Post Academic


Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?

Megan McArdle’s piece at the Atlantic, which is a response to a piece on the rough lot for adjuncts at Inside Higher Ed asks a good question: If academics are supposedly liberal and pro-labor, why do underpaid adjuncts make up so much of the higher ed workforce?

Here are a few possible answers, plus my evaluation of those answers from the Hamster World perspective:

Tenured faculty members don’t pull their weight when it comes to teaching.
Response: I’m sure there are some tenured faculty who don’t carry their load and give everyone else a bad rap, but those people should be treated as individuals. In the Hamster World, you wouldn’t fire an entire department if it is harboring one slacker. You’d put the slacker on notice and then fire the slacker (or at least give the slacker a hard time since you can’t fire someone with tenure).

That’s what Socialism gets you.
Response: McArdle warned her commenters not to make assumptions and claim the academy made its own bed. First of all, too many people assume that academics are liberals. Anyone who’s been in the academy for any amount of time will tell you that’s not so. The Socialism argument is a crock because the system is obviously broken, and pointing fingers isn’t going to fix it. In this kind of situation, one’s political leanings are irrelevant.

More after the jump! (more…)

A publishing how-to: Tips from Stacey Pierson, Ph.D. (Part 2)

"Chinese Ceramics book cover" (Courtesy of Stacey Pierson)

Yesterday, Stacey Pierson–Lecturer (= Asst Prof in the U.S.) at SOAS in London, eminent researcher in Chinese ceramics, and the author of 2 books–described her experiences of getting her books in print, from pitching a project to drafting and editing a manuscript to the overlooked aspects of promoting the final product.  For part 2, we continue discussing what it takes to get published and ask her to don her editor’s hat to explain to us the other side of the publishing enterprise.

Post Academic: What are some tips you can give young scholars trying to get past the mental block of transforming a dissertation manuscript into a book, as someone who’s done this before?

Stacey Pierson: Beyond my personal experience, I think new writers working on their first academic book might find the actual writing process difficult because with your dissertation (if you are lucky as I was) you generally receive a lot of feedback and guidance along the way and it is sometimes quite difficult to do this on your own for the first time. At least the dissertation comes with a readymade topic, so the next difficult hurdle is, of course, coming up with a fresh idea that will be publishable and substantial enough to enhance your CV or, if you are lucky enough to get such a job, your tenure dossier. One way forward is to read as much as possible in your area to keep up with what work is already in progress and to mine your dissertation research for areas which you had to put aside but thought at the time had potential.

The interview continues below the fold…

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A publishing how-to: Tips from Stacey Pierson, Ph.D. (Part 1)

Stacey Pierson is Lecturer (which translates to Assistant Professor here in the States) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, specializing in Chinese Ceramics and Museum Studies.  She is also the one-time curator of the prestigious Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, and I imagine she could also probably work as a junior archeologist, ace appraiser, and Chinese translator, if she wanted to!

"Chinese Ceramics book cover" (Courtesy of Stacey Pierson)

But, for our purposes here at Post Academic, it’s her experiences as a published author of two books–Chinese Ceramics: A Design History (V&A, 2009) and Collectors, Collections and Museums: the Field of Chinese Ceramics in Britain, 1560-1960 (Peter Lang, 2007)–and her current post as the Editor of the journal Transactions of the Oriental Ceramics Society that we’re most interested in.  Over the next few days, Dr. Pierson will be sharing her insights on academic publishing from her multiple perspectives as a scholar, writer, and editor.  Today, she tells us about the process of pitching a book proposal, converting a diss manuscript into a book, and writing for multiple audiences–all of which she juggled at the same time.

Post Academic: Can you tell us about the process you went through in publishing your books, from the initial drafting of the manuscript to pitching it to publishers to the production of the book?

Stacey Pierson: My first book was essentially my dissertation, which was already written, so I initially researched academic publishers who include my subject area in their list, Chinese art history. After doing this, and discovering that most have detailed instructions on how to approach them and write a proposal, I sent out an initial proposal to a very prestigious publisher, for the experience mainly.

The interview continues below the fold

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Footnotes, publishing edition

Posted in Housekeeping,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on May 1, 2010
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The now more regularly recurring “Footnotes” feature covers some things we’ve found online pertaining to some of the topics we cover here on the blog.  A lot of them are just funny tidbits that you may or may not be as interested in as we are.  Since we’ve been discussing writing and publishing so much this week, we figured it would make sense to offer some “Footnotes”

1. Making lemonade: An Inside Higher Ed piece on the journal Weber: The Contemporary West outlines some of the choices that journals have before them in an age of shrinking budgets, thoughtfully detailed in an interview with the publication’s editor, Prof. Michael Wutz of Weber State in Utah.  Instead of becoming an online journal, Weber downsized its schedule from 3 issues a year to 2, and changed its profile to one of a boutique publication that plays up, in Wutz’s words, “the material heft of print media.” What’s interesting, though, is that Wutz made the decision despite suspecting that digital formats are probably the irresistible wave of the future, arguing perhaps too wishfully that the online market will only make print more valued as a niche product.

2. On the other hand…: Self-proclaimed “thriller author” Joe Konrath offers a very different view about print media from Prof. Wutz, on his blog “A Newbies Guide to Publishing”.  Imagining a gathering of “Obsolete Anonymous,” the print industry meets VHS tapes, video rental stores, cassette tapes, LPs, floppy disks, among other artifacts in the dustbin of cultural history.  Hmm…maybe print could live on as a fetishized niche object, since people still do buy LPs!  (h/t Scholarly Kitchen Twitter feed)

3. What it’s like to be a professional writer: In the latest in a series of posts on “Common Misperceptions About Publishing”, pro author Charlie Stross explores whether being a writer is a lifestyle or a job.  He comes down on the side of the latter, but he explains how difficult being a writer is, whether you look at it as a lifestyle or a job.  Here are some key points he makes about the myths of writing for a living:

“So here’s the truth about the writing lifestyle: it sucks. It is an unstable occupation for self-employed middle-aged entrepreneurs. Average age on entry is around 34, but you can’t get health insurance (if you’re American). You don’t have to be a complete loner, but it helps to have a solitary streak (or a bad talking-to-cats habit). It also helps to be an inveterate optimist, because you’ll probably need to supplement your income (about 70% of the mean for someone in a skilled trade, never mind a professional job) by taking on other work such as teaching, journalism, or consultancy. As a business, it’s a dead-end: you can’t generally expand by taking on employees, and the number of author start-ups where the founders have IPOd and cashed out can be counted on the fingers of a double-amputee’s hands.”

There are also some interesting stats about the incomes writers make, though the numbers Stross provides pertain to the UK.  (h/t Scholarly Kitchen Twitter feed, too!)

Academic publishing: New media, new approaches

Coming up against decreasing budgets and a general neglect of the humanities, what options are available to journals that might be feeling the pinch even more than the institutions that host them?  Since we’ve been speculating about the possibilities of online publishing as a more flexible and easily accessible format to facilitate research and distribute it, it’s probably time to walk the walk and provide some examples of journals that have gone digital.  Some of our colleagues and friends have passed along tips about online-only journals that are trying to match quantity and quality, while using digital media to do things that might not be possible in print.

The three journals we’re looking at offer new approaches to the way research is done and promoted, as well as tapping formal innovations only supported by digital media.

Philosophers' Imprint masthead (Open Access)

Philosophers’ Imprint: “Edited by philosophers, Published by librarians, Free to readers of the Web,” Philosophers’ Imprint is proactive in its use of available technology and in meeting the challenges of the present/near future where libraries are unable to either foot the bill for journal subscriptions or house more and more bound copies.  Despite its no-frills but clean layout, the journal really seems to be ahead of the curve in rethinking how scholarship is disseminated and appreciated, offering its contents for free online without sticking to a strict publication schedule to maximize flexibility.  Because it’s free, it also makes the most of basic resources available to scholars while dispensing with a huge editing apparatus and licensing issues.

More on the publishing philosophy of Philosophers’ Imprint, after the jump…

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Academic publishing: A trickle-down theory and other ways to streamline the process

Posted in Process Stories,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on April 27, 2010
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"Water drop animation" by Gmaxwell (licensed by Creative Commons)

We’ve discussed some of the difficulties with getting publishing before, which was mostly me extrapolating from my personal experiences.  An article titled “The Back-Up Plan” from Inside Higher Ed last week proposed an interesting solution to making turnaround in the editorial process quicker, so that you don’t end up in an experience like mine where I had a proposal for a piece going back-and-forth with various editors and project proposers for a year-and-a-half only to end up with nothing.

Enter “The Back-Up Plan”: According to the article, the American Economic Association has set up a process whereby submitters can opt in to a plan where their essays can be automatically submitted to another “back up” journal if it is not accepted by the group’s top publication, American Economic Review.  The idea is that readers’ reports would be passed along to the secondary journal, which is supposed to speed up review of the proposed article.  Now you might argue, as some in the comment threads do, that resubmitting an essay using unfavorable readers’ reports is a kamikaze mission times two, but the choice of doing so is up to the writer.  And apparently, most of the submissions going through this process are borderline cuts that were well-received–just not so much to be included in the assocation’s #1 publication.

More about the “back-up plan”, below the fold…

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Academic publishing: What’s the delay?

Posted in Process Stories,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on March 31, 2010
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One of the more popular topics that we’ve covered so far at Post Academic is academic publishing.  About a month ago, I wrote about what I called the “time lag problem” in academic publishing, and recounted a frustrating experience I had trying to place an article that ended up on the scrap heap after a year-and-a-half in review purgatory.  (Actually, it would be kind of absurdly hilarious, if it hadn’t happened to me!)  As we mentioned in the earlier posting, let us know about what you are curious about with regards to the publishing process, and we’ll try to cover it.  And if anyone who has published any book of any kind wants to share her/his experience, contact us!

What I didn’t write about at the time was that I had an essay that was just about to be published in a good peer-reviewed journal that I like a lot.  I am definitely proud of the final product and had a great experience working with a very professional staff.   The best part of the process for me was the initial step of submission, because I felt that I got a fair shake and an objective blind reading–though, of course, I would think that because the essay was accepted!

But going through the process also revealed some of the same structural issues with academic publishing that I experienced in the 18-month revise-resubmit-rinse-repeat-rejection fiasco, albeit with a much happier ending.  Even with a dedicated, on-the-ball staff, the piece took almost two years between acceptance and publication, plus another 5 months at the front end between initial submission and acceptance.  Again, I hope this doesn’t seem to be a case where I sound ungrateful, because the folks at the journal were great and really took care of me and the essay.  Here’s why, at least in my mind, it takes a relatively long time for an essay to see the light of day, even when everyone is working hard to get things done:

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Freelance follow-up: Shameless self-promotion

Posted in First Person,Publish and Perish,Transfer Your Skills by Arnold Pan on March 13, 2010
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Since we’re on the freelancing tip already, I figured now would be a good time to follow up on my post last week regarding the process I’ve gone through in (re-)establishing myself as a freelance writer.  I still wouldn’t call it a comeback yet,  but my first review for the great online magazine PopMatters went up a few days ago.  It’s on the band The Bundles, which includes Kimya Dawson, whom you might be familiar with from her contributions to the Juno soundtrack.

The post, though it might seem otherwise, has less to do with patting myself on the back or affirming my tips on how to freelance, and more to do with highlighting the innovative way PopMatters approaches online writing and publishing.  More so than any publication I’ve worked with, PopMatters is very open to incorporating new voices and more voices–though, of course, some experience does help and might be expected–in its mission to provide interesting, relevant, and current criticism on pop culture.  As an indication of this mindset, the submission guidelines and calls-for-papers on special topics are prominently displayed on the site, not buried somewhere in some link you can’t find in the masthead you can’t find.   The way PopMatters operates by providing more and more different kinds of opportunities for its contributors in order to continually circulate fresh content might provide a strong model for thinking about how to revamp academic publishing in the humanities, a topic we’ll be getting back to in the very near future.

PopMatters

Forum on publishing: The time-lag problem

Posted in Process Stories,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on March 11, 2010
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We’d like to open up our virtual floor here at Post Academic for a discussion on publishing, a topic that I know for a fact people across academic disciplines, tenuously hanging on to academia, and outside of academia are interested in.  Caroline and I have been batting around some ideas on all the areas of publishing we’d like to cover on Post Academic, including everything from…

* The frustrations and rewards of writing academic publications

* What publications mean in different fields and disciplines

* How to pitch a book, whether it’s a scholarly monograph, a novel, whatever

* Freelancing (which I’ve started to address)

* The process from an editor’s perspective

We’re hoping that you, our readers, will jump in not only with suggestions on publishing topics you’d like us to explore, but also by chiming in about your experiences with publishing, whether you want to offer helpful how-to’s or find someone to commiserate with over that essay in “revise and resubmit limbo.”  We completely appreciate that many of the academics who might want to participate need to do so with great discretion, so feel free to respond anonymously or offer suggestions to us via email at our “Contact Us” account.

I’ll kick this forum off by touching on some of the difficulties I’ve had trying to publish my research.  Of course, there are plenty of issues to talk about, but the one I want to focus on here is the issue of the time lag between submission, acceptance, and actual publication, from the perspective of a writer.

The Problem:  It can take at least a year or more like two (right?) before something we submit actually arrives in print.  While it’s certainly a great and satisfying accomplishment to see an essay you’ve only looked at in a MS-Word file finally typeset, there’s also a kind of reaction that the work hardly represents where your mind is at in the present.  That’s not to mention that you’re probably already feeling alienated from your work after all the edits you’ve made on your own in preparing the essay, revisions you’ve made in response to potentially multiple sets of readers who all want different things (but mainly that you write about what they write about), and proofreadings you’ve done when/if the essay is accepted.

Professionally, there’s also the worry that, in the long time it takes from submission to acceptance to publication, some other essay that’s been in the pipeline for a few years itself will come out in the interim and make your essay totally obsolete.  I speak from experience here: in preparing an essay excerpted from a dissertation chapter written 4 years ago for a job application, I came across the title of an essay that raised the same theoretical questions and used the same specialized terminology I had.  What added insult to embarrassment here was that my unpublished, now-never-to-be-published (NNTBP, for short) piece had spent more than a year in a weird holding pattern.  Here’s the timeline:

April 2008: Abstract for NNTBP essay is submitted for initial review for special issue of a solid but not super-exclusive journal.

October 2008: NNTBP manuscript is prepared and submitted for review.

Late October 2008: NNTBP manuscript is rejected for special issue, but very kind (seriously) editor offers to consider it for an edited collection/book project on a related topic.  Actually, this was a pretty fast turnaround by the editor, who was always very nice and respectful to me.

November 2008: After ignoring rejection email, I am contacted by the editor, who asks if I want my essay considered for edited collection.  I agree to the offer.

Februrary 2009: There is a second life for the NNTBP essay, now that abstract is resubmitted for second project.

March 2009: The edited collection, based on abstracts, is submitted to a publisher.

June 2009: Publisher accepts edited collection, but some essays will not be included.  You guessed it, the axe fell on NNTBP essay.  But wait!  The editor gives it a third life, offering to have it re-evaluated for the special issue that I originally submitted the NNTBP essay for.

October 2009: The third time is not the charm for the NNTBP essay, as editorial board of solid but not super-exclusive journal rejects the piece–with readers’ comments in case I want to resubmit again for general issue of said journal.

November 2009: I discover another article (that has not been uploaded to JSTOR or Project Muse) which has a title that seems to cover similar ground to the NNTBP essay as I prepare writing sample for secondary job application request.

December 2009: I did not get the job, though it probably had little to do with the essay.

Okay, so let’s tally up the results: The process took a year-and-a-half and also left me further behind than I was where I started, since my essay got nowhere and another essay on at least superficially the same topic made it into print in the meantime.  That’s not to say that I was obsessing over this essay all the time or that it would’ve been published somewhere else; actually, maybe it wouldn’t have even gotten as far as it did–which is not very–without the support of the editor, who did seem to genuinely like the NNTBP essay and backed it as much as s/he could.  And I should also give some props to all the editorial assistants that I’ve worked with, many of whom are grad students and post-Ph.D.’s who do the underappreciated work, are anything but part of the problem and could be part of the solution, actually.

I actually think I have an idea for a solution to this problem, far-fetched and outlandish as that may seem, but I’ll save that for the next very long post on publishing.  Hint: it has to do a little bit with the Internet.  In the meantime, do you want to share you own  publishing stories–anonymously if need be–in the comments section below?

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