What I don’t like about academia

In this blog post, I will talk about academia. There are numerous things that I like about academia, and I really enjoy working in academia. But for this blog post, I will try to talk  about what I don’t like in academia to give a different perspective.

academia

Even when we like something very much, there is always some things that we don’t like. So, here we go. Here is a list of some things that I more or less dislike in academia:

  • A sometime excessive pressure to publish: There is sometimes a great pressure on researchers to produce many publications in a given time frame, which may come from various sources. It is in part necessary as it increases productivity and ensures that researchers do not become lazy. But a drawback is that some researchers may be less willing to take risks or may focus on short-term projects rather than on more difficult but more rewarding projects.
  • Conflicts of interests at various levels. A researcher should avoid conflicts of interest. However, not everyone does and this is a problem. A few years ago, for example, I was a program committee member of a conference and discovered that a reviewer reviewed his own paper. I reported this issue to the conference organizers and that person was kicked out of the program committee. Another, example is some journal reviewers that always ask that we cite their papers in their reviews even if it is not relevant to our paper, just to increase their citation count. In my field, there is one reviewer that is especially known for doing this as several researchers talked to me about him. This is not a good behavior and I usually report it to the journal editor but since reviewers work for free, there is typically no consequence for such people. A third example is that some researchers will often give preferential treatment to their friends. For example, I ever attended a conference  where three of the awards were handed to collaborators of the conference organizer. Although these papers may be good, it remains suspicious. Another example is when I was applying for jobs in Canada, several years ago. At that time, I was one of remaining two candidates for a professor position but finally the other much less experienced researcher was chosen, due to a likely conflict of interest.
  • Predatory journals and conferences. There are many journals of very low quality that only publish to earn money. These journals usually have very broad scope, are published by unknown publishers and sometimes appear to not review papers. They also often send spam to promote their journals. This is a problem, and I obviously dislike such journals.
  • Unethical publications by some researchers. I have discovered and reported several journal papers that contained plagiarism. These papers have been generally retracted, as they should. But in some cases, unethical behavior is not so easy to detect. For example, I have ever read some papers where I thought that results were fake but there was not enough evidences to prove it. It certainly happens that some researchers publish fake results, which is bad for academia.
  • Publishers that sometimes are too greedy. It is well known that some publishers charge very high fees to universities and individuals to publish and/or access research publications. This is somewhat unfortunate because research is often funded by a government, done by researchers and reviewed for free by reviewers, while publishers are those earning money. It would be difficult to change this as popular publishers are well established and there are pressure to keep this system. On the other hand, this publication system is not that bad. Actually, the good publishers will filter many bad papers, and ensure minimum quality levels for papers, which is important.
  • Insufficient funding for research in some countries. Currently, I have a lot of funding so I cannot complain about insufficient funding. But in some other countries, funding is quite rare and often insufficient for researchers in academia. This was the case when I was working in Canada. To apply for the national funding by NSERC, we would have to write a budget requesting large amounts of money but one was considered lucky to even just get a fraction of it. Thus not so much money was available to students, for attending conferences and publications, and buying equipment. Besides, there is not enough professors at several universities in countries like Canada.
  • Reviewers that do not do their job well. As researchers, our work are evaluated by other researchers to determine if our work should be published in a given conference proceedings or journal. Generally, reviewers do a good job and do it for free, which is very appreciated. However, in some cases, reviewers don’t do their job correctly. For example, it ever happened to me that a reviewer rejected my paper because he thought the problem could be solved in a more simple way. But the solution proposed by the reviewer in his review was wrong. Having said that, a reviewer often misunderstand a paper because it is not well written. Thus, such situations are often to be blamed on authors rather than reviewers. And often when a paper is rejected there are multiple problems in the paper.
  • Unprofessional behavior. In some cases, some researchers have highly unprofessional behavior. This was for example the case for the ADMA 2015 conference, which was canceled without notifying authors, after papers had been submitted. The website just went offline and organizers just ignored emails.
  • Bad paper presentations. I have attended many international conferences. Sometimes paper presentations are good. But sometimes they are not good. There are several easily avoidable mistakes that a presenter should not do such as turning is back to the audience, exceeding the time limit, and not being prepared.

This is all for today! I just wanted to share some things that I don’t like about academia. But actually, I really like academia. You can share your own perspective on academia in the comments below, or perhaps that you may want to share solutions on how to improve academia. 😉

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Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 145 data mining algorithms.

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