Posts Tagged ‘Academic Publication’

At my previous institution, a few peer-reviewed publications and evidence of continued “scholarly activity” (such as conference presentations) were enough for tenure. These publications could be on any topic in any publication as long as it was peer-reviewed. At my current institution, the picture is considerably less clear.

The major change is in what counts and how much. As at many institutions, all peer-reviewed publications are not created equally. Nobody is expected to publish in ASR or AJS but things like impact factor are considered. The type of research also matters. As one colleague stated, publishing in outlets like Teaching Sociology is like a cherry on top of a sundae, but it isn’t the sundae. They also like to see progress in these areas, so one high-profile publication followed by three lower-ranking publications is not as desirable as the reverse would be.

All of this makes the publication gauntlet that much more daunting. There is also uncertainty, though, about when one wants things to be accepted and published while moving along the tenure track. The third-year review, for example, is less of a formality and essentially the same in practice as the tenure review (requiring the exact same documents). This means that publications are essential for passing the third-year review but there are cases in which individuals with a few publications at this point neglected to tell the tenure and promotion committee about a paper that had been recently accepted so that it would be seen as “new” at the tenure review.

The final issue that I’ve encountered is a lack of information about what actually counts as “published.” Accepted papers do not seem to have the same weight as those that have actually been published (indicated in the fact that they are not requested as part of the review). “Published,” though, encompasses a wide variety of things today. Some journals have long lead times before publication in print, others have long lead times but “online first” availability in the meantime, and others have short lead times (or even all-online publishing) but questionable impact factors.

Together, these factors make a process that I breezed through at my previous institution much more stressful (I haven’t even had time to work on my time machine!).

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The combination of a recent paper submission and a post by Tina at Scatterplot have caused me to wonder about the age-old question of “blind” peer review.  The question, of course, is whether peer reviews can truly be blind in the days of online conference information (sometimes including papers) and internet search engines.  This question came up at Orgtheory a while back, with the definitive follow-up poll suggesting that most people do look up the authors of papers they are reviewing, either before or after the review.  Obviously, older individuals may be less likely to respond to Orgtheory polls and similarly less likely to look up authors in this way, but it is still likely that a blind review will not be blind to all reviewers.

Given that blind peer review is blind for a reason, it seems that we have a problem.  Sure, a few high-profile scholars might be recognizable by their writing style, theoretical perspectives, or citations, but the vast majority of sociologists do not have that problem.  I wonder, for example, how being an unrecognized name from an unrecognized school will affect me when my reviewers attempt to take the blinders off of the peer review process.

Given these issues, it seems that we have a few options.  One is to give up on the illusion of blind reviews and sign both submissions and reviews.  Another option is to take the blinding process further by removing titles as well, since titles are likely the easiest way to search for a paper that has been presented at a conference.  Other options include preventing our conference presentations from being archived online and throwing out the whole presentation and publication model and moving to communes organized by John Galt.  I’m not sure which of these would be most effective.

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Continuing this week’s theme of academic publication following two very different submission experiences, I thought that it would be nice to balance my perspective with that of an editor.  The editor happens to have edited a literary magazine, but I think that there are several aspects that are applicable to academic publishing:

I will concede that there are some real asshole editors out there—rude, negligent, incompetent, narrow-minded, stupid narcissists who wouldn’t know a good story or poem if it slapped them on the face—but they’re a minority, I believe. I think most editors are dedicated, tireless, honorable people, and they’re woefully underappreciated. The vast majority of them, you see, are publishing their magazines as labors of love. The vast majority are volunteers. Not only don’t they get paid, they often dip into their own pockets to fund their publications. They have entirely separate full-time jobs. They have families. They fill out grant applications and read manuscripts and typeset issues and haggle with vendors and stick labels onto renewal letters in what little spare time they have. They forfeit their own ambitions as writers to accomplish this. They do it all for you.

What makes them dispirited is the us-versus-them mentality that has developed between writers and editors, linked to accusations that they aren’t open to new writers or that the system is somehow rigged. Granted, it gets difficult for editors not to become cynical. You would, too, if you saw some of the crap that comes in over the transom—submissions from rank amateurs and inmates and crazies and attorneys that are excruciatingly, laughably awful, not anywhere near the standards of the recipient journal, simultaneously submitted, of course, the writers never having taken a cursory look at a single issue of the magazines they’re encumbering, much less subscribed or bought a copy. So when editors find anything with a modicum of craft or originality, they are grateful—yes, grateful. However, they can’t publish everything, and not every piece is appropriate for a given magazine, regardless of its merits. And something else—a hard truth: a submission might be good, but not good enough. This is what writers have problems swallowing. After getting a rejection, instead of taking another look at the story or poem and perhaps revising it or spending a little more time thinking about the most suitable venue for it, it’s much easier to rail against these editors and magazines and believe [see all of the aforementioned]. I know this, because, as a writer myself, despite my past experience as an editor, I do exactly the same thing.

Via Orgtheory

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There is an interesting post on Inside Higher Ed about Michèle Lamont’s How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, which examines peer review panels.  As a graduate student, I’ve been curious about peer review processes in general, as I’ve experienced successes and failures in peer-reviewed publications and grant competitions.

I suspect that little will change in regard to these processes in my future life as a junior faculty member, but I wonder how my choice of institution will affect my desire to run the publication gauntlet.  Coming from a “publish or perish” department, I have a strong desire to get my work published in order to contribute to the body of sociological knowledge.  I also want to publish in well-regarded journals in order to increase the chance that others will actually be aware of my contributions.  At the liberal arts school where I will be employed, however, expectations for publication are much lower than for junior faculty in my current program and the fact that a paper went through peer review is more important than the name on the front of the journal.

Higher expectations for research often come with fewer teaching obligations and graduate student collaborators, allowing faculty to maintain multiple projects and submit a lot of papers for review.  At most liberal arts schools, teaching loads are higher and there are no graduate students with whom to collaborate, which I expect results in fewer concurrent projects and fewer submissions for review.  As a student I have watched papers go through numerous review cycles at multiple journals before receiving an R&R or conditional acceptance.  In one case, this process took years.  A large part of the reason for this was that the authors submitted their paper first to a top generalist journal, then to highly-ranked specialty journal, then to another specialty journal, before being accepted at yet another specialty journal that, while still good, does not have as much cachet as the earlier destinations.

Although I want to publish in highly-ranked journals, I am unlikely to have years to devote to the publication of a single paper as a junior faculty member at a liberal arts school.  In time, I wonder if this desire will fade in favor of running a more forgiving gauntlet that is equally supported by my tenure review committee while fewer outside of my institution are aware of my contributions to sociological knowledge.

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