Publish or Perish

In between cleaning baby-poop out of the bathtub, I am also a professor. So I live with the “publish or perish” pressure that you’ve probably heard about in academia. But — this is the ridiculous Pollyanna side of me — it’s not that bad. I teach at a second-tier university, so I don’t have the pressure that others have. (Also, I get the benefit of interesting students: they’re often the first in their families to go to college, they are diverse, and they haven’t yet discovered that learning history means more than memorizing. It can be fun to turn them on. But it’s also a lot of work, and I have a slightly heavier teaching load than my colleagues at more elite institutions.) Still, I don’t have to publish two books before my tenure review. I don’t have to publish “a field-changing book,” as junior profs at Princeton are told to do. I just have to publish four decent articles or, preferably, one book.

Yesterday I had an article accepted for publication. This is a big deal. Academic articles take me at least five months of working every day on research and writing. And since I don’t have that kind of uninterrupted time, this particular article took me all last summer and half of this summer — and it was something I had begun way back in grad school. It’s wonderful to have it finished. I still have to acquire illustrations, which means dealing with permissions and stuff, plus proofreading queries and more, but it will be printed in a few months, and then I get to hear feedback, which is the fun part. Even better, I think it may be my best article yet. It’s one that I started the year that I was heartbroken, and of course it has nothing to do with that heartbreak except that it has some unconventional, truly original ideas.

As part of the publication process, one of the anonymous peer-reviewers called my article “brilliant,” but then proceeded to give me two single-spaced pages of challenging advice about what I needed to change. It actually took me weeks to even re-read this peer review, which was more disheartening to me than it should have been — but this review also arrived right when Sophie’s sleep went wacky. I had to write to the journal’s editor to say, “Thanks for the feedback. Now how long can I take on this revise-and-resubmit process? Because my baby won’t sleep through the night.” He was incredibly understanding; he told me I could take up to two years. Sometimes academia turns out to be family-friendly after all. I am glad to get it done, now, only six months or so since that peer-review. In my case, lifting the pressure actually makes me more productive.

I am about to enter my fourth year of teaching at my large state university. Tenure review comes in my seventh year, but now that I have done three good articles since beginning the tenure-track, I only have to aim for one more article. Or, of course, a book. I’m working on it. But my summer will end in two short weeks, and then there’s an entirely different kind of pressure of teaching.

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One response to “Publish or Perish

  1. I suppose good science is good science and is in that regard “timeless”. But I cannot help but feel a bit sad about the “slowness” of this “traditional scholarly communication” after reading your blog post. I guess the common criticism that scientific publishing is slow, taking months or, more likely, years to have something out there after the actual “discovery” rings true.

    Although that is commonly also blamed on peer review as well. So I am wondering what the time was between your manuscript submission and the time it took for the paper to “accept after revision”?

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