Post Academic


The latest from the MLA: Acknowledging the problem is the first step

"Dinosaurs Attack!" by akaalias (Creative Commons)

I know it’s totally lame that I’m reading the MLA Newsletter (registration req’d) with more gusto than before, even though my status in the profession is more precarious than ever.  But with all the various crises facing humanities doctoral programs–from the existential crisis of being and extinction to the mundane day-to-day crisis of  funding to second-order crises like academic publishing–it’s interesting to see how the biggest academic professional organization is dealing with these problems.  In particular, current MLA President Sidonie Smith of U Michigan has been focusing on ways to rethink the dissertation and how that might reshape graduate education.  As Smith sees it, one of the main hurdles to timely time-to-degree (see that NYTimes article on humanities Ph.D.s taking 9.3 years on average to complete their degrees) is the unwieldy dissertation process as it is now, which impacts not only the personal lives of grad students, like those who might want to start families and have no idea where they will live, but also professional development in delaying time-to-tenure–if you’re even lucky enough to get on the tenure track, I might add .

It’s great that Smith is taking such a sincere and proactive stance challenging one of the sacred cows of the Ph.D., the dissertation, so it’ll be interesting to see how her words translate into actions.  While I hate playing the naysayer–OK, maybe I don’t hate it so much!–conceptual solutions can only go so far in a profession that is, in many ways, defined by looking backwards and not forwards.  Below the fold, I walk through what Smith identifies as the problems and possible solutions to the syndrome of crises that converge in the literature Ph.D.

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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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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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