Posts Tagged ‘publishing

thriving in the academic commons + labors of love in the time of pandemic

This year, like the past several years, I have the honor of serving as a mentor to tenure-track CUNY faculty in the CUNY Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP). The FFPP is a writing and professional development program that helps tenure-track faculty at CUNY two-year and four-year colleges navigate the ins-and-outs of publishing and tenure at their teaching and research-intensive universities. As a mentor, I get to read and comment on works in progress, across the disciplines, facilitate group learning processes, and connect with other highly accomplished mentors across CUNY; these responsibilities enact a cooperative philosophy of individual and collective learning-all-the-time.

Since this year’s FFPP orientation was virtual due to the pandemic, FFPP program directors Matt Brim and Kelly Josephs asked me to put together and record a presentation about publishing as a social scientist. I was also asked to comment on publication productivity for scholars who are caregiving during a time of pandemic, state repression/failures, and uncertainty.*

I’m sharing the direct FFPP link to my recorded presentation here in case it might help other scholars outside of CUNY.**

Since the video is not close captioned, I’ve cut and pasted the full script below. While I have embedded screenshots below, here’s my powerpoint presentation if you would like to look at the images of recommended resources, like guides for publication, up close:

“Greetings, I am Katherine K. Chen; I’m an organizational researcher and sociologist at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, CUNY.  I’ve been asked by FFPP to talk about the writing and publication process from the perspective of a social scientist.  I’ve also been asked to discuss handling multiple roles in the academic commons during a time of pandemic, austerity, and state repression/failure. 

When I was finishing my PhD thesis in graduate school, I came across a book called Deep Survival; in this book, journalist Laurence Gonzales distilled conditions that were common among the accounts of those who had survived disasters, plane crashes, and being lost in remote areas.  I think many of these principles are applicable to the academic commons in both conventional times and uncertain times such as these. 

I speak as someone who has experiences with journal publishing like the following:

(1) An editor sat on a revision that I submitted in response to a R&R, a revise and resubmit.  The editor sat on the revised manuscript for 7 months [correction: it may actually have been 9 months…] before saying he was rejecting it, without sending it out for review.  I told other folks I had met at a mini-conference about this dispiriting decision; well, they let a famous researcher who was putting together a special issue around his concept about my paper.  That’s how I got introduced to a literature that catapulted my article into a higher ranked, well-known interdisciplinary journal.  This scholar also invited me to dialogue with his work for another journal.

(2) I had a journal manuscript that I was absolutely in love with writing, about the difficulties that consumers have with navigating social insurance markets.  In Aug. 2013, I sent the manuscript to a special issue for a general journal – this got rejected fairly quickly, with a few helpful review comments.  I revised this and sent it to a regional journal in Oct. 2013.  This also got rejected in Nov. 2013, with reviews that made it clear at least one reviewer didn’t understand the manuscript.  I spent a lot of time revising the manuscript with a new framing, based on a new literature, and submitted to an interdisciplinary journal in July 2016.  This version of the manuscript received a R&R; I did a revision.  This was followed by another R&R that had the warning of a “high risk” R&R.  I did one final push, as this was a make-it-or-break-it moment.  For several years, I had spent all of my New Year Eves working on revisions to this paper, and I was hoping to break this yearly ritual, as much as I enjoyed working on the paper.   Leading up to this final round, I was doing a reading group with a graduate student on an entirely different topic of school choice, and I also just happened to take the time to read a colleague’s book about the market of wealth management.  These seemingly ancillary activities helped me hone my own theoretical concept of bounded relationality, generating a published journal article in highly ranked and regarded journal, more-so than the ones I had originally submitted to.  

With these experiences in mind about how long it can take to publish research, I have translated several of the lessons from the Deep Survival book that I mentioned to our specific situations, which is about surviving and hopefully at some point thriving during a long journey towards publication and dissemination. 

Here are how these ideas apply to thriving in the academic commons:

  • Think relationally.  For survivors, the thought of loved ones, real or imagined, was what kept them going on seemingly hopeless treks, even when they were tempted to give up.  For academics, thinking relationally means the following: (a) First, who’s your audience?  Who are you writing for, and why is it important?  (b)  Second, who’s in your corner?  Who can you turn to for honest feedback?  Who can be your cheerleader and supporter?  Who can you offer the same in return?  Can you form a writing group?  Can you find a writing partner?  These groups can really keep you going, even when you haven’t heard from reviewers and editors or the reviewer feedback is not what you expect.
  • Prepare for your journey by anticipating possibilities.  Survivors are prepared with maps and supplies.  For academics, this means a lot of reading of examples in your field and how-to guides like: Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks or William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book.
  • Adapt to changing circumstances.  In the Deep Survival book, people got into trouble when they acted the way that they thought things should be – that the descent down the mountain should be easy, that there wouldn’t be a storm rolling in.  Survivors didn’t reject what they saw or experienced – they adjusted to their conditions.  If they were tired, they slept.   If they were cold, they didn’t keep wandering around until they got hypothermia; they made a shelter with a fire instead.  For academics, this means: (a) If you get a rejection, mourn it for a moment, then keep moving and talking with colleagues, prospective journals, or book publishers.  (b) If you keep getting the same advice about your writing, think about how you can use this advice to fix your writing.  (c) If you find that your intended audience isn’t receptive to your work, is there a different audience that might welcome your work?  Do you need to build up those audiences by organizing conferences or special events and making connections?
  • Reflect on where you are by learning a different perspective – The Deep Survival book argues that hikers need to periodically turn around and observe where they were, from a different vantagepoint, so that if and when they need to make a return journey, they can recognize the landscape.  This one is a harder one for academics – this is essentially an argument for slow scholarship, for revisiting ideas developed in younger years, to question assumptions and original interpretations, to master different literatures and see how these could fit.  Since so many of us have spent years developing expertise in particular areas, it’s tempting to hunker down and take a very linear and narrow path.  Adopting different perspectives, crossing subdisciplinary boundaries lines can be generative, help you fall in love again with what originally drew you to research.

Now, I’m going to turn to a slightly different but related topic.  Besides working as a tenured faculty, I am also a caregiver for a younger learner – in my case, a 6-year-old daughter and her community of now online learners.  What does this mean?  I can’t speak as a tenure-track faculty writing during a pandemic; I can only extrapolate from what I am doing and what I worry that junior faculty are experiencing.  Here’s my suggestions:

  • First, Be kind to yourself. 
  • Second, Reach out to others for support.  Most people and communities do want to be helpful when they can.  If you’re not a caregiver yourself, think about how you can support and be inclusive to those who are – Victoria Law and China Martens’ book Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind is a good guide.
  • Third, Partner up with others to write.
  • Fourth, Use the classroom in synergistic ways – learn about topics and/or methods that you’re interested in and test ideas.
  • Five, If you can, use your experience to inform your research and vice versa.  I aligned my research interests with what I was experiencing as a parent, instructor, and mentor.
  • Six, Take the longterm view – expend your energy interdependently where you think possible futures should head. Many scholars have sought to contribute to the academic commons, in the hope of bettering lives and circumstances for themselves and those around them, despite so many wrenching circumstances.  Many of us are the descendants of those who escaped wars, famines, genocides, and slavery, for example, and many of us are here today precisely because of mutual aid and cooperation.  Our daily presence and mentorship of upcoming generations are what makes multiple futures possible.

Thank you so much for listening.  Take care, and welcome to the CUNY academic commons.”

For other inspiration about writing and publishing, check out other content on the FFPP visual orientation page (some content is embedded, for others, you’ll need to scroll down and click the screenshot images to go to a dropbox link):

  • Bridgett Davis recounts her experience with how abandoning 400 pages of writing lead to two additional books, including a memoir that she is now converting into a screenplay for a film.
  • William Carr shares how a professional newsletter article about teaching at CUNY lead to an invitation to write about active learning for a textbook, thereby disseminating practices to wider audiences.
  • Duke University Press editor Ken Wissoker discusses about publishing dissertation work as books.
  • A FFPP group discusses their experiences as “The Writing Group That Never Quit.”

*Incidentally, the pandemic has accelerated skill acquisition and a reliance upon invisible labor and personal resources under challenging conditions. For those of who are instructing virtually from home, we’ve had to learn how to become video content generators, video-makers, and video editors. Some of us must use equipment that we have purchased ourselves and “free” labor donated by others.

** For those of you trying to budget time (or considering asking someone to provide video content), this 8-minute-long video involved several hours of set-up work, including writing and practicing the presentation and fussing with zoom recording and screen sharing settings. I could only complete it because the construction drilling in my complex had finally ended for the day, and I had gotten unpaid technical support from my zoom-savvy 6-year-old assistant. Another uncompensated work assistant (spouse) had sourced, purchased, and set-up the camera and boom mic.

Written by katherinechen

December 6, 2020 at 4:27 pm

should grad students stop publishing? (or: why philosophers need sociology)

(This is a guest post from Samuel Loncar in response to David Velleman’s “The Publication Emergency”)

In his recent post at The Daily Nous, David Velleman of New York University and Philosopher’s Imprint argues that graduate students should stop publishing articles and that departments and journals should create organizational pressure to prevent student publications.

Professor Velleman’s post addresses an important and real problem. Velleman’s proposal, however, is an example of good thinking that becomes ineffective because it is inadequately informed by the broader institutional context in which the problems it addresses are occurring. The argument (stop letting graduate student submit to journals and stop counting their publications towards tenure) is premised on this idea: the problem of graduate student publication in philosophy is a problem created only or primarily by trends within philosophy, which makes it amenable to resolution through alteration of the practices of professional philosophers.

Let’s consider whether this is reasonable. First, it is plausible that professional philosophy, like every discipline, has some space of relative autonomy – that is taken for granted and clearly correct. Second, however, it is not only plausible but obvious and sociologically demonstrable that philosophy, like every academic discipline, is subject to transdisciplinary forces and trends. So the relevant question, with respect to this premise, is: whether the move to graduate school publication has arisen primarily due to transdisciplinary – that is, broader academic trends – or trends primarily within academic philosophy. The answer to that is: the burden of proof lies overwhelmingly with any professional philosopher to argue that it isn’t a result of transdisciplinary trends. Why? Because the same pressure exists now across all disciplines. Grad student publishing is a pressure not created by any single discipline but by the system in which disciplines exists, and is directly related to the general increase in publishing, documented, for example, in Andrew Abbott’s work. It is still theoretically possible that, acknowledging this, one could say: but let’s still try something in our little corner of academia. But this becomes questionable as to its 1) unintended consequences (which commenters on the site already noted) and its 2) professional prudence.

The most likely effect of Velleman’s proposal would be to harm those most vulnerable in academia (graduate students and assistant professors), whose job and tenure prospects are determined not by any single professor but by the entire academic system, as represented by the deans, provosts, etc. of their universities, many of which not only would not accept Dr. Velleman’s ideas, but would simply count the lack of publications against a prospective hire or tenure applicant.

A distinct, related, and properly philosophical issue that Velleman does not raise is why philosophers publish they way they do anyway, and why their publications are perceived to have any cognitive value. This is a major problem for any serious academic, given the abundance of work and the fact that no one can read all of it, and is one I have written about in an argument about disciplinary philosophy (“Why Listen to Philosophers?” in Metaphilosophy). It’s important because Velleman is grabbing the tip of an iceberg and trying to wrestle it out of the ocean. That’s not going to work without considering the sociological and institutional framework in which the problems exist and need to be theorized. There is a chain of assumptions, for example, in contemporary academia that run as follows: the university exists to create and transmit knowledge; the humanities are like the sciences in that they produce and transmit knowledge – that’s why they belong in the universities; the sciences are the paradigm of what counts as knowledge; the sciences are journal based fields; journals are reliable indicators of cognitively valuable material; peer review is the main mechanism of ensuring this legitimacy; so humanists need to publish journal articles to belong in the research university. Whatever one thinks of that chain of reasoning, it is neither self-evident nor unquestionable. Moreover, the philosophical significance of these broader issues about the academic system of publication and prestige require thoughtful consideration in order to assess any concrete problem downstream of them, like the fact that there are too many submissions to journals. Until academics, including professional philosophers, can at least acknowledge and adequately describe why their work takes the institutional form it does, it seems unlikely they can resolve the problems arising from those institutional dynamics. Such description and theorization of disciplinary forces is what I am doing in “Why Listen to Philosophers?” and my current book project. (It’s also being taken up in work by Robert Frodeman, Adam Briggle, and others.)

Until professional philosophy acknowledges the novelty and significance of its institutional location and the fact that most of even the canonical figures in its own conceptualization of the discipline were not professors and did not share the contemporary view of professional philosophy, it seems unlikely it can philosophically and practically deal with the problems posed by its embeddedness in the research and now corporate university, one dimension of which is the pressure to publish and its attendant problems.

To do that, philosophers will need to start taking sociology, among other disciplines, much more seriously, since it provides so much useful data and theory relevant to understanding the institutional dynamics of the modern university and professional system.

Samuel Loncar is a doctoral candidate at Yale and the editor-in-chief of the Marginalia Review of Books.

Written by jeffguhin

August 5, 2017 at 5:52 pm

on inequality and academic publishing (and how google scholar is like the sat)

How does our publishing define us?  And why is publishing the way professors are defined?  Chad Wellmon* and Andrew Piper have a really interesting paper that combines historical work on the changing definition of a professor alongside some nice quantitative work on who winds up publishing where:

 In the case of contemporary university assessment, the relative value and authority of individual scholars and institutions are directly linked to “research outputs.” Publications are discrete objects that can be counted and compared. They have become the academy’s ultimate markers of value, especially in the humanities and humanistic social sciences where other markers of quantifiable value such as grants and private funding are less prominent.

Wellmon’s a professor of German and has written a book about the invention of the modern university, so it’s no surprise the article takes a deep dive into the German roots of what we modern academics do. Then we get to the article’s quantitative second half, which comes out of Andrew Piper’s really interesting work on the digital humanities (like text mining the novel!)

So what do they find?  It turns out where you work matters for where you get published, but even more important is where you went to school. My one criticism of this finding would be that humanities professors at non-elite schools just don’t need articles for tenure or status: the humanities they’re looking at are still mostly monograph games. My hunch is you’d find a bit more parity if you looked at monographs, especially as correlated with where people work (though where they went to school might look about the same as Wellmon and Piper find in reference to articles).

Yet the irony of a focus on publications is that it was supposed to make things more equal! As Wellmon and Piper tell the tale, to be a professor in days gone by was to depend on patronage networks and relatively arbitrary methods of evaluation. So then we say, wait, okay, we’ll look at publishing.  That will even things out!  Yet it turns out the rich still just get richer, and we haven’t replaced patronage networks so much as changed the patronage sources and forms.  It’s a weirdly similar story to the SAT, which was intended to make a smart kid from a public school in Kansas commensurable with a prep school kid from Rye, New York.  Yet the SAT didn’t quite work like that, for reasons sociologists of education have been studying for some time.  And it turns out Google Scholar doesn’t work like that either.  Yet one of the biggest problems here is that both Google Scholar and the SAT seem to work.  After all, professors X and Y can both submit to the same journal with an equal shot, just like students X and Y can take the same SAT on the same day. And to go back to “incalculability” wouldn’t work either:

For many in the humanities, it is precisely the process of Weberian rationalization, embodied above all in counting mechanisms like the REF or Google Scholar, that have contributed to the ills of the current system. Only an emphasis on the “incalculable” or ineffable nature of humanistic practices and objects of study can preserve the health of intellectual inquiry into the future. And yet the history of scholarly publication that we have tried to outline here tells us a different story: the recourse to measurability in exercises like the REF is not something administratively new but part of a much longer attempt to undo ensconced systems of patronage and loosen forms of institutional favoritism and cultural capital. The recourse to accounting for publication was implemented in the spirit of transparency and intellectual openness. The urge among some humanists to resist this tradition absolutely and as a matter of principle would only retard attempts to redress longstanding patterns. The invocation of incalculability has to date served as a highly effective means of maintaining hierarchy and the concentration of power, prestige, and patronage––cultural capital of all sorts.

So what do we do? They’ve got a modest suggestion:

What we need in our view is not less quantification but more; not less mediation but mediation of a different kind. It is not enough to demand intellectual diversity and assume its benefits. We need new ways of measuring, nurturing, valuing, and, ultimately, conceiving of it. We need alternative systems of searching, discovering, and cultivating intellectual difference. We need platforms of dissemination that don’t simply replicate existing systems of concentration and patronage, just as we need new metrics of output and impact that rely less on centrality and quantity and more on content and difference.

Read the whole thing (it’s free for now).

*I looked at an early version of this paper for Chad (he’s a fellow at the IASC where I did a post-doc).

Written by jeffguhin

July 22, 2017 at 2:24 am

cultivating readers and writers

Today, at my university library, I went to pick up ten books I had ordered.  The circulation worker started checking the tall stack of books out for me.  To my surprise, rather than commenting on my reading habits (as the security guard later did, muttering “lots of books”), the circulation worker asked, “are you writing a book?”  I answered yes, explaining that I had written one book and that I intended to write more, eliciting what sounded like a happy noise from the worker.  What the worker intuitively got was that in order to write, one also has to read – both to stand on the shoulders of giants (i.e., learn and build on existing content) and to understand different ways of writing and presenting material.

Although an intrinsic desire to read and write is important, reading and writing habits can be cultivated and encouraged by family members, friends, teachers,  professors, mentors, and colleagues.  For example, one professor of mine devoted a portion of his slideshow lecture to describing the writings and displaying the covers of books published by previous students; he also noted that readers should have to periodically consult a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words – if they didn’t, they were reading below their level.  Similarly, another regularly mentioned students’ journal publications in lecture.  Such mentions underscored how writing and publishing were within the realm of reality, rather than something limited to a few, other-worldly individuals.  Similarly, a dissertation writing group, particularly one led by a trained facilitator, can help junior researchers learn how to troubleshoot issues and run future writing groups with colleagues that facilitate a regular stream of publications.

However, figuring out what to read is no longer as easy as waiting for a journal delivery or pulling out a drawer of alphabetically organized index cards, looking at the subject indexes for more cards, and heading into the stacks with a list of call numbers.  The struggles of today’s students and trained librarians to effectively locate appropriate resources on even very specific topics suggests that something is amiss.  Partly, the proliferation of electronic journal search engines that access some journals but not others, as well as budgetary cuts that have curtailed book acquisitions and cancelled electronic journal subscriptions don’t help.  Even the well-heeled Ivies are slashing their library collections.

What are people doing in response?

– Some instructors, including those at elite institutions where one might assume that students are well-prepared for college instruction, devote part of classtime to teaching students how to read scholarly articles and books.  Some also send students to trainings at university libraries for instruction on how to search for resources.

Publishers now request that authors help “advertise” publications on Youtube, blogs, wikipedia entries, Facebook, Twitter, and other venues.

– Increasingly, governments are pushing for open-access publications of publicly funded research, which may make some research more widely available to the general public.

– Individuals can look for recommendations of readings on listservs, blogs, and colleagues’ webpages.  In addition, recently published books can be located on university presses’ catalogs or websites; conference attendees can ask representatives for recommendations on specific topics or peruse the offerings at the publishers’ book displays.

– Besides regularly reviewing manuscripts for journals and publishers (a necessary professional responsibility to keep the community alive and thriving), colleagues can suggest colleagues’ books for library collections or purchase books from grant funds.  Update: Implicit in this remark is that contributing to the production and consumption of publications is important to sustaining venues that allow people to publish…though the advent of self-publishing and open-access suggest alternative opportunities as well.

Any ideas or comments on the state of cultivating reader- and writership?

The cover of one of the ten books checked out today

Written by katherinechen

August 1, 2012 at 3:22 am

Posted in books, education

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