Post Academic


Posted in Housekeeping by Arnold Pan on September 7, 2010
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We haven’t done “Footnotes” in awhile, but here we go again.  To refresh our memories, “Footnotes” is supposed to be a semi-regular series that collects some stories and postings that are semi-relevant to the semi-academic focus of the blog.

"Kindle DX Front" by Jon "ShakataGaNai" Davis (Creative Commons license)

1. Books vs. e-Books Grudge Match: You know one of our big interests, especially of late, has been publishing.  Here’s a handy, super stylish chart, courtesy of Digital Inspiration, that gives us the tale of the tape on the coming showdown between print and digital.  Obviously, the cost of production seems to tip to e-Books, but other economic factors favor print: authors get more royalties from real books ($3.90 vs. $2.12 from a download) and sales are still almost ten times greater at this point ($249.2 Mill to $29.3 Mill).  One interesting point of comparison is that the carbon emissions needed to produce one e-Reader is equivalent to those used in making 40-50 books, so I guess the environmental issues depend on how much you use your Kindle or whether it’s a novelty.  Noting that only 15% of e-Book owners will stop buying print, the best point of the chart makes is that both media can and will co-exist, debunking the idea that they are mutually exclusive forms or that virtual books will make hardcovers obsolete.

2. Drake U’s “D+” Ad Campaign: A lot of folks — a surprising amount, actually — are getting their kicks out of a really bad ad campaign put out by Drake University.  Courtesy The Awl,”The Drake Advantage” campaign uses a giant D+ as its logo, explaining that ,”When we talk about D+, that’s what we mean. Every moment at Drake is one that has the power to educate, to transform, to open minds and to unleash potential — to introduce who you are, to who you hope to become.”  The obvious rejoinder is that “D+” idea earns a F grade, but, instead, I’d like to think that the “Drake Advantage” is just doing it’s part to combat grade inflation.

"OutKast 2001" by Joe Goldberg (Creative Commons license)

3.HuffPo College’s Rapper-College Analogies: HuffPo College’s inane photo slideshow polls, we just can’t quit you.  Here’s one of the more absurd but somehow compelling one just in time for back-to-school, analogizing the hip-hop pantheon to higher ed.  Some of the comparisons are pretty good, with gold-standard Jay Z equating to Harvard and the Eminem-Princeton connection tagged as “The whitest of the truly elite.”  And with Tupac repping the west coast from Marin, the Stanford namecheck isn’t bad, though I’d probably go with Berkeley as a point of reference, then bump Lil’ Wayne from Cal to some counter-cultural school in the South, since even a rap know-nothing like me knows enough about the genre’s geographical specificity.  And, in the end, all anyone needs to know about the agenda behind the concept is revealed when Wesleyan student Charlie Alderman matches OutKast to his home institution, with the explanation, “Doing its own thing.  Well.”  Seriously, because Wesleyan doesn’t ring any march-to-the-beat-of-its-own-drummer bells to me?  If that’s the criteria, Andre 3000 and Big Boi would be better off representing Deep Springs or Evergreen or UC Santa Cruz or something.

How to Write on a Deadline

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSay what you will about deadline pressure and the 9-to-5 grind, but a little pressure is good every now and then. As a writer and an editor in the Hamster World, I lost the luxury of waiting until I had a good idea to write a long time ago. Deadlines forced words out of me whether I liked it or not. Here’s how to cope if you’re in the kind of work environment where you’re a writer, but you can’t ask for an extension:

Admit it won’t be perfect. This is the hardest one, so we’ll get it out of the way now. Academics are perfectionists, and perfectionists and deadlines do not mix. In fact, they clash, and the deadline will win every time. Your editor or manager will be happier with you if you meet the deadline, not if you turn in perfect copy.

Treat the content like gold. When producing an article, content or copy, the style is much harder to handle than the substance. In most cases, however, what people want to see is the substance. How on earth do journalists generate so many articles? Because they focus on the substance, and they use a template that delivers the most important content–who? what? when? where? why?–first. Yes, it seems simple, but it’s popular because it works.

More tips after the jump! The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Movie still, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.


The Benefits of Boundaries

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionEstablishing a shorter time to degree has its pros and cons. One major pro might surprise you: Writing gets better when you are forced to work with boundaries, whether they are deadlines, word limits, or formatting restrictions.

Lifehacker suggests that people are more productive when faced with limits because you have to get creative. The best limit I set for myself is trying to answer one single question in a piece of writing. “What do I want someone to think or do after reading this piece?”

Usually, in the kind of writing that I do, the answer is simple: Buy now, call us, click through, etc. Once you have that goal, you can flesh it out. Otherwise, you’ll get lost, and the reader will get lost as you try to explain several different ideas at once.

This is tough for academics because academic writing involves a slow buildup, and the best academics can build an argument brick by brick. This style has value and can lead to surprising conclusions, but if you want to hook a reader, you need to at least suggest that you will answer one question. Then, once the reader is hooked, you can go all Derrida on them and take them on the theoretical equivalent of a magic carpet ride.

FYI: I hope that, after reading this piece, you set a deadline for finishing your dissertation or turning your resume into a CV.

Image of the seen power of the picket fence by Idir Fida from Vancouver, Canada, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The latest from the MLA: Is the diss extinct?

"DMSN dinosaurs" by Luke Jones (Creative Commons)

Last week, we explored MLA President Sidonie Smith’s discussion of the role that the lengthy dissertation process has played in the latest crises in the humanities.  Over the weekend, we answered a Tweet by MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal soliciting responses to Pres Smith’s thoughts on the dissertation, telling her of our “admiringly skeptical” view on the possibility for reform.  And we also committed ourselves to considering her solutions to the problem, a promise we keep below.

Before we go into greater detail about our admiring skepticism as to how plausible the possibility of change is, we do have to give Pres Smith credit for her foresight in attempting to take on the most ingrained and daunting of academic hazing rituals, the dissertation writing process.  Beyond any issues folks have at a personal level maintaining their own sanity, balancing their finances, and figuring out their day-to-day lives through grad school, Pres Smith identifies the consequences the dissertation process has on the profession as a whole, stunting the development of young scholars at the start of their careers who may be investing too much into the diss manuscript as the end-all, be-all first book:

“They have brought with them a demonstration of expertise, not the draft of a publishable book, no matter how bold or sophisticated or deftly written. They must refine the project’s conceptualization, condense the research apparatus buttressing their arguments, pare down those arguments to the essentials, and subordinate disagreements with theorists of reference. When all this is done, the assistant professor in pursuit of a book may be left with the equivalent of one or two articles worth salvaging, anxiety about not yet knowing the large argument, and a sense of disappointment that more of his or her work hasn’t entered scholarly conversations.”

In turn, the overly specialized dissertation has a broader impact on scholarship as a whole, both in terms of research that has become too self-referential that even specialists in other sub-fields can’t understand it (much less the public) or pedagogy that hasn’t kept pace with the times.  So what Pres Smith is proposing would require reform of the whole grad school process, from changing the expectations of students starting Ph.D. programs thinking that they need to write a diss that’s a future book to the tenure requirements when/if someone needs to turn that faraway vision into a reality.

Below the fold are a few alternative forms of the dissertation that Pres Smith proposes…


What I shoulda-woulda-coulda been doing for the next academic job cycle

"Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster in a hamster wheel" by Doenertier82 (Creative Commons)

I’ve been recounting my experiences on the job market this past year, to commemorate receiving my final few rejection letters over the last week.  Now let’s hypothetically imagine what I should be/would be/could be doing to get ready for the 2010-11 academic job cycle/hamster wheel, since part of the academic life is always feeling like you’re behind even if you might be trying to plan ahead.  Considering that my interview yield rate was pretty bad this year, these musings are likely to remain hypothetical no matter if my odds would be any better next year or if the job market bounces back from being the worst ever.  Still, there’s no harm in daydreaming and, who knows, maybe it might help someone else who’s still planning on trying her/his luck on the market again.

1. Beg, beg, beg for an adjuncting position: It can’t help my job search prospects when I haven’t taught in over a calendar year and not at all during the 2009-10 academic year.  I’ve tried to teach at least one quarter a calendar year so that I can at least fudge it on my CV, but I struck out this year, in part due to not being asked to teach by the depts I’ve worked for because of the crappy UC budget and in part because I’m not really motivated to beg to work at a pay rate that’s little better than what I was getting as a TA.  The latter wasn’t so bad when it seemed worthwhile for professional development because I got the chance to teach my own syllabi, but those experiences haven’t exactly panned out.  Like when I applied for an adjunct position at another local school to teach a course that I’ve taught before with a real, class-tested syllabus, only to be used as hiring compliance fodder so that the dept could hire its own student it probably planned to hire in the first place.  But hey, I’m not bitter and, anyway, I was probably that guy when my own home dept hired me.

More stuff I could be doing instead of complaining and blogging, below the fold…


Footnotes, publishing edition

Posted in Housekeeping,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on May 1, 2010
Tags: , ,

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!)

Support Matt Stewart’s LitDraft!

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on April 30, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWith the exceptions of JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, the literary world still doesn’t have the mass appeal that generates the big bucks. Rowling and Meyer are big winners precisely because they appeal to a large audience, especially teens, who have disposable income and who aren’t afraid to spend it.

But these authors are in the minority, and it’s tough for new authors to break out. Although novelists are creative, they just aren’t the greatest at promoting themselves and convincing others why they matter. Hmmm … sounds a lot like grad students and academics …

Luckily, author Matt Stewart—whose novel The French Revolution comes out on Bastille Day, FYI—proposed a solution in a recent HuffPo piece. He suggests a LitDraft, just like the NFL Draft, but with authors.

Why not? The public obsesses over drafts, wondering which player is a sleeper hit and which player will flame out. And the marketing possibilities are dizzying:

The LitDraft is more than a mere recruitment tool–it’s a national media event focused on reading! Put the LitDraft on TV (CSPAN, PBS, whatever); give us face time with reclusive literary celebrities; provide running commentary and red carpet interviews; and package nifty segments on writers’ fascinating stories. It’d get casual fans fired up about new voices–hell, it’d get them thinking about reading for a few minutes period. Along the way, the LitDraft creates instant local celebrities, and a brief descent from the New York juggernaut might even make the book world feel slightly accessible to readers. (Did JK Rowling really wear that?)

A LitDraft would also benefit literature departments everywhere by reminding the public that words aren’t just important, but they’re also fun.

Want to know which writers Matt Stewart would like to have in his own LitDraft? Find out after the jump!

Image of 2008 draft results by Jim F, posted to Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


Academic publishing: What’s the delay?

Posted in Process Stories,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on March 31, 2010
Tags: , ,

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:


Forum on publishing: The time-lag problem

Posted in Process Stories,Publish and Perish by Arnold Pan on March 11, 2010
Tags: , ,

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?