most crucial elements. ‘In all cases, scientists should have sufficient competences in these two areas.’

Across disciplinary boundaries

Ideally, everyone will be able to contribute to the team, department or consortium of researchers, based on his or her own expertise. Because the aim of ‘team science’ should be to promote cooperation between different disciplines. ‘That doesn’t mean that there is no place for monodisciplinary studies and careers. On the contrary, a strong disciplinary basis is a prerequisite for any meaningful exchange across disciplinary boundaries.’

When providers of academic funding are evaluating research proposals, there will be a greater focus on quality, content, creativity and the contribution to wider society. According to these organizations, open science is inextricably linked to the recognition and appreciation of what is new.

Cultural change

Big plans, but how do you put them into practice? Next year, the VSNU will launch a national recognition and evaluation framework. In 2021, this will be incorporated into the collective labour agreement and the function house. A ‘revised university job ranking system’ should be in place by then. The knowledge institutions also wish to focus more attention on recognizing different forms of value through new committees, programmes and courses.

Providers of academic funding will, for their part, work on a ‘palette of funding instruments that include clearly distinctive criteria to serve a more diverse group of researchers.’ They will initiate a dialogue with scientists regarding how to define ‘talent’ and ‘good research’. The committees that assess grant applications will receive training and instructions to speed up the ‘desired change of culture’. They will also focus more on rewarding team science.