Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fear-mongering or Good Advice

I had a long twitter conversation yesterday with Sarah Kendzior about a piece we both read at the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  She considered the various pieces of advice a bad idea as the academic survival guide seemed to suggest that profs need to be worried and cautious in order to get tenure. 

My take was that the advice as actually quite good--aimed at providing folks with useful strategies for avoiding some serious mistakes while they pursue their research and manage their career. 

The obvious question would be: do folks really need such advice to avoid sabotaging their career?  Do they need to be told to have multiple mentors, get outside feedback, that perfection is the enemy of the good enough, to take criticism seriously and revise seriously before resubmitting, and so on?  Well, Florian Bieber just posted the lessons he learned as an editor of Nationalities Papers.  The key bits of advice are at the end:
  • Revise a draft and have a friend read it
  • Never submit the article at the same time with two journals (it happened in one case and both Nationalities Papers and the other journal rejected it)
  • Don’t plagiarize (it can ruin your career and reputation)
  • Be patient with the reviewers
  • Never respond immediately if you get negative reviews (always sleep over it). It will not just make editors less unhappy, it will also help your chances of remaining on good terms with the journal.
  • Don’t blame the editor or send insulting emails (they don’t help, believe me)
  • Most articles require revisions (often major revisions, this is not the exception, but the rule)
  • Don’t be discouraged and revise (most articles that are submitted, but not published, are due to authors not revising their articles).
  • Don’t just think about getting published, but also on getting read and cited. Just getting published does not translate into much readership considering the large volume of academic publications.
You would think that folks would know this without having to be told or that they got this kind of advice in grad school, but no, folks think you can insult editors apparently.  We should not be surprised--the list of topics and requests for advice on the various rumor boards indicate that people are not getting advice or they are not listening.  Am I surprised that some folks have crappy advisers?  Um, no.  Most of us are not as lucky as Harry Potter, and even he faced a series of potentially lousy advisers.

The point here is that the academic enterprise is stressful enough--that it is hard to get that first tenure track position and that tenure is an up or out decision.  There is no fear mongering needed (although I am probably guilty of it myself).  Much common sense is required, but often common sense is not all that common or as intuitive as we would like to think.  People will still sabotage themselves as some people are just self-destructive, but if we can reduce that by a bit with some unsolicited advice, shouldn't we?

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