Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Engineering a scientific culture

In a commentary in Cell, Gerald Rubin describes Janelia Farm, the new research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. If you cannot access the commentary, there is a lot of information available on the website such as this flash presentation (oozing with PR talk).

In summary (as I understood it) the objective is to create a collaborative working environment where scientist can explore risky and long term projects without having to worry about applying for grants and publishing on very regular basis.
Group leaders in Janelia Farm will
- have small groups (two to six)
- not be able to apply to outside funding
- still work in the bench

Unless you are really interested in managing resources and all the hassle of applying for grants, this sounds very appealing.

Also, there is no limit on the amount of time the group leader can stay at Janelia Farm, as long as they pass a review process every 5 years. This is unlike for example here at EMBL where most people are forced to move after 9 years (there is a review process after 5 years).

Since the main objectives of Janelia Farm is to work on long term projects that can have significant impact, the review process will not focus on publications but on more subjective criteria like:
"(1) the ability to define and the willingness to tackle difficult and important problems; (2) originality, creativity, and diligence in the pursuit of solutions to those problems; and (3) contributions to the overall intellectual life of the campus by offering constructive criticism, mentoring, technical advice, and in some cases, collaborations with their colleagues and visiting scientists"

Sounds like a researchers paradise :), do the science we will do the rest for you.
It will be interesting to see in some years if they manage to create such an environment. The lack of very objective criteria and no limit on the stay in the campus might lead to some corruption.