Three-D Issue 28: Publishing research at the start of your career: a minefield

cgllfgfviaegmjmPatricia Prieto-Blanco
University of Brighton

The com-modification of Higher Education is happening before our eyes. It is an issue affecting researchers globally and it impacts academia at various levels. Arguably, postgraduates and early career researchers suffer the most as they are have to strike a balance between making a name for themselves and defending the academic ethos through their practice. Well, it might be naive of me to assume the latter, but I chose to believe that anyone pursuing a career in academia, and even more so in our discipline, is ideologically aligned against neo-liberalism and in defence of meaningful knowledge production. Structural development in Higher Education in the UK such as REF and TEF certainly pose challenges to our profession, but the hurdling starts much earlier for postgraduates and early career researchers.

Once upon a time, publishing one’s PhD research was a task to be carried out after the award of the title. Nowadays, doctoral candidates must manage to publish a couple of times before submitting their theses. This applies to candidates pursuing a PhD by publication and those following the traditional route. Book and conference reviews are good exercises, which certainly help in developing one’s writing skills, however they don’t really count. Chapters in edited collections are better regarded, but often they are not considered valuable outputs. The holy grail of publication are double blind peer reviewed journal articles. And the more impact factor the journal has, the better. However, there are many challenges in this process. Apart from the obvious one: much time passes between submission and publication; great effort and determination are needed to produce a paper of a standard deemed for publication in highly ranked journals. Predatory publishers are too well aware of these circumstances and take great advantage of them. In the last six months, the amount of emails on my inbox inviting me to publish in predatory journals has grown exponentially. But I should not be that surprised, as I fit the profile well: early career researcher, foreign sounding surname, low citation index. Even respectable names in the publishing industry have realised the revenue potential of predatory publishing. SAGE Open, “a peer reviewed open journal published by SAGE” regularly invites me to submit work, which would enter the review process one the “Article Processing Charge” of 395$ is met. Yes, 395$. Once more: 395$ is the cost of processing an article for review under SAGE Open. One cannot help but stop and wonder, how open is this journal then? How can afford this fee? And why already over 6000 researchers have submitted their work to SAGE Open Journal? Is it about metrics? Is it about being able to work and publish at the same time?

Long gone are the times in which PhD theses were automatically transformed into monographs. Some still do it nowadays. But it is a realistic outcome only for those who can afford the time and the income limbo. The rest of us are thrown into a very precarious job market. If you have recently looked for a job in Higher Education, or if you have been member of a panel selecting suitable candidates, you must have realised that the competition is hard. Long gone are the times where freshly baked PhDs could get a job straight away. Permanent contracts disappear even longer ago. Today, institutions frequently hire new academic staff members on fractional contracts. These are often temporary. They are time bombs. By the time one has adjusted to a new work environment, new city and has managed to learn calling a couple of people new friends, the tick of the clock becomes strident. It is time to start worrying. It is time to search for job openings. It is time to start applying for a new job. And this task is not for the faint of heart. It demands attention to detail, imagination and it is very time consuming. One might think the latter is not a problem, since early career researchers are working on fractional contracts anyway. But how fractional are their real working hours?

On the pursuit of making a name for themselves, academics at the start of their careers put on additional hours, volunteer to take home added work and go the extra mile to please management at all levels. Admittedly some of this work is remunerated, but the cost in terms of impact on career progression is, arguably, much higher than any payments. Being caught in this situation means that one’s research activity is pushed to the background. REFerable outputs: error 404. TEFable outcomes: not found 404. Reputation Score: no data available. Time to pay the 395$ and get at least an article out there in the hope of improving your citation index.

Against this backdrop, the work done by Networking Knowledge over the last eleven years becomes highly relevant. As a peer reviewed, free to readers and authors, open journal, the MeCCSA PGN publication has served the interests of many early career researchers. It is paramount that platforms such as Networking Knowledge are kept not only alive, but are given resources to continue thriving. As editor and journal manager, it is my first priority to ensure this and I am very happy to report that we are working on improving the indexing of the journal by reviewing articles metadata as well as incorporating D.O.I numbers. These measures respond to the rising predatory character of academic publishing as well as to our authors’ numerous questions regarding impact factor of the journal, acceptance rate, etc. There is one request from MeCCSA PGN members to more seniors MeCCSA scholars: please disseminate Networking Knowledge widely. Whether it is through likes and retweets in social media, forwarding issue to colleagues or including some articles in your reading lists, in times of ferocious predators, early career academics need more than ever your support and mentorship.

Posted by Einar Thorsen