Highly Creative Nanotechnology Research: How Is It Defined and Organized
Youtie, Jan L.
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Scientific and technological progress is propelled by creative research. Creative research is also a prerequisite for advances toward addressing critical societal challenges. However, we know and understand little about how creative research is conducted. Moreover, much of our knowledge is focused on individual prominent scientist, particular renowned laboratories, or national level indicators. This partial and fragmentary nature of knowledge about creative research limits our ability to develop policies that can enhance organizational and institutional factors to support and encourage novel, ambitious, and valuable work. Research Questions This paper reports on a study which is investigating characteristics at the meso-level of the research setting which advance highly creative and exceptional research activities in nanotechnology. We also compare these results with another emerging research domain, which is somewhat less multidisciplinary and has a longer - albeit still emerging - history, human genetics. Several research questions to be addressed in this study will be probed in this paper, including the following. Is highly creative research associated with a pattern of career choices, such as, postdocs under specific mentors, experience in non-academic institutions prior to a tenure track job in a university, an early job at a highly prestigious institution or one already populated with highly creative researchers? Do highly creative researchers demonstrate more mobility than a comparison group in the early career stage? Do highly creative researchers have or develop a stable set of collaborators that allowed them to pursue risky projects or what seem to be far-fetched ideas? Or, similarly, are highly creative researchers more or better networked in some sense within the research community? Is there a direct association of highly creative research with publication productivity? Does the timing of creative events have a systematic pattern within their career? Will creative events be associated with affiliation in universities or industry research organizations that are larger and more oriented to multi-disciplinary activities and approaches to problems? Do highly creative researchers have more stable sources of funding during the period prior to the creative event? Methods The study builds on previous research into highly creative scientists in these two scientific fields in the U.S. and Europe (1). It examines institutional, organizational, team, and career development features and directions of this highly creative research through quantitative comparison approaches. An initial effort involved development of a comparison group for highly creative researchers, based on publication data from the Science Citation Index (SCI) through the Web of Science (WOS). These data were extracted according to definitions in Porter et al (2008), for nanotechnology, and Heinze et al (2007) for human genetics (2). The core analysis is centered on gathering and using curriculum vitae (CV) to measure and code information on institutional, organizational, and career development factors. Insights are offered for research management, research funding, and organizational designs to stimulate highly creative research. Preliminary Results Preliminary results have been focused on the complex task of developing a robust method for creating a matched comparison group for the highly creative researchers. One method that was explored is propensity score matching of highly creative researchers to a large random sample of researchers in the nanotechnology or human genetics domains based on propensity scores. In this case, the propensity score is the predicted probability of being categorized as an HCR conditional on a set of covariates. A second method matches researchers based several early career characteristics such as (1) first year of publication of the HCRs, (2) subject category of the first publication, and (3) publication volume for the first six years. In addition, continental (i.e. US or EU) affiliation was also taken into consideration. We have found that the second method yields results with greater face validity. The heterogeneity of the random sample of researchers in the comparison group does not lend itself to propensity score matching as a readily as it does to the second, more purposive, approach. Moreover, we observe that nanotechnology appears to have less heterogeneity with respect to our primary matching feature - citations per year (logged) - than does human genetics. The purposive approach has been used to form the basis for development of a set of 8 to 10 comparison researchers to ensure there is at least 1 comparison researcher CV for each of the highly creative researchers in nanotechnology and human genetics. These matched researchers have been contacted and more than 100 CVs have been obtained and added to our dataset of existing CVs of creative researchers. We anticipate coding and analysis of the data will be completed in the first half of 2009. 1) See: Heinze, T., Shapira, P., Senker, J., and Kuhlmann, S., "Identifying Creative Research Accomplishments: Methodology and Results for Nanotechnology and Human Genetics," Scientometrics, Vol. 70, No. 1, 2007, pp. 125-152. 2) Porter, A.L., Youtie, J., Shapira, P., and Schoeneck, D.J., Refining Search Terms for Nanotechnology, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, Vol. 10 (5), 715-728, 2008.