Today I was at a meeting with a bunch of scientists who (want to) do research in an open way, in some cases as a guest of a university, in some cases outside the university or as part of the university. It turns out that the university is not heaven on earth for everyone and competition for funds is fierce. It was estimated by this group that the time spent on applying for funds and teaching takes up to about 70 to 80% of their working time. And then there is the fierce competition between scientists that some have experienced and that stands in the way of collaboration.
I was unaware of this. I fund myself through my consultancy work and the University of Maastricht is hosting me for my PhD research. I work with a great team there and am very grateful for it. I have not experienced fierce competition or university politics, but that could be because I am almost never there. In the Open Kitchen Science group, as we call ourselves, most people are very motivated to change the research world from a closed, competitive environment into a more open, accessible and fun place to be. It is inspiring to hear their stories and I have come to realize sharing my way of doing research might be a good thing.
I have been doing PhD research since 2015. Half of my week I work for hospitals, advising them on hospitals, building (re)design, IT systems and such (see www.sqwin.nl on what we do). In the other half of my week I work on the PhD research.
I have not been very outspoken about my motivations for this PhD research. In my private life not many people even know about it (or perhaps they have forgotten about it when I told them three years ago…’still doing that?’ yep). I have started it as a hobby (‘other people ride a horse, I do a PhD’) or voluntary work (because it’s useful and work, but unpaid). The main reason to do it, was that I wanted to have an intellectual challenge and work with inspiring people who share an interest in hospital logistics and management. I wanted the topic of logistics to become part of the strategic hospital agenda, because it was my impression that a lot of money is wasted in hospitals, while health care costs are increasing like crazy. I worked on numerous (re)building hospital projects with disappointing results or high cost because no attention was paid to logistics processes in the design phase. I was involved in one of the largest failures in Dutch history of implementing a hospital wide information system in the Netherlands, because the system did not meet the basic requirements of hospital processes (well, OK, history of hospital IT systems doesn’t go back ages but still..). That was frustrating. I got convinced that this was not the failure of a few silly or incompetent people, but there seemed to be a systematic and structural problem. I have worked on numerous great and successful projects as well, but nevertheless I thought that a new approach toward hospital operations, redesign and transition issues was needed and important. It should be based on principles from the field of logistics, operations research, organization theory and system theory. And the approach should include a lot of data analysis, not only because would we be able to know more about the hospital system and experiment with it in computer models, but it is the only way to make health care professionals (doctors and nurses) participate in the change. They can be convinced using data. Another thing is that these data should be easy to communicate about, so health care professionals and management would be able to quickly understand it or even better, they would be able to design their own effective hospital.
I thought, if there is little awareness for this topic in hospital boards – which was my impression -, through research I might be able to create it. And, to be honest, my ideas on how to do things differently, needed to be worked out. Once I started writing down my ideas and work out concepts, I discovered that what was on my mind, was not clear and good enough. By doing a PhD I committed myself to find out, in a more rigorous way, what hospital logistics is or should be about in relation to large scale hospital transformations.
For me it was relevant not being paid for it. Nobody offered payment, so it has not been an option either, but I see it as an advantage, because it means freedom and independence. As a consultant you are always of service to the person or institution who pays you. It is a fair deal and it surely has other rewards besides being paid for it; for example when a client is really satisfied that you have solved his or her problem. But it also limits pursuing your own ideas or answering questions that have not been asked. And like in every commercial business, time is money. I am often hired to solve a problem with the deadline being yesterday. I understand it – it’s part of consultancy life – but sometimes you want to think things through better. To me research feels like heaven in that sense.