Broadening participation in research beyond research jobs

The current issue of American Anthropologist has a series of short essays by biological anthropologists, featured as a “Vital Topics Forum” in the journal. The essays come from anthropologists of a diversity of backgrounds and training, including many groups that have been historically underrepresented in this field of science. According to the journal, these are open access, and I may feature several of these essays over coming weeks.

Today I read the essay by Milena Shattuck, “Research in a Non‐Research Position”. One of the ongoing realities of academic institutions in the U.S. and internationally is a shift toward contingent (adjunct and other non-tenure-track) faculty for many teaching and service roles. As PhD scientists finish their degrees and proceed through their early career, they are increasingly finding that research is not part of the jobs they are getting. That reality has important implications for how we train and mentor PhD students, and also for how we conceive of research.

[G]iven the constraints that most people in our field face, it may be time to rethink our idea of who belongs at the table. For starters, given that teaching responsibilities are increasingly shifted onto NTT faculty, we need to acknowledge their importance in training the next generation of scientists. However, we also need to consider their potential role in research. High‐budget projects that produce large datasets are absolutely necessary to advance our field. But we must not conflate the research with the researcher, and those who manage to produce knowledge despite limited means should be valued too. Rather than be sidelined, NTT faculty should be actively sought out for collaborations. Ignoring 70 percent of academics can only harm science.

I would add, at the same time that universities are creating more non-research positions, they are also expecting more and more undergraduate research experience for students who apply to pursue higher degrees. This is a contradiction. I agree that research experience is valuable for students, and to provide it we must value and provide more support for the research roles of many instructors, even those in primarily teaching positions.