Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Becoming a Scientist: The Effects of Work-Group Size and Organizational Climate

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Becoming a Scientist: The Effects of Work-Group Size and Organizational Climate

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the experiences of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in science. Our interest in this population is based on the assumption that today's graduate students and postdoctoral fellows represent the future of the university. The socialization of potential scientists begins when they are undergraduates, but it is during their period of formal training and apprenticeship that they learn both the values and skills that are needed to make an effective transition to leadership in their fields. Their experiences as students confront them with increasing pressures that arise out of many factors, ranging from stable or declining government funding to the rapidly changing expectations related to collaboration and entrepreneurship (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000).

As a consequence, we view graduate and postdoctoral students as "canaries in the mine." One indicator that the scientific enterprise is healthy is that these students are productive and are acquiring the values and norms that will allow them to participate fully and interactively as scientists. If their socialization is not effective, they may not be learning how to be "good scientists."

Popular explanations for the conformity of scientists (including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) to the norms of "good science" focus on their personal characteristics or those of their mentors. Productivity, for example, may be regarded as a consequence of individual effort or intelligence--some students are just smarter or have more self-efficacy than others (Vrugt & Koenis, 2002) . Other discussions among scientists emphasize the importance of good mentoring, including having an advisor or a department chair who steers the student toward opportunities and who clearly models appropriate behaviors (Judge, Kammeyer-Mueller, & Bretz, 2004; Mallinckrodt & Gelso, 2002; Steiner, Lanphear, Curtis, & Vu, 2002).

We take a different approach, looking at the organizational contexts in which graduate and postdoctoral students work. Our assumption is that the characteristics of the setting in which graduate students and postdoctoral fellows spend most of their waking hours has a significant influence on their values and behaviors. We investigate two related questions:

1. What is the relationship of work-group size and organizational climate to the scientific productivity of advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows?

2. What is the relationship of work-group size and organizational climate to the willingness of students and fellows to share the results of their research?

Related Literature

In this section we review existing research that has contributed to the formulation of our research questions. This includes papers that articulate the importance of certain indicators of what it means to be a good scientist and research on scientific work groups and on department or organizational climates in research settings.

Benchmarks for Early Productivity

We chose two benchmarks of early productivity--scholarly productivity and willingness to share the results of their research--because there is some consensus that they are foundations for modern science.

First, it is clearly important for science that its most junior members learn how to be productive in the traditional sense of developing peer-reviewed presentations and publications (Bonaccorsi & Daraio, 2003; Trueba & Guerrero, 2004). In the life sciences, for example, the importance of having a well-developed list of publications before obtaining a position as an assistant professor has resulted in the tendency for those students who want a faculty position in a prestigious university to have more than one postdoctoral experience. Numbers of publications and even citation rates are not the only predictors of the lasting impacts of a scientist's contributions, which include "softer" measures such as honors and awards. …

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