Remetaphoring the “academic pipeline”


We need to ditch the “academic pipeline” metaphor. Why?

The professional destinations of people who enter academic science are necessarily varied.

We do not intend or plan for everybody training in science to become academic researchers.

The pipeline metaphor dehumanizes people.

The people who leave the so-called pipeline don’t like being called drips.

The pipeline is perceived as a linear route that can only be filled at an early stage, with a single distant target for all of its contents.

The prevailing metaphor engenders a policy perspective that directs funding and effort at retention, rather than recruitment.

So then, what is better than a pipeline? I propose a subway.

The academic subway system sends students and researchers to a broad variety of professional destinations. It’s possible to hop off the subway before you get to the end of the line and there will be something there for you. You can hop on the subway anytime you want. Instead of being forced under the pressure of the pipeline to a particular destination, you can change lines at a variety of intersections.

The pipeline has not led to adequate professional representation of women and other underrepresented other groups in the sciences. Maybe a subway can get us all there more efficiently and effectively?



10 thoughts on “Remetaphoring the “academic pipeline”

  1. Wonderful. Will not be approved of by the owners of the pipeline. Brings to mind the unfortunate baggage of “sub” in subway. Maybe some generic word for a city public transport system? And it also brings to mind that while there can be a very good public transport system, for this and that purpose, it is “better” (for you or for …..) to use your own car or a taxi to get to the same point on the map.

  2. I know it’s a typo, but I like the phrase ‘hope off’ the system. Take a leap, no idea what you’re getting off into, but there you go (some of this comes down to training- right now the training system is more of a pipeline; the present system trains scientists for one reason: the TT academic position (I know it’s better than it used to be, but that’s still the dominant paradigm) and so the stations might exist, but the paths beyond; where they open to is really opaque still.

    Isn’t the Glasgow transit train called ‘The Clockwork Orange’? Just goes round in a circle (and yes, academia can feel like that)? I do like the mass transit metaphor better than the pipeline. In DC, they’re building the ‘plum line’ which links all the others in a circle, I believe; so that would incorporate the circular nature of academia too :-P.

    I do say to ditch the pipeline metaphor; for those that like it/want to stick to the status quo, here’s part of that metaphor that might scare them: we seem to be fast approaching a time when the pipe will simply burst and who knows how long it will take to repair the damage from a water main bursting.

  3. Sorry about those typos.. Darn mobile device… Meant to say “I agree with Dan”. Apologies.

  4. Very cool idea! I like it because different routes can be taken to get to the same destination. It’s also a useful metaphor because not everyone experiences the journey in the same way. Some of us are forced to take detours or experience certain lines that are closed or shut down.

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