Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Rare Sunday Thirsty, But It's Okay. It Satisfies the Arcane Rule Left By Our Elders That the Query Must Touch On the Spiritual Side of the Academic Career. And It Has to Be on Sunday. That's the Other Thing.

Sacramento Samuel sends this in:

Okay, I feel as though I may sound a bit like a whiner, but I promise I come to this august group with a pure and open heart.

I work in the Humanities. I know, sucker. But I tread on some pretty rarefied research areas, and I simply love what I do. (This is not about teaching. I could do an hour on teaching some other time.)

A very big part of my success at this university is based on my research and scholarship. It's noted as 3/5ths in the T&P material.

Fine, I work hard. I write long pieces about somewhat tricky stuff, and occasionally, very occasionally, the journals I work with take one and I feel as if I've scaled a mountain. I don't want to give too much away, but there are editors I work with you will absolutely sit on something for a year at a time before letting me know it's not going to make it. It's the nature of a few specialized journals my work is best suited for, and it is something I understand. (My academic mentors work in the same field and I saw their waits firsthand as a grad student.)

So, I'm okay with it. I think I'll publish enough over this 7 year period (2 years in) to make tenure.

But here's the whiny part. I have two colleagues. They are roughly in the same discipline as me, but all of their stuff is focused on "digital literacies." They write tiny pieces, and publish quickly, regularly, sometimes even in print. (Okay, that I couldn't help.) Their names appear in a division newsletter nearly every month with another publication. That these things are often online only, or full of infographics and cartoons, doesn't come up. They get the back slaps and the shout-outs from our young and vibrating new President.

I don't harbor any real resentment about my colleagues. I don't wish them ill. But I honestly worry that my own work pales compared to their shiny (and regular) pubs.

Q: Will my much different scholarship profile get judged on its own? Should I be re-thinking some of what I write about, and to whom I pitch pieces to, based on a quicker turnaround? Should I try to recalibrate my interests to hook up to some of the newer digital literacies? Am I foolish to worry? Should I put the bottle down?


  1. I feel you, Sammy. It's tough when a colleague finds a niche and is bright and shiny for a while. My advice would be to do what it is you do. Chasing someone else's research or even someone else's journals will not make you happy. There's a whole set of reasons why your colleagues' research fits those journals, and you may be underestimating how hard they work to place their material so often.

    Worry about your own tenure. Good luck.

  2. This is tricky. You need to find out how the T&P committee deals with this. Has any tenured faculty had to deal with this (note: you'll only be talking to the survivors so results will be biased in that sense)? It's a problem in many areas of academic research, whether it's the number of acceptable publications or number of co-authors. You and your research peers in your discipline have your own standard but your university might view things differently. Would you lose the respect of your mentors by throwing some short manuscripts to a journal for easy, quick publication? T&P porfolios typically include letters of reference from experts in your field. Maybe they could explain the publishing situation but there's no guarantee that the committee members will take that to heart.

  3. At my school I recommend to junior colleagues to do what makes them most valuable on the job market. That's what we effectively tenure based on, and if we don't tenure them, then they'll be glad they did what made them most mobile. In particular, when external reviewers write about your tenure case, you want said reviewers to comment on the quality of your scholarship and the contributions you have made to your field, not whether your blog post had a nice infographic.

    1. "I recommend to junior colleagues to do what makes them most valuable on the job market. That's what we effectively tenure based on[.]"

      Man oh man, I wish the powers that be at Across the Seas U would see the logic of this, especially for the humanities. When it comes to publishing standards, we all get treated like engineers even if our research on underwater alpaca farming has only one indexed journal that requires a three-year waiting period to appear in print (and has no online component).

  4. (Caveat: I've never held tenure, and I'm not eligible for tenure. I have, however, watched a fair number of tenure cases go by, in a university and department that have a similar trajectory to your.s) I, too, would say don't change the fundamental nature of your research. However, I'd suggest that you consider finding ways to do some digital/popular publication/sharing of your results: write a blog, write an article for a popular publication, print or digital (even a really niche one), get yourself on the university's list of experts and do an interview, do your own TED talk/youtube video/whatever. It sounds like you're doing some cool stuff; surely there's some way to communicate the coolness to a broader public? If you aren't sure which parts of your research the public might find interesting, try teaching some intro classes, or volunteer to give a talk at an appropriate venue (senior citizens center? public library?), and see what questions you get.

    And then, once you've done any of the above, publicize the heck out of it, both in university newsletters, etc., and on web spaces you can build/control yourself (a professional personal web page, an page, etc.). Remember, part of what you're trying to do is to shape the results of the google searches the tenure review committee (and quite possibly your outside referees) will do on your name a few years down the road (whether or not they're supposed to do that).

  5. Newsletters are terrible predictors of tenure success. Deans may give lip service to flashy new stuff, but tenure committees are faculty-driven and, in my experience, very slow to recognize anything outside of traditional publications as relevant, productive. A senior colleague once referred to my history blogging as "recreational".

    Things have gotten a bit better in some places, but not much and not many.

    Keep writing, publishing peer-reviewed work in outlets with some prestige, and you should be fine.

    Your mileage may vary, past returns are no guarantee of future performance, etc.

  6. Various random articles indicate some anxiety about this. In my field, it's probably possible to succeed without having a physical street address. It's all digital.

  7. I was gonna say -- it's usually the other way around, and people publishing short/online/nontrad things in newer journals (or even fields) have a harder time with tenure than people with long, rigorous, in-print stuff in older journals.