Month: January 2014

Publicizing your Research

Q: What are some techniques that you use to publicize your publications both to the scholarly community and to the media?       

Author: Josipa Roksa, University of Virginia

Josipa Roksa

I must confess that the first thing I did after receiving this question is email several successful junior (or recently junior) colleagues and ask for their insights.  This blog entry thus reflects collective wisdom, although I take full responsibility for the framing.

And this is the first and perhaps the most important point: use your networks.  If you are a graduate student, the best thing you can do is get acquainted with other graduate students and junior faculty.  There is a tendency at conferences to wait in line to meet the famous senior scholars.  They are important to know, but it may take a while to get on their radar (and especially to stay on their radar).  Graduate students and junior faculty, however, are much more open to meeting new colleagues.  They may not be famous now, but they may be at some point.  More importantly, they can be immensely helpful in spreading the word, sharing your work, recommending that you serve on panels, and facilitating an invitation to present in their departments or centers.  Since everyone in a network of young scholars can benefit from similar assistance, the norms of reciprocity tend to be strong.

The second point I would like to make in this regard is: be proactive.  Opportunities generally do not come to us; we have to seek them out.  Colleagues have suggested a number of avenues for engagement, including:

  • when the paper is accepted for publication (and do not do it sooner – make sure it is vetted through the peer review process and you are confident in the findings), talk to the journal about producing a press release;
  • work with the PR office at your institution (and be prepared to correct their representation of your work);
  •  get on scholarly organizations’ lists of experts in your subfield – most organizations (including ASA) maintain such lists and journalists actually seem to use them;
  • volunteer to write a piece for the newsletter and/or volunteer to serve on panels.  I know, the last thing you want to do is spend your time in meetings, but the first question during break will be: what are you working on?  This gives you an opportunity to publicize your work and “a legitimate” excuse to send the paper to everyone afterwards;
  • if you work in areas of higher education, make sure to engage with Inside HigherEd and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and if you are in other subfields, try to find specialized venues that would be interested in your work;
  • if you are writing a book, hire a publicist, who is also likely to encourage you to write op-ed pieces, commentaries on professional blogs, and entries for different newsletters.   You can of course go far and wide in this realm (e.g., hiring media consultants who can handle everything from media training to developing a strategy for media engagement), but junior colleagues have noted that at the very least, you need a publicist.  How to find a good publicist: ask scholars in your network.

You may be overwhelmed at this point.  And that is the last point I would like to make:  publicizing one’s work takes a lot of time, energy and effort.  If you talk to anybody who has recently published a book, they will readily tell you that the publicity for the book took an enormous amount of time.  Once the book is in print, we often want to enjoy the moment, but that is when you have to get to work.  And actually, the work begins before that, probably about three months before the release date.  Make sure to have a plan and several different summaries of your work prepared ahead of the release.  There is a relatively short window of time that is particularly conducive to publicizing your work and you need to capitalize on it.  Get ready to spend a lot of time on phone and email, and get ready to make many more requests that you will get positive responses.  We are all used to the latter – that is part of academic life!

Appealing to the Editor?

Q: Is it proper (or advisable) to appeal an editor’s decision on a manuscript and, if so, under what circumstances? 

Author: David Bills, University of Iowa

 My first response to this question is that appeals to an editor to reverse a decision (and what “decision” means here is really “rejection,” since no one is going to appeal an acceptance) should be very, very rare.  But there are times when you should consider doing so.

Jilted authors should remember that top-drawer journals reject about 90 percent of the manuscripts that they receive.  This means that editors are going to reject some very good papers, papers that are theoretically tight, technically proficient, and nicely written.  But clearing these bars is not by itself enough to earn you a second look.  If you appeal on the grounds of “Hey, I didn’t make any mistakes,” you will get nowhere.  Editors are looking for papers that make significant and clear contributions to the literature.  They want to publish papers that will be cited a lot and that will move the discipline forward.

As an editor, I had to constantly ask myself “What 15-20 papers are mostly likely to have a lasting impact?”  These may not necessarily have been the 15-20 papers with the most sophisticated use of theory or the most impressive pyrotechnical wizardry. For an appeal of an editor’s decision to be successful, you need to convince the editor that your paper a) did not get a fair review AND b) that it stands to make a “top ten percent” contribution.

Every paper deserves a fair hearing.  But what counts as a fair hearing?  Reviewers make mistakes.  So do editors.  From an author’s perspective, these mistakes can be frustrating and infuriating.  Still, mistakes made by reviewers and editors, no matter how serious or neglectful or opinionated, only matter if they lead to a fundamental misrepresentation of your paper. Reviewers’ mistakes are consequential to the extent that they prevent the editor from seeing the potential contribution of your paper.  Similarly, an editor’s mistakes only matter if they prevent the publication of a paper that might have made a significant contribution.  If a reviewer misreads your tables or mangles your theory, you can point this out to the editor, but you can only expect this to carry the day if you can convince the editor that reading the tables properly or following your theoretical reasoning more adeptly would cast your paper in an entirely new light.  It’s not enough to play “Gotcha” with reviewers and editors. 

Much of the confusion over whether or not to appeal what you see as a wrong decision could be abated if reviewers would refrain from sending inappropriate signals to authors.  If you get a review that says your paper should be published, or revised and resubmitted, ignore this.  Listen to the editor, not to reviewers.  Don’t base your appeal on encouraging signs from the reviewers.

The takeaway from all this?  If reviewers or editors misread or wrongly criticize your paper, by all means let the editor know.  If reviewers or editors misread or wrongly criticize your paper AND you think you can persuade the editor that these failures are depriving the journal of a potential “top ten” paper, then and only then should you think about an appeal.

Quirky Professors

Q: I’m a first year grad student. I meet with my advisor every week and sometimes run into her in the hallway or on campus. How do I deal with filling in the awkward silences during our encounters? 

Author: Jennifer Jennings, New York University

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Most professors are, um…kind of “quirky.” It’s not clear whether this is a selection effect (who chooses to go into this line of work) or a treatment effect (years toiling in a windowless room doesn’t do much for your social skills).  Either way, navigating these awkward moments can make your early years of graduate school even more anxiety provoking.

Most recent PhDs will remember (and maybe even admit!) that we spent a lot of time worrying about these interactions as graduate students.  Every word uttered was meaningful, and therefore dissected.  Think first year of middle school, but without the pleasure of your own locker. Capitalizations and punctuation in an email, pauses in a conversation, the use of the word “good” versus “excellent” – all are viewed as part of a secret code through which faculty are signaling whether you should be in this business or not.

Here is the good news: your advisor is just trying to get through the day, and hoping to make it out of the house wearing pants and maybe even matching socks.  That silence in your conversation will not be given an additional thought.

I suspect that once you realize that those silences are of no consequence, you will ultimately make peace with them and have an easier time powering through those encounters. (Although I’ve heard that if you count those interactions and multiply by $150, that’s a nice back-of-the-envelope calculation for how much therapy you will need by your 5th year of grad school.)

Kidding! I couldn’t resist the urge to throw in an awkward professor joke.

So, in sum, welcome aboard our Island of Misfit Toys.  It does get better.

Author: Bill Carbonaro, University of Notre Dame

03ff41bd-56c6-4ea4-9fc1-5ef9ac0830d4Agreed — some (one might even say “many”) professors tend to be quirky. (Present company excluded, of course). Big differences in age, cultural background, and life experience can make for awkward social interactions. That’s OK — your number one priority is to form a strong working relationship with your advisor and/or research supervisor.  My advice is to be polite, say “Hi” in the hallway and on campus. Talk about the weather if you have to! Put your energies into figuring out your advisor’s expectations for you as a student and TA/RA. If you perform accordingly, I will guarantee that she will be very happy to see you in the hallway. And that’s what really counts!

Tenure Expectations

Q:  What types of research requirements are there at different types of colleges (teaching, research I, etc.)? 

Author: Rory McVeigh

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Standards and expectations for research vary wildly across institutions.  Before accepting a job it is important to figure out what those expectations are so that you can make an informed decision about whether the type of work that you do lines up well with the institution’s expectations.  I can recall an interview I had at a research 1 university when I was coming out of graduate school (a good department, but not a highly ranked department).  The chair told me that for tenure they would expect to see me publish about five articles per year, but they didn’t care where I published them.  Right off the bat I recognized a mismatch between departmental expectations and what I anticipated my research record would look like six years down the road.  Thankfully, I had other offers from which to choose because I would have failed in that context.  Other departments place more emphasis on the quality of publications and less on the quantity (with prestige of the publishing outlet often used as a strong indicator of quality).  Some departments will be more oriented toward book writing, while others toward articles.  Some expect to see you bringing in external grant money, while others do not prioritize grants or at least don’t expect it of their assistant professors.  Since you will be evaluated by your tenured colleagues, it is worth thinking about how well your anticipated record will compare to the records of the people who will be evaluating you.  Give particular attention to the CVs of members of the department who have recently been promoted to associate professor.  That should give you a sense of what the typical successful record looks like within the department.

Expectations for research also vary sharply among liberal arts colleges.  Candidates for these positions often make the mistake of underestimating the importance of research (even referring to them as “teaching colleges”).  The better liberal arts colleges attract their students (who typically pay a lot of money in tuition) by telling them that they will be taught by faculty members who are passionate and dedicated teachers, but who are also leading scholars in their fields of study.  A sure way of insulting potential colleagues at top liberal arts colleges is to give them the impression that you think that all they do is teach.  Expectations for research productivity, of course, will be different from those at a leading Research 1 institution because teaching is, in fact, prioritized in the liberal arts setting.  But you should be shooting for steady levels of research productivity and quality placements (whether articles or a book) so that your profile fits the teacher/scholar model that is presented to prospective students.  Of course, there is variation among liberal arts colleges.  In some schools your teaching load may be so heavy that it would be hard to maintain steady research productivity and in those settings research may be given little weight in the tenure evaluation.  So again, it is important for you to assess standards and expectations on a school-by-school basis.

As the chair of my department, I always make a point of directly discussing expectations for tenure with each job candidate.  I do this because I know that many candidates are reluctant to ask the question because they are afraid it will signal a lack of self-confidence.  If I introduce the topic, then the candidate can get the important information without having to worry about appearing insecure.  I suspect that the vast majority of department chairs would see questions about tenure expectations as perfectly reasonable and would not hold it against you if you were to raise the topic.  But if you are concerned about that, you could always wait until receiving an offer before asking the question.  Once you receive a job offer from a school, the bargaining leverage flips.  At first, you were the one being evaluated and compared to other candidates for the position.  With the offer in hand, you can put the school on trial, getting as much information as you can before making the decision about accepting the offer.  Given the importance of tenure, you should find out as much as you can about how the school’s expectations match up with your own expectations for the type of research record you will develop in the early stages of your career.  Keep in mind, as discussed above, that it is not simply a matter of some standards being “tougher” than others.  I didn’t view the five articles per year expectation as being exceptional in terms of toughness or rigor.  Instead, I viewed it as a research profile that was inconsistent with what I was likely to produce.

Finally, even though the question asked specifically about research, it is also important to get a sense of how much weight is given to research as opposed to teaching.  If you have teaching experience and you have been successful in the classroom you may want to place yourself into a situation where your teaching will be appreciated and rewarded (and that includes many research 1 universities).  If you have little teaching experience or if you have struggled in the classroom, you may want to think about placing yourself in a setting where you can work steadily to develop as a good teacher, but at a pace that won’t impact your research productivity.

The Tenure Process

Q:  What does the tenure process look like at different types of colleges (teaching, research I, etc.)? 

Author: Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Dame

mcveigh_rory_smallIn terms of the process, you are typically evaluated in the sixth or seventh year of your tenure track appointment (7 years is becoming more common).  Keep in mind that in most schools you will go through a mid-term evaluation that will determine whether your initial contract will be renewed and whether you will be allowed to continue on the tenure track.  In most cases the renewal is approved, unless things went poorly in the first couple of years.  For the tenure evaluation, you will submit materials related to your research, teaching, and service to the department chair.  Your case will first be evaluated by a departmental committee (sometimes that includes all tenured faculty members in the department, while other times it is a smaller elected or appointed committee of tenured faculty).  An evaluation of research will focus on quantity of research published, prestige of the publishing outlets, as well a subjective evaluation of the quality of the work based on departmental committee members’ own reading.  External reviewers (experts in your field(s) from outside of your college or university) will also be asked to submit letters of evaluation based on their reading of your work.  Evaluation of teaching includes close attention to student course evaluations, but is also evaluated through examination of submitted teaching materials, visits to your classroom, and indicators of your contributions as a mentor to students outside of the classroom.  In most programs, relatively little weight is given to service contributions of assistant professors.  Service expectations will increase after you are tenured.

Although the departmental committee does most of the heavy lifting in the evaluation, it does not get the final say.  The departmental committee prepares a series of reports that are then passed along to higher level administrators (e.g., to the college dean, provost, president) and to a committee comprised of faculty members who are outside of the department but in the university or college.  Evaluators outside of your department will not be engaged in a direct re-evaluation of your work.  Their primary responsibilities involve making sure that the institution’s standards are being upheld and that the candidate is being evaluated fairly by her or his departmental colleagues.

Procedures will vary across institutions and it is important for you to become familiar with how the process works at your school.  There are things that you can be doing very early in your appointment to make sure that your evaluation will be based on good information.  Find out, for example, what types of teaching materials are typically submitted.  You can start developing a teaching portfolio in your first semester that will give evaluators something to consider besides student course evaluations.  Do what you can, too, to help your colleagues understand and appreciate your research agenda (e.g., volunteer to present at department colloquia).  The more familiar your colleagues are with your work, the easier it will be for them to evaluate it and to see how your publications fit into a broader, coherent agenda.  It will also be easier for them to select appropriate external reviewers for your work.  Finally, stay in constant contact with your department chair and proactively seek out feedback on your progress toward tenure.  The sooner you become aware of potential problems, the easier it will be to make necessary adjustments before the tenure evaluation takes place.