The next generation of Psychologists will lose
How does one measure the value of an academic psychologist? For a university, this is not a navel-gazing meditation; it’s a practical problem. The answer we choose has a major impact on the provision of education and training, and ultimately the next generation of psychologists. We need to get it right and we cannot just rely on narrow 'objective' metrics.
Recently, we lost a great psychologist: Dr Scott Lilienfeld. He made real-world contributions in busting popular myths about human behaviour. He interrogated the concept of psychopathy, discussed the psychological treatments that actually harm, lambasted pseudoscience, and was sceptical of neuroscience being able to answer complex questions about human behaviour. Despite all this, he did not win enormous grants. A purely metrics-based valuation would not have captured the value he brought.
This might feel like an old discussion but it is still a pressing topic. The University of Liverpool is planning to cut 47 jobs based on grant income and a citation metric. Five psychologists have been identified. Important contributions are being completely ignored: for example teaching; collegiality; student experience; knowledge exchange. There will be huge losses to science and clinical practice if psychologists are hired, promoted, fired based on a narrow assessment of performance.
The use of a narrow set of metrics fails to capture the value that teaching and mentoring has to students. Mentoring students benefits student experience and boosts both their academic and job opportunities. However, this takes time away from lecturers' ability to develop their own research. Many women and BAME individuals are also involved in decolonising the curriculum in psychology. This takes time. These equality, diversity, and inclusion strategic priorities dovetail with those of the wider discipline (i.e., British Psychological Society). Recently, within the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology programmes, Health Education England provided funding to improve diversity in the profession. If one fails to value these activities, this could be seen as an example of structural racism which prioritises a narrow area of excellence in higher education.
Universities push staff to get big grants, but they should be doing the opposite. Psychologists should be rewarded for providing scientific knowledge while saving costs to the tax-payer (Chambers, 2019). Bidding for unneeded public money is wasteful and unethical. Some psychology research is cost-effective: important, impactful work can be done inexpensively. This kind of research should be recognised and incentivised. This includes psychological research which directly improves our health and wellbeing, but even basic science is important and can sometimes be done with openly available cohort data and without expensive equipment.
Universities often care about how many publications are produced, but we should instead look at their impact. Impact could be measured in many ways: policy impact, impact health interventions, and impact on 'what works'. Instead, many universities count how many times a published paper has been cited or mentioned within another scientific publication. Different areas of psychology show greater 'value' when using this citation metric. However, psychology is most useful when multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity are encouraged. Pursuing high citations threatens the position of psychology as an interdisciplinary science with input from a variety of expertise – e.g., methodological, social, and clinical.
The profession is already dominated by certain voices, and this bias will continue if we focus on grants and citations, as University of Liverpool is doing. We need to reward psychologists who convert the tax-payers’ purse into excellent research, whether that is experimental 'blue sky' research or social psychology. Also, academic excellence needs to include the work of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Since women and ethnic minorities take up the decolonisation work and mentoring and coaching, the next generation of psychologists will lose. We can’t expect the field of psychology to be more inclusive if these individuals are pushed out.
Dr Luna Centifanti
Senior Lecturer / Senior Research Tutor DClinPsych
University of Liverpool
Editor's note: the University of Liverpool have responded to the online discussion here.
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