Development of research excellence: Insights from modes of work of high-achieving early-career researchers

Keywords: early-career researchers, research output, creative ideation, performance-based research-funding, research management


When early-career researchers show promise to become the next generation of leading researchers, it is in the best interest of their employers to nurture their careers. This objective requires adequate understanding and support, at both institutional and policy level, of the modes of work of these early-career achievers. Our in-depth, qualitative investigation constructs a rich account of the creative ideation, writing and communication strategies of several high-performing early-career researchers. These researchers, who have already produced a high volume of quality research, are shown to employ modes of work that maintain this output, sometimes in spite of, and not because of, performance-based research-funding incentives and other managerial tools aimed at encouraging quality research output. Our interpretation of these results against the background of relevant empirical and theoretical literature leads us to present findings that we anticipate would be of significant interest to other early-career researchers, as well as to research managers and policymakers.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

C.H. Albertyn, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and STI Policy, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology,

H. Prozesky, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and STI Policy, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology,


Ajegbomogun, F. O. and S. O. Popoola. 2013. “Motivational strategies and utilisation of Internet resources as determinants of research productivity of lecturers in universities of agriculture in Nigeria.” Education for Information 30(3/4): 167–189.

Albert, C., M. A. Davia, and N. Legazpe. 2016. “Determinants of research productivity in Spanish academia.” European Journal of Education 51(4): 535–549.

Barner, J. R., M. J. Holosko, B. A. Thyer, and S. King. 2015. “Research productivity in top ranked schools in psychology and social work: Does having a research culture matter?” Journal of Social Work Education 51(1): 5–18.

Barroga, E. S. 2013. “Cascading peer review for open-access publishing.” European Science Editing 39(4): 90–91.

Bergeron, D., C. Ostroff, T. Schroeder, and C. Block. 2014. “The dual effects of organizational citizenship behavior: Relationships to research productivity and career outcomes in Academe.” Human Performance 27(2): 99–128.

Box, S. 2010. “Performance-based funding for public research in tertiary education institutions: Country experiences.” In OECD. Performance-based funding for public research in tertiary education institutions: Workshop proceedings, 86–126. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Brackman, M., R. K. Reynolds, S. Uppal, and K. McLean. 2016. “Association of a biweekly research workgroup with enhanced resident research productivity.” Obstetrics and Gynecology 128(3): 617–620.

Brew, A., D. Boud, S. U. Namgung, L. Lucas, and K. Crawford. 2016. “Research productivity and academics’ conceptions of research.” Higher Education 71(5): 681–697.

Callaghan, C. 2018. “A review of South Africa’s National Research Foundation’s ratings methodology from a social science perspective.” South African Journal of Science 114(3/4): Art. #2017-0344, 7 pages.

Cattaneo, M., M. Meoli, and A. Signori. 2014. “Performance-based funding and university research productivity: The moderating effect of university legitimacy.” Journal of Technology Transfer 41(1): 85–104.

Centre for Science and Technology Studies. 2017. “CWTS Leiden Ranking 2017.” Leiden University, the Netherlands. (Accessed 25 November 2019).

Cole, J. R. and S. Cole. 1973. Social stratification in science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Dean, L. D., P. B. Lowry, and S. Humphreys. 2011. “Profiling the research productivity of tenured Information Systems Faculty at U.S. institutions.” MIS Quarterly 35(1): 1–15.

Department of Higher Education and Training. 2015. Research outputs policy. Pretoria: DHET.

DHET see Department of Higher Education and Training.

Dunbar, K. 2000. “How scientists think in the real world: Implications for science education.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 21(1): 49–58.

Elzinga, A. 2012. Features of the current science policy regime: Viewed in historical perspective. Science Public Policy 39(4): 416–428.

Espeland, W. N. and M. Sauder. 2007. “Rankings and reactivity: How public measures recreate social worlds.” American Journal of Sociology 113(1): 1–40.

Fedderke, J. W. 2013. “The objectivity of national research foundation peer review in South Africa assessed against bibliometric indexes.” Scientometrics 97: 177–206.

Flanigan, A. E., K. A. Kiewra, and L. Luo. 2018. “Conversations with four highly productive German educational psychologists: Frank Fischer, Hans Gruber, Heinz Mandl, and Alexander Renkl.” Educational Psychology Review 30(1): 303–330.

Gibbons, M., C. Limoges, H. Nowotny, S. Schwartzman, P. Scott, and M. Trow. 1994. The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: SAGE.

Hariohm, K., V. Prakash, and J. S. Kumar. 2016. “Research productivity of Indian physiotherapists: A review of MEDLINE.” Current Science 110(2226): 12–25.

Hasselback, J. R., A. Reinstein and M. Abdolmohammadi. 2012. “Benchmarking the research productivity of accounting doctorates.” Issues in Accounting Education 27(4): 943–978.

Hicks, D. 2012. “Performance-based university research funding systems.” Research Policy 41(2): 251–261.

Horodnic, I. A. and Z. Zait. 2015. “Motivation and research productivity in a university system undergoing transition.” Research Evaluation 24(3): 282–292.

Kahn, M. 2011. “A bibliometric analysis of South Africa’s scientific outputs: Some trends and implications.” South African Journal of Science 107(1/2): 1–6.

Lee, S. and B. Bozeman. 2005. “The impact of research collaboration on scientific productivity.” Social Studies of Science 35(5): 673–702.

Leisyte, L. 2016. “New public management and research productivity: A precarious state of affairs of academic work in the Netherlands.” Studies in Higher Education 41(5): 828–846.

Levin, S. G. and P. E. Stephan. 1991. “Research productivity over the life cycle: Evidence for academic scientists.” American Economics Review 81(1): 114–131.

Liu, C. S. 2015. “Network position and cooperation partners selection strategies for research productivity.” Management Decision 53(3): 494–511.

Maluleka, J. R., B. O. Onyancha, and I. Ajiferuke. 2016. “Factors influencing research collaboration in LIS schools in South Africa.” Scientometrics 107(2): 337–355.

Marais, H. C. 2007. Impact of the NRF evaluation and rating system. Confidential report. Pretoria: ST&I Network and NRF.

Merton, R. K. 1936. “The unanticipated consequences of purposive social action.” American Sociological Review 1(6): 894–904.

Merton, R. K. 1968. “The Matthew effect in science: The reward and communication systems of science are considered.” Science 159 (3810): 56–63.

Mouton, J. and A. Valentine. 2017. “The extent of South African authored articles in predatory journals.” South African Journal of Science 113(7/8): 1–9.

Mouton, J., I. Basson, J. Blanckenberg, N. Boshoff, H. Prozesky, H. Redelinghuys, R. Treptow, M. van Lill, and M. van Niekerk. 2019. The state of the South African research enterprise. Stellenbosch: DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Scientometrics and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy.

Muschallik, J. and K. Pull. 2016. “Mentoring in higher education: Does it enhance mentees’ research productivity?” Education Economics 24(2): 210–223.

Northcott, D. and S. Linacre. 2010. “Producing spaces for academic discourse: The impact of research assessment exercises and journal quality rankings.” Australian Accounting Review 20(1): 38–54.

National Research Foundation. 2016. “Definition of NRF rating categories.” definition-rating-categories (Accessed on 14 August 2019).

NRF see National Research Foundation.

Ossenblok, T., T. Engels, and G. Sivertsen. 2005. “The representation of the social sciences and humanities in the Web of Science: A comparison of publication patterns and incentive structures in Flanders and Norway (2005-9).” Research Evaluation 21(4): 280–290.

Patterson-Hazley, M. and K. A. Kiewra. 2013. “Conversations with four highly productive educational psychologists: Patricia Alexander, Richard Mayer, Dale Schunk, and Barry Zimmerman.” Educational Psychology Review 25(1): 19–45.

Pienaar, C. and C. Bester. 2006. “Typical career dilemmas of academic staff during the early career phase within a changing South African higher education institutions.” South African Journal of Education 26(4): 581–594.

Portnoi, L. 2015. “Pushing a stone up a hill: A case study of the working environment of South African academics.” Research in Comparative and International Education 10(2): 257–274.

Rogers, A. and N. Rogers. 1999. The sacred spark of academic research. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 9(3): 473–492.

Ryazanova, O. and P. McNamara. 2016. “Socialization and proactive behavior: Multilevel exploration of research productivity drivers in U.S. business schools.” Academy of Management Learning and Education 15(3): 525–548.

Schutz, A. 1962. Collected Papers I: The problem of social reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhof.

Sebestyén, T. and A. Varga. 2013. “Research productivity and the quality of interregional knowledge networks.” Annals of Regional Science 51(1): 155–189.

Simonton, D. K. 1986. “Multiple discoveries: Some Monte Carlo simulations and Gedanken experiments.” Scientometrics 9(3/4): 127–137.

Simonton, D. K. 1988. Scientific genius: A psychology of science. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Simonton, D. K. 1999. “Creativity as blind variation and selective retention: Is the creative process Darwinian?” Psychological Inquiry 10(4): 309–328.

Simonton, D. K. 2009. “Varieties of (scientific) creativity: A hierarchical model of domain specific disposition, development and achievement.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 4(5): 441–452.

Sooryamoorthy, R. 2009. “Collaboration and publication: How collaborative are scientists in South Africa?” Scientometrics 80(2): 421–441.

Sooryamoorthy, R. and W. Shrum. 2007. Does the internet promote collaboration and productivity? Evidence from the scientific community in South Africa. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(1): 733–751.

Strauss, A. and J. M. Corbin. 1990. Basics of qualitative research: Grounded Theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Uys, T. 2009. “Resistance to rating: Resource allocation, academic freedom and citizenship.” International Sociological Association (ISA) E-Bulletin 13: 48–73.

Vaughan, C. L. 2008. “Alternatives to the publication subsidy for research funding.” South African Journal of Science 104(3/4): 91–96.

Waitere, H. J., J. Wright, M. Tremaine, S. Brown, and C. J. Pausé. 2011. “Choosing whether to resist or reinforce the new managerialism: The impact of performance‐based research funding on academic identity.” Higher Education Research and Development 30(2): 205–217.

Weber, E. 2011. “Policies shaping South African scholarship: production and reproduction, or diversity in the pursuit of knowledge?” Oxford Review of Education 37(4): 525–542.

Weingart, P. 2010. “The unintended consequences of quantitative measures in the management of science.” In The benefit of broad horizons: Intellectual and institutional preconditions for a global social science, eds. H. Joas and B. Klein, 371–385. Boston, MA: Brill Publishers.

Weingart, P. 2013. The loss of trust and how to regain it: Performance measures and entrepreneurial universities (International Comparative Social Studies). London: Portland Press Limited.

Whitley, R. 1984. The intellectual and social organisation of the sciences. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilson, J. 2015. Peer review: The nuts and bolts. Atlanta, GA: Elsevier, Standing up for Science.

Woodiwiss, A. J. 2012. “Publication subsidies: Challenges and dilemmas facing South African researchers.” Cardiovascular Journal of Africa 23(8): 421‒427.

How to Cite
Albertyn, C.H., and H. Prozesky. 2021. “Development of Research Excellence: Insights from Modes of Work of High-Achieving Early-Career Researchers”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (2), 4-20.
General Articles