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We are asked in our group to send new publications for journals and conferences to our secretary, who told me she has to input this information also into a database of the university. Over the years of PhD/Postdoc my Professor also seems to favor publishing many small papers rather than leaving it to the first author to make a decision on splitting up research results. This sometimes leads to conflicts, as the goals of my professor, my university and researchers without permanent positions can be different as the strategies to realize them.

So, I'm wondering if this kind of quality management/evaluation of the publication output is used by the administration to reward very productive groups and if so, by which kind of number games and really in financial rewards (increasing budget etc.)? (Number of Articles) x (impact factor)...

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    The fact that there is a database does not, in and of itself, imply that some sort of ranking/scoring system is applied. What I have seen is that there occasionally is a need to produce an impressive looking list of articles for some report, and that is what the database is used for. – Jon Custer Feb 21 at 21:10
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    We have also some sort of database here. I am a normal phd student. And I get a bonus partially depending on how many papers I have published and whether the journal/conference has a good reputation. The bonus is a few thousand euros each year if I performed well. The publication data is also used for statistics to compute a performance index for the institute. Thus, all this plays a major role here. However, I don't really like the concept... – J-Kun Feb 21 at 21:57
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    @J-Kun you get a personaly salary bonus of several thousand €? I see in profile this is in Germany!? With a TV-L contract you have a side-arrangment in your contract for bonuses or you can use this bonus only for research investments? – user48953094 Feb 21 at 22:06
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    Yes, I am in Germany at a (partially) publicly funded institute (not a university) with a TVöD-bund contract. Bonuses are only possible because we do a lot of industry work and that is, as far as I know, the only money which can be used for bonuses. The bonus is an addition to my normal salary. It is not intended to be spent on research, you do whatever you like. I get it directly onto my banking account (yes I have to pay taxes on that) more details: fraunhofer.de/content/dam/zv/de/ueber-fraunhofer/… – J-Kun Feb 21 at 22:31
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    @J-Kun Is this reward system installed by Fraunhofer society in general or only in your project and because the industrial partners wanted a reward system? It looks like installed by Fraunhofer, because the industry has no advance in many papers, but with their money, bit weird to me. I think your comments make an interesting answers, especially why you don't like it... – user48953094 Feb 21 at 23:24
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I am employed at one of the German Fraunhofer institutes as PhD student. We are doing a lot of research and are partially publicly funded, but we are not a university. However, my answer might still provide some insight.

My research output is precisely measured and evaluated. Each time one of my papers is accepted I need to add it to an internal database. It stores the name(s) of the author(s), the paper's title, the conference/journal at which it will be presented/published, the date of publication, etc. The database is accessible for the entire institute. There is a Fraunhofer-wide database that publicly tracks most (but for some reason not all) of my publications, too.

This data is used in various ways.

  • Internal publication tracking: I have seen many presentations which listed the number of publications in the last year and encouraged the institute's researchers to continue with their work. This is also about motivation. A few selected publications with high impact (e.g., at high-ranked conferences, papers presenting great results, ...) get explicitly mentioned at the institute's meetings in front of all other researchers. This can give you a little bit of (internal) fame but also some potential envy...
  • You job may depend on your publications. If you have absolutely no scientific output your contract might not be renewed. The same is true for research projects. A list of papers helps you A LOT when it comes to defending the importance of your work and why the institute shall continue working on it.
  • Having a complete(!) list of all own papers in one field of research is crucial when it comes to writing research proposals. Having a list of great publications that you can reference usually increases your chances. Thereby you show that the institute has the basic knowledge to work on such a project.
  • The same is true for offers to potential customers in the industry. You can search the publication list for papers that are related to the customer's demands and underline your abilities thereby.
  • When we have finished a publicly funded project we are asked to list all our publications that were funded by the project. Once, I talked to one of the external project organizers/funders and he emphasized the importance of publication lists. Thereby he can show that this money was well-invested and he will be allowed to fund future projects. He reports the scientific success to the sponsors.
  • More motivation: If I have many and/or good publications, I get a monetary bonus. It is called "variable Vergütung", which means: You get your normal E13 TVöD payment and, depending on your performance, some bonus usually in the four-figure Euro range. (TVöD = collective agreement for jobs in the public sector in Germany). More about the "variable Vergütung": https://www.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/zv/de/ueber-fraunhofer/Personalpolitik/Variable%20Verg%C3%BCtung.pdf This bonus depends mostly on my publications. This gives an incentive to publish on high-ranked conferences and to publish many papers. The bonus is part of my salary, thus, I have to pay taxes on it, it ends up on my banking account, and I can do whatever I want. It is NOT intended to be spent on research.
  • The entire institute is evaluated regarding its publications and many other performance parameters. If we have a lot of publications we can show our scientific abilities and there is also some ranking.

However, this is not as great as it sounds. This precise tracking causes a lot of pressure, emphasizing the culture of "publish or perish" even more. You are expected to publish, you should have papers at high-ranked conferences/journals, you should write many papers. So some people tend to favor quantity instead of quality, for example if your boss wants to see 2 or 3 papers this year to give you a bonus. So people sometimes tend to go for the low-hanging fruits.

Especially the bonus system often appears to be unfair. If you have several hundreds of researchers there has to be some ranking of who gets the most and who does not get anything at all. Some people will always tell you that paper X is better than paper Y but paper Y got the bigger bonus. There are some basic rules but it seems to be mostly up to your boss how much reward you get.

The reward/bonus system might not always help you. For example, if you have to work in industry-funded projects you spend a lot of time but might not be allowed to publish. So, that reduces your chances on a bonus. This might again create some envy since your coworkers might have more/less research time compared to you and therefore better/worse chances on a bonus. (NB: We actually have a few industry-funded projects or collaborations whose results we are allowed to publish. But that is rather an exception).

Additionally, the internal tracking is not well-designed in my opinion. A lot of low-quality conferences are on the list (because they are Scopus-listed) while others, small ones but with high reputation in our field, are left out.

IMHO, there is some room for improvement although I have to confess that I benefit from this concept.

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I would ask your professor, other professors, or people you know in the administration. Presumably, they know how these evaluations are done in your University.

My experience, in a research institute in Germany, is that faculty is evaluated on both output and grants obtained. Similarly, the institute as a whole is evaluated on these points. Typically, professors try to publish as high as possible here, with much less regard for number of papers published. This is reflected in tenure decisions.

  • +1, Do you know by which bibliometric numbers this i measured, "h index" of journal, or rather impact factor? Those numbers can be very different for journal. I rather prefer high h, as more peers in my community likelyl then read my stuff, while the university probably favors high impact factor (nature, science,...) – user48953094 Feb 23 at 13:26
  • Yeah, in my field (biology) this seems to be journal impact factor exclusively. I only know h-index as an author-specific measure (h papers that are cited h times). But again, I have not heard professors being distinguished by their h-indices. – Designerpot Feb 25 at 10:25
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I won't comment on the specific system, but professors, generally, have to justify their existence. In some places annual reviews are used. IMO, the best of these are initiated by the individual who writes a report giving accomplishments for the year (period) past and setting goals for the future. Normally one comments on how earlier goals were met, or not.

Whether these are tracked centrally, or only become part of an employment file may differ from institution to institution.

Tenured professors normally can't be fired for not meeting expectations, but it can affect compensation and other perks of the job.

Note that an important feature of the scheme I discussed is that the professors set their own goals, rather than having external expectations forced on them.

Also, my experience is in the US, not Germany.

  • So this evaluation/compensation is rather on a personal level of the distinct professor and will mostly not affect parameters like his overall group budget, internal funding decisions/competitions at the university? I was supposing that there are also such huge differences among different research staff sizes among groups in GER, because different universities may apply some kind of internal reward & evaluation system. I don't believe these different staff sizes from <10 to sometimes >30 only evolve due to different external funding success, as the university has also to invest in necessary – user48953094 Feb 21 at 22:02
  • infrastructure and maintenance partly for such increased staff sizes and only gets 20% overhead of external funding sums. I upvoted your answer, but would be interested if you have some insights from US system on this perspective too. Are the basic group budgets pretty much the same among one US university and only success in external funding increases it? Probably, different universities apply here different economical/managment strategies, in GER also the bureaucracy/laws might limit a more capitalistic success-oriented managment – user48953094 Feb 21 at 22:02
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    @MichaelSchmidt It is a bit of a simplified view, but for most intents and purposes a professor is the same as the group. The budget and thus the other positions in a group is normally either a result of grants in which he is involved or money granted to him by the university. However as far as I have seen, this is less of a formalized reward system, but rather an odd ritual, in which a professor periodically threatens to leave for another place in order for the university to start negotiating a better budget. – mlk Feb 21 at 22:50
  • @mlk This is called "Bleibeverhandlungen" (contract negotiation to not move to another more paying uni if there is a better offer). So over this mechanism he can increase personal salary as well as overall group budget? I know my professor gets around 1/5 of overall group budet, being ~ half a million. I'm not sure up to which age though such "Bleibeverhandlungen" are common and I wonder how often this happens among german universities pushing salaries of professors mutually, which are already well paid public servants and this looks like playing with tax money and hopefully happens not often – user48953094 Feb 21 at 23:36
  • @MichaelSchmidt My view might be skewed but most professors don't want huge salaries, otherwise they would have gone to the industry. So instead they'll negotiate to increase their groups budget and size, for example by having another E13 position assigned to them. As you say, increasing their salary to much sets a bad precedent, however creating more PhD positions can easily be justified towards the tax payer and other professors. But take what I say with a grain of salt, as it is only second hand information. I'm not senior enough yet, so I only know what those involved let slip over coffee. – mlk Feb 22 at 8:36
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From your question alone, it is hard to tell what the research database is being used for. However, at German universities any decision to implement such an instrument will be based on a Beschluss (committee decision) or an Ordnung (committee resolution) passed by a relevant committee (e.g. Fakultätsrat, the faculty board). These decisions are in general public and you should be able to find them in the internal web pages of your department/university.

You could of course simply ask your colleagues, your dean, or the secretary collecting the data. German universities are usually keen on transparency* and self-governance, so there should be no reason to be secretive about it.

* Maybe with the exception of hiring decisions/promotions

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