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Posts Tagged ‘Publication’

When students ask what they can do to improve their grades at the end of the semester, I often think, “Invent a time machine, go back to the beginning of the semester, and start [coming to class, proofreading your work, studying for exams, etc.].” Now, in my second year of a new job, a year away from pre-tenure review, it feels like this is the semester that I would choose to return to if things do not go the way I want in the tenure process. With a paper under review, several papers I need to lightly revise and send out, and new projects in the early stages, this is a pivotal moment for my success in the coming years, even as the semester quickly melts away and, as usual, I haven’t completed nearly as much on these endeavors as I had hoped.

I have, however, made one change that I hope will pay off in the future. I installed LeechBlock on my web browser to ward off my Major Procrastination Disorder and keep time from getting away from me. In a few years, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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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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Aside from the outcome, one of the interesting things about my recent journal submission, was the amount of time spent on the paper before submission.  A coauthor and I worked on this paper with varying degrees of intensity for over five years.  To put this in context, between the paper’s inception and its completion, we both took our comprehensive exams and started and completed our dissertations.  In the years between, our paper spent time on every burner.

It seems that the most frequently-discussed burner is the back burner, but I would characterize the early stages of our project as time spent on the side burner.  During this time, we made some progress on the paper every week or two.  This also describes the time immediately after our data collection was complete.  During data collection, there were times when our paper was on the front burner and received our undivided attention.  Following data collection and the completion of complete drafts, however, our paper was frequently moved to the back burner while things like the aforementioned comprehensive exams and dissertations occupied our time.  During this time our paper also periodically spent a day or two on the front burner when one of us became motivated to make some progress.  The summer was also a period in which our paper was on the front burner as we prepared it for submission.

While I would not recommend allowing your projects to spend so much time on the back burner (especially if you work at a research institution!), there are some ways that these long delays may have contributed to our paper’s eventual acceptance.  Putting the paper away for long periods of time necessitated that when we did work on the paper we had to familiarize ourselves with it once again.  Looking at the paper with fresh eyes allowed us to recognize the weaknesses in our paper.  My work this summer, for example, started with the idea that I would make some minor adjustments before publication and ended with a nearly complete reorganization of the introduction and literature review.

It is possible (and perhaps even likely) that our paper would have been accepted and published by now (even if rejections had preceded this publication) if we had submitted it in a lesser form several years ago.  Regardless, the fact that our longer-than-ideal time frame may have worked to our advantage suggests that others who have potential publications simmering on the back burner should move them to the front burner and send them out.

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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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