I’d like to offer my perspective as a junior academic, who is in the process of applying for early career positions, on Martin Weller’s recent and excellent talk on Digital Scholarship. (The talk starts about 20 minutes into the recording.) Deep down I believe in the open, networked, digital scholarship that Martin describes.  The question that I am struggling with is “am I willing to put my life on the line for this belief”.  As Martin points out, tenure and promotion is based on teaching, research, and service.   Peer-reviewed journal publication, as a proxy for research merit assessment, is likely what my hiring and promotion will be based on.  For that reason, I need to start loading the publication pipeline.  Publications don’t happen overnight, and so it’s important for me to focus on this even in the absence of a firm job offer.  At this point in time I’m not willing to jeopardize my family’s well-being to change the system.  Maybe I will be lucky beyond my wildest dreams and wind up at an institution that values open, digital, and networked scholarship, in which case I will be far less concerned about maximizing my peer-reviewed journal publications.  But until that happens the risks associated with committing substantial effort to open scholarship outweigh the benefits.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t blog or participate in learning networks.  It just means that I will adopt a balanced, pragmatic approach that should maximize my chances of success in these exciting times of changing scholarship.


7 thoughts on “A Junior Academic’s Take on Digital Scholarship

  1. Hey Chris,

    I think we all take this point. The balanced pragmatism you describe is what most people are doing. My open blogging represents my half baked thoughts, sent out to colleagues, to try to make them better. I do manage to publish in academic circles, but mostly through people seeing my work online. When i do go and write something when i see a call or something, i turn back to the blog posts for fuel.

    Open scholarship, for me, is publishing (and only reviewing for) journals that allow republication (on my blog, for instance). This is actually true for many, many peer reviewed journals.

  2. Hi Chris
    Thanks for the thoughts.
    There are several takes on this. You may be caught in an impossible situation because a counter question could be ‘can you afford _not_ to?’. As an academic working this way will be essential to how we operate.
    But maybe the picture isn’t that depressing – I know I painted it as a bit of a conflict, but I don’t believe it’s an either/or situation. Blogging, social networking, etc need not be at the expense of publication. Indeed by sharing thoughts, forming a network of peers, and having a continual filter for good resources may feed into your writing. I found this with my book – in many ways it is a more efficient way of working.
    So I would suggest carrying on with a foot in both camps, they can be complementary. But don’t go wholly for one or the other.
    Keep the faith (and the job)!

  3. Hi Chris

    I teach at a University in New Zealand where the managers values Research far more than teaching (or students). Actually, they value Reputation (theirs), which is tied to the institution’s research performance, as measured by the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) process. Some of the money the university receives is related to the overal score it gets through this game (the institution that publishes the most research wins the reputation stakes – and some additional money). My institution won the last round, but it was a photo finish. Since then, they have been restructuring the university to get rid of any department (or individual) who is letting the team down (the management team, which is quite separate from the staff and students). I was restructured into another department when my former department (Design Studies) was closed (too practical, too student-centred, not playing on the game). Some of my colleagues were not so lucky. We don’t have tenure in New Zealand (if you survive 5 years of probation, you are “confirmed” and the notice period required if you are “made redundant” is increased from 3 months to 6 months).

    One of my recent strategies to hang on (despite everything) is to try to publish only in Open Access journals. After a bit of research, I discovered that there are many good ones, the timeline for publication is often shorter, and many accept a greater percentage of submitted articles (perhaps other academics just go for the mainstream journals that are better known). There are many excellent ones, and most are peer-reviewed, with solid editorial boards. Some publish articles as they are accepted (no need to wait for enough for an issue if they are published online), so if an article is not accepted by one journal, you can send it to another more quickly. You can even find Open Access book publishers (http://www.aupress.ca/).

    A group of us on my campus are working together to see how we can keep our jobs while we try to change priorities and practices from within. Open strategies make good sense – you can find people who invite you to use their work, and your work is exposed to more people. In the process, you can contribute to the effort to change an outdated system that is unfair to students and staff, and is an inefficient use of human and financial capital. I understand the need to be realistic, and we can’t pretend that we are living in healthy times as far as institutionalized education is concerned. Sensible, realistic, workable strategies have been developed by others who we can choose to follow. Optimism is a moral imperative.

    Mark McGuire

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