Hydrological Sciences

How far can we take the DORA rules?

How far can we take the DORA rules?

DORA stands for Declaration on Research Assessment, also known as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. The declaration was developed back in 2012 during the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco and has become a worldwide initiative since then. The country where you are currently reading this post has most probably signed the declaration (the count is at 164 signing countries), and most likely also the National Funding Agency to which you submit your proposals and the University at which you work.

But have you heard about it? Do you know how it is implemented?

What does DORA do?

The declaration is rooted in the pressing need to improve the evaluation of scientific output, to go beyond article counting and journal impact factors; to come up with evaluation procedures that account for the diversity of scientific research outputs in terms of traditional and online publications, data sets, codes, outreach, training of other scientists etc. The times when the quality of a scientific paper is judged based on the journal’s impact factor should be definitively behind us. You can check out the 18 recommendations here.

While I am not a specialist in implementing DORA rules, I have been practising it for a couple of years now in hiring commissions and research proposal evaluation. Many European research funding agencies are currently trying to find their way to the application of the DORA rules to academic career evaluation. One possible step is the introduction of new scientific CV formats that guide the reviewers away from article counting, and that focus on what the researchers themselves consider as their most influential output.

A new form of scientific CV

In 2022, the Swiss National Science Foundation introduced SciCV, a scientific CV format that is reduced to the absolute minimum. Only the following information is contained:

  • name
  • current position
  • net academic age (number of years post-PhD, minus the time away from full-time academic research e.g. for care duties part-time work)
  • education history
  • employment history
  • 3 academic achievements explained in max. 4350 characters (total for the 3), including spaces spaces (this piece has roughly 3700) and with a maximum of 10 output items (publications, data sets, outreach activities, etc.).

As a member of the Swiss Research Council (the body that evaluates and ranks research proposals), I have seen a few dozen of these new CVs, and I genuinely like them: they completely change your view on academic careers. Of course, it is easier to pack a professor’s academic life full of high-level publications into three outstanding achievements than to sell the scientific output of a senior scientist who maintains the top-level field site of that same professor. But most achievements are inspiring to read and convincing. Done well, they make you think: “Yes, this is the ideal person for the proposed research.”

However, not all colleagues like the new format, which is extremely limiting and requires a lot of creativity when you try to pack your community services into the same achievement as your work on Bayesian statistics (the CV does not allow you to list anything else than employment and education history). And, of course, we still tend to visit online publication lists to complete our view of a candidate. During evaluation sessions, we have to continuously remind ourselves to not bring up non-DORA compatible arguments, such as the number of papers or the quality of the journals in which the work is published.

The future of scientific CVs in the age of DORA

This new Swiss SciCV will probably be revised again in the coming months because it is too extreme a revolution in the eyes of many. Still, I hope other funding agencies and university hiring commissions will try it. And if you do not know how your institution applies the DORA rules – why not launch the discussion yourself?


Links: The DORA Blog, https://sfdora.org/blog/

Bettina Schaefli
Bettina Schaefli is a professor for hydrology at University of Bern (Switzerland). She was the head of the Catchment Hydrology Subdivision of EGU from 2016-2019 and was an editor of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (2008-2022). She has been the lead editor of the Hydrology Blog since 2018.

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