Saturday, January 4, 2014

Forms should die, long live CVs

It's this wonderful time of the year when I and probably a lot of other researchers are swamped with paperwork, preparing yearly reports, grant applications etc. And it's ridiculous. 

Pretty much every friggin institution, whether you're submitting a report to the faculty, explaining what you've been doing to a grant agency, applying for a new research grant, trying to get money for a conference or whatnot requires you to include your CV in a format/online form of their choice. 

Now, I've counted how many times I had to do something like that over the last calendar year, and as far as I remember, it's 26. Each time it took me around 90 minutes to copy and format the data according to some bureaucrat's wishes, so together the procedure stole around  2340 minutes, that is, 39 hours of my time. This is pretty much a whole working week a year spent on re-formatting my CV!! To give you a bigger picture, consider the following examples:
  • The British Academy in year 2006/2007 received  578 applications.  Even if you think I'm slow and that everyone fills the CV-related fields in a form in, say, 60 minutes, this gives you 34680 minutes, that is 578 hours, that is more than full 24 days (24/7) or almost 15 working weeks of researchers' time, who instead of doing actual research stare at the screen and play around with font size, margin size and copy-pasting some boring stuff into online forms (and that's CVs only!).
  • Ghent University (this is just an example, I'm not picking on it) has around 5000 researchers/faculty. Let's say each of them spends just 30 minutes a year re-formatting or entering their data in some unusual format (and it's a pretty low estimate). This gives you 150 000 minutes, or 2500 hours, or more than 62 researchers' working weeks! (Also, if you're externally funded, you kinda have to do this twice).
The solution, I think, is to accept people's CVs instead, however they shaped them. Normally, researchers are not idiots and are sane enough to prepare their CVs in a fairly legible and transparent manner. Perhaps, reading CVs of different format will make the referee's job just a bit more challenging, but it also will make it less boring. And a referee who cannot easily read and understand a CV shouldn't be trusted anyway. 

And if you're running a university and need the researchers' publication data in some particular format, it's cheaper to hire someone to do things like that than to waste qualified researchers' time! (Even if it was 52 and not 62 weeks, it would still be cheaper, because the administrative staff salary is lower.)

So, dear bureaucrat! (Although, the chance you're reading this instead of coming up with new ways of making people's lifes worse, is rather low.) Please be aware that each decision regarding the use of non-standard formats instead of accepting CVs will have more serious results than you might initially think.

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