I’ve just received a nice e-mail telling me that it’s time for my annual judging session – also know as my Personal Development Review. This kind of thing has so many different titles (performance review, appraisal, etc) but they all amount to the same basic thing – I sit down with my boss and we talk about all the things I’ve done this year, and then we try to work out if that was too much or too little, against the latest random-measurement yard sticks passed down from upper management.

This got me thinking about what exactly would be a good yard stick for researchers. I mean there are some fairly obvious ones, like paper output or grants, and the always perfect H-index. But I felt that the time had come to create some equally balanced and fair methods.

1. Number of books borrowed from the library

This one is pretty obvious: more books = more science. This metric shouldn’t involve  whether or not you’ve read them, as I’m not sure that’s irrelevant. I think any books in German or Latin also score double points as these are the most science-y of all languages. You also get -1 point for any books you wrote – that’s just showing off. 

[my score: 39]

2. Average time of day e-mails are sent

The time at which you send e-mails is a very clear sign of your standing as a researcher. For example, managers wouldn’t be seen dead sending e-mails during normal work hours – they wait until seconds before you leave work. To help navigate this, the chart below explains the various times and what that says about you.

Academic e-mail and working hours

[my score: Stressed Post-Doc]

3. Legibility of lab book

Now apparently a lab book should be a simple record of your experiment, written so that anyone similarly trained could pick it up and repeat the experiment. In reality this is probably a big ask for most scientists. So this metric is simply if someone who speaks your language can actually read what you’ve scrawled in your lab book. The metric is calculated as to what percentage someone can read from a random page without having to ask you translate it.

[my score: 100% – it’s electronic…]

4. Tallness of the researcher

This is a proprietary metric that my own company MadeUpMetrics invented. It took years of research and can absolutely produce the first truly fair science metric. You simply tell us your height, we then run it through a highly advanced (but proprietary) algorithm and give you a T score. This metric is absolutely not because I am ~1.85m tall. I’ve spent years giving myself backache bending down at benches and feel that it is high time [ed: snerk!] that my height was actually useful.

[my score: T10] 

5. Height of desk paperwork

All researchers know that the best evidence for all the research you are doing is the number of papers you’ve printed out. Having a towering fire-safety hazard on your desk acts as a monument to all that googling you did.

[my score: 2cm – I fail at this pretty badly by having everything electronic]

6. Survey results from students who actually like you

Anyone who does teaching is probably already rated by their students, and this forms part of their feedback on how good a teacher they are.  Unfortunately, existing surveys are mostly just filled out by the people that hate you. They are the only ones motivated enough to wade through some terrible online form to provide feedback. Well, this metric tries to balance that system by getting feedback from students that actually like you. I’m still working on how to actually collect this data, it turns out that if you kidnap people and then force them to do surveys they quickly turn into people that hate you.

[my score: “please let us go”]

7. Volume of coffee consumed

This is tricky. You might be assuming that I would say that the more coffee the better but actually it’s quite a complicated relationship.

Science and coffee

[my score: decaf]

8. Number of small vials of chemicals you’ve made

Small, poorly labelled vials are a sure sign of vital work being conducted. The more you can cover your bench with, the more science is probably happening. Firstly, there are way too many to both checking, but if anyone did check, then labels such as “BrAzo Tq6 1 mg/ml, 07/07/2015 MP” is both impenetrable and also sounds exactly like hard working science.

[my score: ~100]

9. H&S documents created

A safe lab is a productive lab. Probably… I don’t know, I’ve never worked in a lab that has actually managed to finish all its H&S paperwork. There always seems to be some outstanding somehow. But H&S is critical and vital to the smooth running of the lab. Probably… Again, our lab was fine before it came in so I’m not sure what disaster area of a lab these people are from. But H&S people are utterly convinced that H&S documents are the only thing standing between me and certain death/crippling injury. So I assume, given the emphasis put on H&S, that every document I create saves me from loosing a day’s research to either death or possibly loss of limbs.

[my score: 60 documents/days extra I’m not hideously scarred]

10. Number of times you’ve cried in the lab

Now some might argue that crying in the lab is a bad thing. But I think the exact opposite is true. If you are crying in the lab one of two things has probably happened: firstly, you might have made an amazing discovery and are crying with joy. Secondly, you care so much about your work that you are shedding a tear of disappointment at the fact that your experiment has just failed for the 30th time. Either way, I think it shows clear research commitment. Or possibly you have cracked and are having a nervous breakdown.

[my score: 0 – I am possibly an unfeeling stone]


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Anne-Sophie · 8 July 2015 at 13:27

Point 10: I believe you may start crying if you open a mislabelled vial (point 8) containing something that irritates your eyes. In this case, probably you need to review your H&S processes (point 9).

JP · 16 July 2015 at 14:18

Point 4: Should this not be the </stong?Z score? [obscure cartoon reference]

TGIF | Candid Cerebrations · 10 July 2015 at 18:52

[…] How to Measure a Scientist (humorous) […]

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