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Are older academics past their productive peak?

by on May 12, 2016

Ok, well this article in the Times Higher Education is a bit close to home, especially for academics such as Katrina and myself who are pursuing second careers. Thus (as we often have to point out) we are early career but not in our 20s! Indeed, we have similarly highlighted occasions when various bodies have wrongly and unhelpfully conflated ‘young researchers’ and ‘early career researchers’.

The title of this THE piece – reproduced above – invites examination of the claim that the quality of researchers declines with age. This involved asking five senior scientists to consider the data in respect of the claim and also to reflect on how they’ve contributed over the years.

Their conclusions and lines of argument are summarised in the following quotes:

‘The key to scientific productivity is not age but motivation and ability’

‘There are many reasons why I’ve never been able to replicate such a rate of publication, and none relates to declining mental powers’

‘I was still about as useful as I had ever been. While I was slower at some things, I had a better grasp of the big picture’

‘Simplistic assessments of productivity versus age fail to consider many biasing or confounding factors’

‘There aren’t many footballers over 35, but football managers have more in common with most of the rest of the workforce: they seem to get better with age’

So that would seem to be a fairly resounding ‘no’ to the title question. Worth having a detailed read.

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