how the structures and reward systems of universities may influence the incentives and rewards that are available for working in the area of transdisciplinary research.
One example is the hiring, promotion, and tenure (P/T) process, a key aspect of success in the university research setting. It is widely acknowledged that the P/T process rewards individual initiative and products of research, such as grant proposals, research projects, and publications. Although being a PI on a research project or a senior, lead, or sole author on a paper is a clear sign of scholarly achievement, there may be other indicators as well. Participation in team projects for transdisciplinary research may be discouraged for those who have not yet achieved tenure, but there would be value in providing junior faculty ways to become engaged in transdisciplinary research from the early stages of their careers. The criteria for promotion and tenure will, of course, affect the hiring process, because presumably an institution seeks to hire people it believes will thrive and grow in that instituition’s environment.
Because the review process for P/T shares some attributes with the NIH peer review process, there may be some common observations about how these processes can support transdisciplinary research. One would be the importance of having someone participate in the P/T review who is experienced in transdisciplinary research, who understands the challenges and metrics for success, and who is able to evaluate contributions made by individuals to team projects. Because the P/T process is so critical to the career pathway of academic researchers it might be valuable for leading university associations (e.g., the American Association of Universities, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and the American Association of Medical Colleges) to jointly develop models that would ensure that work in such important and critical fields is adequately rewarded before faculty reach the senior—or tenured—level.
One of the suggestions made in the 2004 NAS/NAE/IOM report is that academic institutions should “increase recognition of co-principal investigators’ research activities during promotion and tenure decisions.” As NIH explores new approaches to acknowledging multiple investigators on team projects, the next step would be for universities to use that information in ways that would ensure that the impact of the incentives and rewards are felt at the campus level. Interestingly, in the guidance for the new clinical (Clinical and Translational Science Award) awards, NIH specifically calls on universities to put forward PIs with broad institutional authority, including authority over promotion:
… that the program director have authority, perhaps shared with other high-level institutional officials, over requisite space, resources, faculty appointments, protected time, and promotion (NIH, 2005a).