notes on academic productivity

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of scholars who, by any conventional standard, are very productive and they aren’t stuffing the CV with obscure publications. And I’ve asked them, how do you manage to pull this off? Here are the answers that I get:

  • Team work: Almost every star I’ve asked works in large groups. If you look at the CV’s, they have tons of co-authors.
  • Division of Labor: A lot of them have told me that they are very good at assigning tasks. One of them told me he *never* does fund raising. He works with another prof who in a medical school who has access to funds.
  • Shamelessness: Most academics sulk over rejections. These folks don’t. Soon as a paper gets rejected, they send it out ASAP.
  • Recognizing diminishing marginal returns: A paper will improve between first and second drafts. These folks understand that obsession over the 2oth and 21st version is pointless.
  • Attitude: Sounds corny, but every single one of these folks has an amazing forward looking attitude. They love what they do and they see the future as bright.
  • Minimizing junk work: Some probably shirk teaching or admin work, but what I have observed is that they are ruthlessly efficient. They reuse course materials, borrow syllabi, and use teaching to deepen their knowledge of a topic.
  • Recognizing the randomness of reviews: Most people complain about the randomness of reviewers. The star publishers draw the logical conclusion. If you can get random negatives, you get random positives.So just keep submitting until it you randomly pull positive reviews.

Bottom line: Sure, some people are geniuses, but a lot of productive people simply very good at time management and they don’t let the little things get to them.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 


Written by fabiorojas

December 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

15 Responses

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  1. I love these posts. They make me feel like I’m going to learn the secret trick.

    Now, back to that (inefficiently solo-authored) paper…

    Liked by 1 person


    December 21, 2016 at 2:01 am

  2. Reblogged this on Cinnamon Ginger Tea and commented:
    Something worthy of saving.



    December 21, 2016 at 3:30 am

  3. We all need solo work, but, when you talk to people and examine CV’s you are shocked at how little solo work people do. Personally, unless there is a *very* specific reason, I no longer do solo work as my default. All group projects.



    December 21, 2016 at 3:32 am

  4. maybe right, and sounds good, but selecting on the dependent variable.



    December 21, 2016 at 3:36 am

  5. Bru: 1. It’s a blog post. 2. But if you think that working by yourself, devoting time to committee work, and hoarding manuscripts for years is the path to success, go for it.



    December 21, 2016 at 3:38 am

  6. Was with you until that last comment, which suggests a pretty unitary vision of what “success” is. Clearly, lots of people–indeed, perhaps the vast majority of people–in academe would endorse the vision of success you outline in this post, but it is not the only kind of success people may seek, and some visions of success do involve solitary projects and perhaps even committee work (though probably not hoarding).

    Liked by 1 person


    December 21, 2016 at 4:59 am

  7. I wish there were some good studies of the relationship between methods and collaborative practices in the social sciences. Having basically only done qualitative, historical work, I haven’t found collaboration saves much, if any, time. Clearly that’s not true for a lot of people, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of them use other methods. I would think it’s just my personal inefficiency, but the relative frequency of sole-authorship of (non-quantitative) comparative-historical work — not to mention practices in actual history — suggests otherwise.

    People get more career credit for writing four four-author articles than one single-author article, ceteris paribus. I’m thinking I just need three historically inclined friends as “collaborators” and I can quadruple my research output.

    Liked by 2 people


    December 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm

  8. The caveat in #6 about shirking and free-riding on others’ labor (in, for example, designing good courses) is doing a lot of work here. I know several people in the discipline who are very productive, but who are so productive precisely because they don’t do their fair share of the “junk work.” Usually their shirking diminishes the productivity of other members of the department, who have to pick up the service slack, or to the department as a whole, because undergraduates can sniff out an instructor who puts only the bare minimum of effort into a class.

    There are, of course, examples of highly productive faculty who *don’t* shirk in service or teaching, but in my experience they are a small subset of the larger set of “highly productive” faculty.

    Liked by 2 people


    December 22, 2016 at 7:36 pm

  9. For what it’s worth, the top researchers in my department are also the ones who hold the major administrative positions. The free-riders have tended to be people who really aren’t doing much on any front (whether that be teaching, research, or admin).



    December 23, 2016 at 6:06 am

  10. I’ve sat on plenty of university-level committees and administrative roles where “top researchers” are ostensibly part of the team, but are always out of town for committee meetings or too busy to draft sections of the reports. Again, not universal, but over the years I have developed a healthy skepticism about the prevalence of people who actually can, and will, do it all. There are only so many hours in the day.



    December 23, 2016 at 2:11 pm

  11. Reading the post – gives me few impressions,
    1) Being productive is about making “work-around” for serious, solo, committed work.
    2) Academia is all about “Publishing” . And “teaching” doesn’t matter or it is “mundane” n trivial aspect.
    3) So then where is original “contribution” of researcher? How will system assess/evaluate it?
    4)Also using doctoral scholars, post-docs to work with is “collaboration” or “something else”.
    5) also I have genuine doubt, these suggestions – will bring “breadth” in your work, what about “depth” – isn’t that people enter academia for this? (Or probably I am in utopian world).


    Santosh Sali

    December 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm

  12. What Fabio was talking about is probably careerism. Most successful scholars, may I say, unfortunately do follow that trajectory. But there are a few great ones that don’t. Only real geniuses are productive. Average good scholars are remembered for only one or two pieces of masterful works. This is most obvious in hard science such as mathematics and physics, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t apply to social science.



    December 27, 2016 at 3:32 am

  13. Reblogged this on Connected Lab.



    January 2, 2017 at 4:50 pm

  14. […] Some great ideas about academic productivity offered by Fabio Rojas at OrgTheory, based on conversations he has had with ultra-productive academics. Read it in full here: […]


  15. […] notes on Academic Productivity at OrgTheory – via The Sociological […]


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