Peter Higgs: He’s The Man

Peter Higgs is the man. I got this mass email sent to everyone in our department from a colleague about the following story on British physicist Peter Higgs published in the The Guardian at link http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/06/peter-higgs-boson-academic-system.

I think it’s an incredible story and a telling comment on academia. Peter Higgs, who is 84 years old, recently won the Nobel prize for science for his work on finding how a subatomic particle acquires mass.

He also wins the Medal of Irony Award as well. Higgs probably would have been fired back in the day if he hadn’t published his findings on the Higgs boson particle. He wasn’t productive enough in his academic department.Peter-Higgs

Peter Higgs Medal of IronyWe always hear the words “publish or perish” to describe what it means to be a tenure-track or research faculty member, and Higgs’ experience happens to be a spectacular example. As Higgs points out, he probably would not have a career in today’s academic environment and was about to get “the sack” just before he published his paper that eventually got him the Nobel prize.

I’m a clinical track psychiatrist in my department and productivity is not measured in the same way that it is for tenure-track faculty. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to tell what is valued in academic departments. While it may not be “publish or perish” for me, I sometimes get the sense that something more is expected. That “something more” is often called “scholarly activity” in academia and I believe it’s hard to define for those of us who’ve chosen to be clinician-teachers.

What does “scholarship” mean to you?

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