Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Edited Volumes?

Chris Blattman got some heat for his post on advice he gave to junior faculty.  Specifically, folks got upset that he pooh-pooh-ed edited volumes.  So, he elaborated today.  I did not think that his advice was very controversial.  Indeed, I labeled it conventional wisdom but in a good way--this is what folks generally think. 

Why are edited volumes problematic? To be clear, there are two roles here: editing a volume and contributing to one.  A junior prof should be reluctant to edit one for at least two reasons--it is a huge time suck, and junior folks do not have a heap of time; and they could end up alienating senior faculty if they have to edit (reject or ask for substantial revisions) a big name who is contributing to the volume.  Contributing is a bit different, but that is what Chris was talking about.

One of his key claims is that people do not find such work as accessible.  Even in the gated community that is academia, fellow academics can usually get pdf's of articles in most journals pretty easily, but book chapters?  Not unless you want to buy the book or hope that the library has a copy.  So, it is simply less likely to be cited and less likely to be influential.  There are other problems as well--that the speed of an edited volume is very much like the speed of a naval convoy--it goes as fast as the slowest contributor/ship.  I have two contributions to edited volumes outstanding--and I have no clue about when they will appear in print.  I am ok with that because I can be ok with that.

Chris's basic calcuation is: could the time spent on a book chapter be better spent on an article that would appear in a refereed journal?  There are a couple of things that he overlooks: the networking and the feedback.  Edited volumes are usually not about sending off a piece to be joined with other stuff (it happens), but most usually part of a conference/workshop where one meets others doing work in related areas.  My first edited volume experience was terrific because it had multiple meetings (the last one in a cool location--Palm Desert) with a heap of smart people, only some of whom ended up in the edited volume.  The feedback was terrific, it inspired some new research directions that led me to interesting places, and the edited volume made a big splash.  My contribution has been well-cited, so the whole experience was very much worth.  But it was hardly typical.  I have had other good experiences but none so good as that one, not even when I was the editor.

Still, junior faculty can and perhaps should say yes to the occasional edited volume if it is attached with a workshop that would involve people one wants to meet and if the project is either not that much work or is the start of a promising direction.  But even then, the junior prof should be cautious. 

The value of a chapter in an edited volume depends on where one is working, how much the senior faculty value chapters versus articles, and how much one's subfield seems to value chapters versus articles.  Editing a volume, unless it does really, really well, does not help one's tenure chances as much as writing articles, and editing one volume takes a lot more time than writing one article.   I think Chris was right in emphasizing the time tradeoffs, but the networking/intellectual development possibilities were underplayed in his piece.

I think the answer is much clearer about book reviews, which was in the same entry for Blattman, as edited volumes--only do book reviews if you would read that book anyway.

As always, tradeoffs exist so one needs to be attuned to the opportunity costs of the various choices.


1 comment:

Steven Greene said...

Very useful analysis.