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I'm a researcher in a STEM field and work at an institute where research staff salaries (including mine) are dependent entirely on third-party grant money. I've already successfully obtained research grants and served as the PI for a few projects.

In my spare time (i.e., after I go home for the day) I very much enjoy reading and writing about topics in the humanities, and I have recently had contributions on these topics published as peer-reviewed articles in humanities journals. In retrospect I wonder whether having published in these venues was a good idea.

The problem has to do with my current and future grant proposals; some funding agencies require proposals to include a CV listing all of the applicant's peer-reviewed publications in the past n years. (And even for those agencies without such a rule, the reviewers can easily find all my publications online if they care to look.) I am wondering how the presence of my non-STEM publications will be viewed by the STEM proposal reviewers. Are these publications going to be interpreted negatively, as a lack of research focus on my part? Where feasible, should I include an explanation in my proposal CVs that these publications were avocational (and if so, how should I word this)? Should I entirely give up my beloved hobby of writing for humanities venues in order to better secure my funding prospects as a scientist? Or are my fears here entirely misplaced, there being no downside at all (or maybe even some benefit) to having the occasional humanities article in my publications list?

Two further things to note:

  1. I realize that there are a couple possible workarounds that I might try, such as using a pseudonym when publishing in the humanities, or simply omitting the humanities publications from the CVs I include with my grant proposals. However, both of these necessarily involve some deception or bending of the rules, and in any case won't take effect for the proposals I've already got under review.

  2. There are already a couple of questions here about publishing in foreign fields (Can I publish in a field completely unrelated to my present field?, Is it good reputation for a researcher to publish an article belonging to different research field?), though these are from students who haven't yet started their PhD. My question is more about how an unorthodox publication list will affect STEM research grant applications specifically, for an applicant that already has a doctorate and some project lead experience.

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  • 1
    I can't provide an answer, but just an anecdote: I do mathematics but have a few publications in different areas such as social sciences or measurement sciences. I do not think that this did any harm to my proposals, but I can't know for sure.
    – Dirk
    Sep 30 '20 at 13:35
  • @Dirk: Which ones? I am reading through the list of your publications on your university homepage - most seem to be in Arxiv or in math journals
    – user111388
    Sep 30 '20 at 13:52
  • "How to be best in the OECD better life index?" is published in Social Indicators Research, another one is in Microscopy and Microanalysis and yet another one in Journal of Sensors and Sensor Systems.
    – Dirk
    Sep 30 '20 at 18:34
  • May I ask, about what two (distinct) fields you speak? It might matter, for example, if it is Physics and Psychology, I think that actually might be a good combination. I can give a lot of examples. Are you applying methods, or modes of thinking, to the other field? Guess then, it would be advantageous. Or, is your main field Biology, and in your spare time you write for some Intelligent Design Journal? Then maybe not so good. But actually any, more serious, combination that came to my mind seems to be advantageous. Btw, do you know S. Eilenberg, the famous Asian Art Collector?
    – StefanH
    Oct 1 '20 at 10:07
  • 1
    Separate your publications into professional and hobbyist, perhaps explaining your hobby in the latter.
    – user2768
    Oct 1 '20 at 10:52
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I've served as a referee on grant proposals to large public-sector research funding bodies on a couple of occasions. If a PI had demonstrated the ability to achieve peer-reviewed publications in another discipline as well as in the discipline most directly related to the proposed research, I would be inclined to view that favourably. But that doesn't necessarily mean that every referee feels the same.

16

I've looked at a lot of CVs of job applicants, for proposal review, and for promotion packages. I've also sat through a lot of review panels for proposals, as well as hiring and promotion committees. I can't think of a reason why publications outside one's field would be looked at negatively by myself, and I've never heard anyone raise any concerns either, even though such publications occasionally show up on people's CVs. So no, I don't think this that there is any disadvantage to it as long as it is the "occasional paper" and not half or a third of your publication list—at which point it would suggest that you are not focused on the thing you're currently applying for.

Is it viewed advantageously? Not really either: You're generally evaluated for a job or a proposal, and what matters in this context is how well you're qualified for that one thing. The fact that you've published in other areas might be noted as a curiosity ("darn, this person has managed to have a side-line of humanities research -- that's quite a stretch to be good at both!"), but it's irrelevant to your primary area in which the application is, and so is generally just ignored.

11

It depends.

As a general rule, if your main discipline is X and you also published in discipline Y, as a researcher in X I would be inclined to be impressed by that (assuming I was satisfied that you were doing good work in X, which is the main thing I would care about, e.g., in the context of evaluating your grant proposal). In fact, it’s quite likely that I would be a little bit jealous of you for doing that, and that it would remind me of my own unfulfilled aspirations to someday publish work in discipline Z.

The relatively narrow exception to this rule is that there are specific areas Y which I might take a dim view of, and by association I might hold a not entirely favorable view of people who publish on Y. I don’t mean something like the humanities in general, but some specific sub-disciplines which for example may strike me as intellectual dead ends or being grounded in some political agenda or ideology that I disapprove of. Unfortunately academia does have such pockets of weirdness where all sorts of things get published that I personally would not want to be associated with. I could give some examples, but... let’s not go there.

In either of these cases the effect would be extremely small in any case. Since I am supposed to be evaluating you for your work on X, I would do my best to keep my focus on that and not get distracted by other essentially irrelevant things. But — speaking of the humanities — I am human, so can’t completely ignore the possibility that my judgement would be tainted in some small way by the extra information, for better or in some cases for worse.

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  • von Neumann, Alvarez, Ulam and many others published in fields which were considered distinct even in their day, and history certainly doesn't consider it to be their disadvantage. Josephson and Newton, with their interest in esotorica, might be considered illustrious counterexamples. Oct 1 '20 at 9:55
  • @MarkMorganLloyd yes, interesting examples that roughly illustrate my “it depends” claim. (Although since you bring it up, I’m curious: did Ulam publish anything outside of math and physics? Did he go as far afield as the humanities?)
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 1 '20 at 12:00
  • I think that Ulam was limited to maths and physics. However even in the '40s maths and physics were distinct disciplines, and I'd also suggest that his interest in applying simulation (in particular the Monte Carlo method) to areas of physics which had previously been treated analytically created a third discipline which again (these days) is considered largely distinct from the others. Of course another interesting example is Hoyle, who even went as far as writing a bit of SF. Oct 1 '20 at 12:33
  • @MarkMorganLloyd sure, Ulam was a legend and a personal inspiration of mine, both mathematically and as a highly interesting person - I didn’t mean to imply he wasn’t broad in his interests. I recommend his memoir Adventures of a Mathematician if you haven’t read it. And Hoyle was apparently believed by many to have deserved a Nobel prize for his nucleosynthesis work (see here). His fiction writing is just icing on the cake, though indeed very impressive. Thanks for the great examples!
    – Dan Romik
    Oct 1 '20 at 14:25

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