Modelling Research Careers: Very Early Results

I’ve managed to get that research careers simulation up and running today — a very early version, mind you.
Each time grants are disbursed to our simulated academics, the top 10 applicants receive a postdoc.  Postdocs work full-time on research and do not apply for grants.  At the beginning and end of their contracts (which range from 2-5 years long) their output is reduced significantly to account for stress caused by entering a new job or searching desperately for a new one, respectively.  Postdocs have a 10% chance of being made permanent at the end of their contracts; if they’re unlucky then they simply drop out of the system altogether (I haven’t implemented multiple contracts yet).
So what we have is a very volatile situation right from the beginning — we’ve got lots of people on short contracts, most of whom are under significant stress for part, or even all, of said contracts.  Postdocs are constantly being shuffled out of the system and replaced with new postdocs, so the research environment is being filled up with stressed-out people with highly variable levels of research talent — and talented ones are just as likely as crappy ones to be booted out the door at the end of their contracts.  Permanent academic jobs are in short supply, so most postdocs never get a chance to contribute to grant applications.
The results are rather more drastic than I anticipated.  Here are the results for mean research output from a quick run of the simulation including postdocs:r_mean
Contrast that with the below, which shows the mean research output from a run with the same initial conditions but without postdocs in the simulation:
Mean research output across all categories, no postdocs: ~0.61
Mean research output across all categories, postdocs added: ~0.34
Given I wrote all this code in a day, these results are highly speculative at best — but I’m hoping that the final version will give us a decent representation of the impact of competitive funding systems and job instability on academic research quality.   At this point I’m just pleased to see it up and running!
There’s still a ton of work to do: double-checking everything, adding in detailed stats collection on the postdocs, then revamping the funding disbursement functions to tie grants and postdocs together explicitly so I can measure output by project/PI.  There’s a few other bits I really want to do, like implementing multiple contracts, etc.
I’ll keep posting progress reports as I go… please wish me luck!
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