By: Kevin Kester, Endicott College of International Studies, Daejeon, Korea
It might seem easy to be cynical after the jungle of metrics and rising expectations that was presented in the previous entry. But I propose here that to publish and flourish the focus must shift from our obsessions with metrics to our contributions to knowledge. The metrics are merely (or at least should be) by-products of the research process. To flourish within this crude system, let me offer some tips on getting published frequently and publishing well to thrive in your first postdoctoral years in academia.
First, it is of course most advisable to focus on the work that is meaningful to you and that has the sort of impact that you want to have on the world. Contribute to the conversations you want to be a part of, and beware of chasing the metrics. To do this best, know the quality and type of research that you do. For example, is your work theoretical, empirical, critical, conceptual, a review essay, or conjectural? Knowing this, submit to the journals that explicitly seek this approach. Follow the submission procedures closely. List funding sources to indicate significance and impact; and get review experience — serve on the editorial board of CORERJ. Consider writing book reviews for practice. Submit chapters of your thesis for blind peer review. These strategies will not only give you experience with the review process but will improve your writing overall.
In terms of writing strategies I typically follow what I was learned at the Faculty of Education. Have a clear guiding research question (or research problem/hypothesis) that anchors the paper. Ensure that the literature review substantially contextualizes and reviews relevant work – this allows the audience to place the paper within broader educational discourses and movements, and clearly indicates the contribution of the paper. Be sure the methods are valid and reliable, and that the findings clearly follow the methods and review of literature. Offer a focused yet comprehensive discussion that links the findings of the paper to broader challenges faced in education, and provide theoretical, methodological, pedagogical, or policy implications of the research. Ensure the paper addresses these issues but do not limit the conversation to this rigid framework alone.
Pragmatically, as a general rule I usually try to have 4-6 papers submitted to journals at any one time. This ensures me a constant stream of publication output. Because it can take anywhere from 2-8 months for journals to get back to you with an initial result, this general rule allows constant production (even with a focus on quality). It can then take another 3-6 months before the edits are completed and re-evaluated, and yet another 6-18 months before the paper is finally published in an issue. In this regard, I usually consider that SSCI-indexed journals will take 1-3 years from submission to publication; SCOPUS will take 6 months to 2 years; and domestic journals may take 3 months to a year. This is a rough timescale, and there are many internal variables that may change the overall period of submission to publication, but I usually find this scale fairly reliable to help ensure me frequent output (which translates into frequent participation within the current debates that animate the field).
It is important to remember here that the focus is on quality not quantity; research should be a culture not a factory. It will often be better service to the academy and to colleagues who rely on this work to write papers for invited volumes, special issues, and academic blogs, to organize conferences and smaller symposia, or to dedicate substantial time to mentoring students (who will of course be the scholastic community of tomorrow). This will take precious time away from publishing within the esteemed publication venues I introduced in Part 1, but it is in part (at least from my perspective) the responsibility of social scientists to contribute to the important culture of collaboration and research that betters society. This then is how I propose that we publish and flourish as young academics. It is perhaps a matter of balance between solitude and sociality, writing and reviewing peer work, and generally being approachable in the academy.
Nonetheless, I offer a few gentle caveats before I conclude. First, postgraduate students and early-career researchers are often overly optimistic on their chances of getting published, acquiring research funding, or indeed getting a coveted job after receiving the PhD. Managing these expectations knowing that rejection is imminent, though not permanent, and that the ultimate purpose of our activity is social development, might help young scholars to be resilient. One must know, however, that publish or perish (which I began this short two-part blog post with) is incomplete and outdated. Today one must publish and bring in external funding and lead international research agendas and contribute to the community of peers. This can be overwhelming.
To publish and still perish may well be the new mantra absent external funds and expertise in social networking. Yet, taking criticism seriously but not personally, applying for research funds relentlessly, building research teams for support, and writing innovative papers will help early-career academics press on. In fact, we may well inadvertently raise the impossible bar for the next generation of scholars (much as our predecessors did for us), but if we are lucky we might well destroy the bar altogether by re-turning the focus to discovery and meaning instead of dollars and metrics.
In the end, I try to remember two things in this work. First, any attempt at measuring research impact and significance will always be partial, but the silver lining in this crude system that I have imperfectly attempted to outline is that it offers a somewhat transparent (albeit constantly shifting) international standard for originality, significance, and methodological rigor. Journal editors and a jury-of-one’s-peers act as the scientific gatekeepers. This system then perhaps opens some space for a more just higher education system in which scholars from non-elite, non-core institutions can compete. It also imperfectly holds science and scientists accountable to broader society. It could be that without this standard (as flawed as it is) much spurious “research” might pass as scientifically significant and yet contribute nothing to the betterment of society. Second, by refocusing the attention on the social purpose of this work – in the words of Paulo Freire – we may be able to participate “in the creation of a world in which it will be easier to love.” In short we may be able to do our part to cultivate a better society. This is how we publish and flourish; anything else is confusing the ends and means.
Kevin Kester researches and teaches peacebuilding, higher education, and qualitative research methods as a Research Assistant Professor of International & Area Studies at a mid-range university in Korea. He completed his PhD in the Faculty of Education in Cambridge in 2017. Kevin has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters in international and domestic journals, and acquired research funding in excess of £150,000 in his early career. For more on his research and teaching, see his ResearchGate profile or Google Scholar page.