Research: Individual or group outcomes?

Is research a lonely, individual enterprise or is it a group enterprise?  Logically, it is both as you always need other people whom you can get more knowledge or discuss with while working on an individual research project.   For me, the research evaluation process usually gives an insight to empirically answer such question.  Every 4 years, an external committee that comprises of 9 (nine) highly respected researchers in Neuroscience world community, comes to Donders Institute to evaluate the quality of achievements that the institute has already shown throughout the years.  At some points of the evaluation process, the external committee will be asked to attend presentation events delivered by each of our Principal Investigators and to visit each of the research centers that comprise the whole Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.  These research centers are Donders Centre for Cognition, Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, and Donders Centre for Neuroscience.  In total, there are 400 researchers working at the institute.  They come from around 35 countries all over the world and their projects in Neuroscience range from molecule to behavioral level, from studying epilepsy in rats to neuroplasticity, perception and language processing in special/clinical populations.  So, it’s sorta big deal for a 2-day evaluation visit! 

However, this evaluation process can be exciting for a PhD like me.  First of all, some of the committee members are famous neuroscience celebrity such as Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, Dr. Paul Matthews, and Dr. Kia Nobre.  Secondly, this is the special time for a PhD researcher to do direct within-group observation, comparison and evaluation regarding the average quality of your colleagues as members of a bigger research sub-group as a group achievement is driven by excellent work of the group members, NOT merely by that of the principal investigator aka advisor aka professor.  A similar comparison can also be carried out in a between-sub-group perspective such that you compare the strength differences among sub-groups within a research center (the one that you work for at the moment, of course).  The sub-groups might be linked to each other as they (apparently) work within the same research theme/scope but they use slightly different approaches or techniques in the imaging analysis.  By doing all of this, I hope to find which part is interesting to be worked jointly in our center or just plainly observe what is better on other groups’ performance to learn new things that might be important to be worked on in my own group in the coming year.  As a PhD, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to judge and calibrate where and when I should better perform in order to overcome insufficient results.  This means during a certain period, I should be able to learn whether better planning, more efficient communication and discussions, etc are necessary.  Taking the right action following all of these insights is another step of becoming a researcher, in my heartily opinion.

For a quite big research institute such as Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, a comprehensive evaluation system (which includes an external committee) can help its researchers as group members and individuals, to improve their performance and to increase the scope of their research enterprise.   Finally, the group performance in the end strongly indicates the scope and quality of our individual research and therefore it might be more realistic to think of research as collaboration and teamwork, not merely a lonely project.


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