As I left the house this morning, Suzie said “Never seen you work so hard in your life!” She might be right: been getting in to the office between 6 and 7 most mornings and not getting out before 6 or 7 most evenings last week and this week. What she said, along with something I read recently, got me thinking about why.
What I read was one of those ‘the youth of today doom society!’ type articles – which I read only to mock. 😀 It said ‘Gaming transforms brain chemistry and makes boys into dopamine junkies with its frequent rewards’. Hmm… Sounds dodgy but with a kernel of plausibility. I’ve been playing ‘Borderlands’ lately, and loving it, and certainly the time vanishes. There are frequent missions, and rewards for finishing those – (game) cash and experience points that enable me to ‘level up’, but also just the feeling of satisfaction. So yeah, I guess I can see that.
Tomorrow’s post will be ‘Dopamine Junkie 2: Gamification and School Education’, and will look at some of the implications for schools, but I thought I’d look in the mirror a bit first.
I’m going to talk about the three universities at which I’ve been an academic, and I mean no disrespect to any of them. One was a less-perfect match for me, but it’s not them, it’s me… 😀
At the University of Alberta in Canada where I started my career1 the main currency was ‘increments’ – steps up the salary (and esteem) scale. If you did your job poorly, you wouldn’t get one at all. If you did an average job, just up to normal expectations, you would get 1.0 increment a year, at least until you reached the top of the scale for your current rank. It was also possible to get 1.5 or 2.0 increments in a year, though, for exceptional performance. That is, there were annual rewards available for achievement. I managed a 2.0 in one of the five years I was there, but never got less than a 1.5: which meant that in 5 years I got 8 years worth of pay rises. Got promoted to Associate Professor, too.
To come back to Australia, where the ranking system is a bit different, I dropped back from Associate Professor to Senior Lecturer, with the hope of making the promotion back to Associate Professor in the Australian system in a few years. At the University of Queensland, the standards for publication are high, but there are few tangible rewards: promotion comes, when it does come, in rather obscure ways, and seems to be much more in the gift of the committee than a matter of meeting particular targets. During my time there the rules changed, and a number of other things happened, which meant I published a lot less, despite working very hard. I did other things I was told would be good for promotion, but without the publications, promotion just doesn’t happen – and I’d have been better off to turn down some of the other things and focus on that. There was no real way of keeping score – the message was always ‘do more, do more!’, and then some congratulations to the school for doing well… but always linked with more demands to do more. No doubt there were rewards to be had, but as I say, they seemed to be much less directly linked to achievements. I’m sure many of my colleagues are prospering and enjoying life there, and I’m pleased I worked there, but I also have no regrets about moving on.
Oh yeah, one other UQ thing: on the annual performance review, there are only two possible outcomes. ‘Satisfactory’ and ‘not satisfactory’. In the absence of ‘Freaking awesome: high five bro!’, I would at least have liked there to be an ‘above average’, ‘excellent’ and ‘exceptional’ level, or something.
At Griffith, there is an online publications system, where publications are posted and recognised as soon as they come out, and just that little piece of recognition and score-keeping in itself works well for me: it gives me those little ‘mission complete’ shots of dopamine to add a new publication to the system. I’m currently champing at the bit for them to open it up for 2013 publications, because I already have a few bits ‘in press’ that can be uploaded now and submitted when they come out. Just this in itself works better for me than a process in which publications are only seen at the annual review…
There are also more tangible rewards. For publishing a certain number of papers, with different expectations for different ranks, the School offers cash (well, at least, money in an account that can be used for conference travel, academic books and such). There’s, at my rank, $2000 for 3 publications of certain kinds in a year, with the possibility of a second $2000 for a second 3 publications – and I got the whole $4000 in my first year at Griffith (which was actually only 5 months). That’s a very direct dopamine rush/achievement/cash/experience points result. It’s, effectively, gamification – play the game well, get rewarded.
(UQ gives automatic conference funding to academics – for a national conference and an international one in alternate years – that is not linked to performance. When I initially saw that Griffith does not give conference funding I was worried… but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue!)
There are different forms of ‘Level Up’ available, too. I’m meeting with the Head of School today to discuss my promotion application for Associate Professor, which is finally imminent – if not this year, next year.
But, beyond that, the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, of which I’m a member, has four levels of membership. Those who are not ‘research active’ in Griffith’s terms (that is, have published less than 6 articles in a 6 year period) are Associate Members of the Institute. Those who reach research active status are full Members. Already made it to that level (7 publications in 1 year will do that). There are also the Fellow (10 publications and some other stuff) and Senior Fellow (15 publications and more stuff) levels available: I’m hoping to hit both of those this year, but if not will definitely make Fellow this year and Senior Fellow next.
As I say, it’s not a matter of ‘which university’s system is better’ in absolute terms, it’s about ‘which university’s system is better for me’: and it turns out that this one seems to be working… which means I’m working hard.
- Well, there was a postdoc and a couple of other bits and pieces, but that was my first serious academic appointment where I was measured by the standards of an academic.