How often are research domains "competitive"?

That is, is there often a competition within the field for the "most content" or "highest quality results"?

Is it always the case?

OTOH, I find that "competition for truth" is inherent to scientific method, particularly "criticality", but OTOH I find that as in other endeavors, having competitive interest might also lead to poorer quality papers, due to e.g. working faster.

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    Competing for what prize exactly? What precise question are you seeking to answer? If I submit a paper to a journal, I am not in direct competition with other submitted papers; the work is judged on its own merits. By publishing many papers, I stand a better chance when applying for a faculty position, where I will be compared with other candidates. So when I submit a paper, am I involved in "competitive positioning" or not? You can publish papers without worrying about your career. Then, you're not in competition. But if you stay in academia, the same act gives you a competitive advantage. Sep 29 at 12:30

One definition of an academic field that would not have a lot of competition, would be one where there was sufficient funding that every high quality grant proposal in that domain got funded. If you find a field like that, let me know!


I'd argue every field of work without hard-capped performance is competitive.

There is only so much one can do working as the customer support; it is a much needed job, yes, but the competition is limited to some extent by the reasonable "top achievable performance".

On the other hand, in academia people normally strive to do good science, so only non-competitive fields in terms of researchers aiming for great results are long studied ones when there is a consensus about how things work. It is usually the point to aim for amazing results when sky's the limit, is it not?

Somewhat paradoxically, however, there could be a period of overlap where the competition for the funding is cutthroat because of industry being interested in refining the technology but not as much room for the scientific (as opposed to engineering) breakthroughs left. From my point of view, the research on luxury yacht design is probably less competitive than the research on the Grand Unified Theory despite having more financial enticement attached to it... But that's probably just me not knowing enough about research on luxury yacht design :)


Research is always competitive. In STEM, and that's all I will discuss here, you compete against nature or the vagaries of mathematical structure. This competition, if you do seriously challenging research, is far outweighing, in my opinion, the competition of your peers.

Some people like to measure competition by counting how many papers get rejected in the conference you publish in or in the grants you receive. In my opinion, the first one is arbitrary (a conference with high rejection rate simply got a good reputation in the community, but after decades may simply stew in their own juice; tough to get in, but not really at the most innovative top of things); the second one is competitive in terms of funding, but ultimately it is not the funding that counts but what you do with it. If you can send an otherwise equivalent satellite to orbit for a tenth of the funding of another project, which of the grants is scientifically/engineering-wise more competitive?

Proving a theorem that no-one proved before, discovering a new type of reaction, or a new particle, that's the competition. You battle nature in the first place, and your peers only to a secondary degree.

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    "ultimately it is not the funding that counts but what you do with it." -- But if you don't get it then you can't do anything. And the lack of funding trickles down to competition for spots in PhD programs, postdoc jobs, pressures to publish frequently which can put a damper on riskier-but-higher-reward research... And even if faculty are not hired with grant funds, limited funding in general is a factor in the job market for tenure track positions, which I would classify as competitive in every field I am aware of.
    – Andrew
    Sep 30 at 1:49
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    @Andrew "If you don't get it then you can't do anything." - Well, this is trivially true, but not everywhere funding needs to be constantly competed for all the time. Not every place is the US, although it managed to push important aspects of its funding philosophy onto other countries. As for academic positions, I agree, this is competitive, but it is competitive everywhere, in STEM as well as in liberal arts, but there are simply far more people that have any hopes up to get one in STEM than in liberal arts. I interpreted OP to ask on content, not on job scarcity which is universal. Sep 30 at 8:33

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