:: My doctoral program did a really great job training me to be an expert in an area of study—but not a really great job training me to share this expertise with the world outside of academia.
I. No More Adjunct Heroism = No More Academic Publishing
Earlier this year I was at a critical moment in my academic career: I’d spent 11 years searching for a tenure-track job and then just gave up. I decided had better ways to spend my time and money than on the academic job search.
Essential to being on the perpetual academic job search is publishing as many articles as one can in academic journals and edited collections. The job search also requires presenting at as many prestigious professional conferences as possible. For the past few years, I’ve been running myself into the ground.
I’ve also been missing milestones: my eldest kid lost his first tooth just this past weekend while I was off giving a talk at a conference. I got to chat with him about it on FaceTime.
Protip: It’s not the same.
To use Rebecca Schuman’s term from her recent Adjunct Action Conversation, I was playing the “adjunct hero” (not a term of praise) hoping that my tenured colleagues would grant me membership in the tenure-track club. Now, I know that that is never going to happen. I know because I finally asked the person in charge this past February.
I have one more academic article that I have committed to write, due this October, and then, as far as I can see into the future (which, as we all know, is not very far), I’m done. I do not plan on writing any more “traditional” academic articles.
I’m kind of beside myself with joy after making this decision.
II. The Publishing Double Bind & the Article Remix
With this context in mind, I reread Sarah Kendzior’s Chronicle Vitae article on academic publishing this morning, and this paragraph particularly resonated:
With the odds of finding a tenure-track job against them, graduate students are told to plan for a backup career, while simultaneously being told to publish jargon-filled research in paywalled journals. Scholars who bet on that insular system find themselves stranded when that system fails them, as it does most. Appeasing academics means alienating alternatives.
Academics on the tenure track are stuck in a double bind: (1) Make yourself attractive to a field where you are unlikely to find work by publishing articles that are hard to locate, read, and understand. Or: (2) Make yourself attractive to fields outside of academia by publishing your work in an accessible fashion (easy to locate and easy to read)—but making yourself seem un-academic as a result.
Accessibility on both the readability front and actually getting-your-hands-on-it front are equally important, as Sarah pointed out. So much academic writing is hidden behind paywalls. And then, when you finally can download an article, the knowledge it contains is hidden behind field-specific jargon (some of which is completely unnecessary for the making of meaning).
This lack of accessibility means that often no one outside of a narrow field can put to use the important ideas that many, if not most, scholars are developing today. And yet, embracing this lack of accessibility is required in order to be taken seriously as a scholar.
After reading Sarah’s piece again this morning, I conversed with colleagues on social media about what I’m sure is not an utterly original idea (if only because there are no original ideas)—but it was an epiphany at least to me—rewriting academic articles for public, popular audiences. Part object lesson, part test of an idea’s quality. Can it withstand the scholarly review and the public test too? The idea that was born was the #articleremix. (With support from others, including scholar, editor, and writer Kelly J. Baker.)
So here’s the challenge, #ArticleRemixers: Take your amazing scholarly work, and write about it in on your blog or on a guest post on another blog, or even pitch it to a popular magazine. Avoid jargon. Keep it short. Make it meaningful to people outside your field. Show us how we can use your ideas to make the world a better place, even in a small way.
But before you do that, make your original article publicly accessible on an open-access repository and link to the original article in your blog post.
III. Open-Access Repositories as Paywall Work-Arounds
Today’s conversation reminded me of another one I had on Twitter with Karen Gregory (@claudiakincaid – Mixed-Up Files for the win) back in April. She and I chatted on Twitter about the pros and cons of “publishing” her dissertation online via Proquest.
Simply put, it seems that new Ph.D.’s face another double bind: if you want your dissertation research available for others to read, you have to hand over rights to Proquest to publish it. Or something like that.
Indeed, part problem was that the rights situation was very confusing.
So Karen and I started talking about free public repositories that provide ways for scholars to share their work without a paywall and retain full rights to their work at the same time. These repositories are springing up all over the place.
The one I’ve been using the longest is the Social Science Research Network (SSRN.com – that’s my page). Although you create an account in order to upload your work, the account doesn’t cost you anything. Plus, you can search for articles—and download them—for free. There are other public repositories now, including Researchgate.net, Academia.edu (update: nope, don’t use it), and BEPress’s SelectedWorks.
The articles you upload to these repositories are indexed on Google Scholar. The Google Scholar indexing means that your work is easier to find by independent scholars and by others, such as journalists, who may be looking for experts such as you.
Warning: Some publishers such as Taylor and Francis get really freaked out when you put a PDF of your own articles up on SSRN or other repositories and will send you angry emails to take them down. They’ll email the repositories too, and for take-downs. This is very annoying.
Here’s the deal: You have the right to make your work publicly available in two ways, even when your work is published by T&F:
(1) You can upload the PDF of the actual journal article to your own website along with some canned language they require you to use. (Check out the paragraph that begins “Author Posting” on my web page here for an example.)
(2) You have a right to post on a public repository (and on all the public repositories) a PDF of your own creation of an “author’s version” of the article—say, the final Word doc that you submitted for publication.
Get your work out there. Take control of it. Make it available. Then, once it is all out there, write your article remix and link it to the downloads.
IV. What’s the Point
After thinking about #articleremix and repositories and the meaning of academic publishing this afternoon, it seems to me that my doctoral program did a really great job training me to be an expert in an area of study—but not a really great job training me to share this expertise with the world outside of academia.
And if we experts can’t share our expertise, then what’s the point of being experts?
Currently, writing for more public fora, such as smart online venues, is satisfying my need to investigate and put those investigations into words. But—if I can find meaning in academic work beyond the silly hope I used to hold for a tenure-track job, then perhaps I can bring myself to publish again.
After all, as Sarah K. writes at the end of her Vitae article, scholarship for the purpose of gaining an academic job—one you may likely never get, given the odds—means that all of your scholarly work might leave you feeling empty (as I have felt). But:
When you orient your scholarship toward its obvious yet overlooked purpose—furthering human knowledge—its value does not need to be determined by others, because the value lies in the work itself. This is what counts.