Getting realistic about your endless list of writing projects

Aila Hoss is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Her research explores topics in public health law, health policy development, and the impact of federal Indian law and Tribal law on health outcomes. Her recent projects study law and policy interventions to respond to the opioid crisis. Prior to joining the faculty at IU, Aila served as a staff attorney for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP), where she worked to improve public health through the development of legal tools and the provision of legal technical assistance to state, Tribal, local, and territorial governments.

Aila completed her Bachelor of Arts at Emory University and her Juris Doctor at the University of Oregon. She is an active member of the Indiana bar. She tweets from @ailahoss.


Photo by J.J. Ying | unsplash.com

The entirety of my career in public health law has included some component of research and publishing.

This year, I hit an unfortunate milestone: my writing project list had ballooned to nearly 70 entries.

These projects ranged from articles accepted for publication and undergoing the final editing process to random ideas collected over the course of a decade. The volume of unfinished projects left me completely unable to prioritize how I should devote my writing time.

This week, I finally decided it was time to get realistic and trim the list.

Over the course of four hours, I went through each item and evaluated how much research I had conducted on the project and how much writing I had completed. I compared this investment against my research priorities and then deleted; consolidated; and prioritized them.

Here’s what I learned.

Delete What’s Not on Your Research Arc

I am doing a Visiting Assistant Professorship (VAP) and about to go on the tenure-track job market. My public health law practice, although it had a clear thread, included a hodge-podge of public health research projects because I was working at busy public health agency. Now that I am on the academic path and have a foundation of research interest and expertise, I don’t have to work on every interesting issue that comes through the door. So, I cut out ideas that weren’t on my research arc and that I hadn’t started any meaningful work on. It’s not my job to research every important issue that comes along. Read more of this post

Learning to be a co-author

Dr Katherine Firth is a Lecturer at La Trobe University. Her PhD was on collaboration in writing.

Her recent book How to Fix your Academic Writing Trouble was co-authored with Inger Mewburn and Shaun Lehmann. She has collaborated on academic books and journal articles, and is currently working on three book projects with three different teams.

Katherine manages the blog Research Degree Insiders and tweets from @katrinafee.


Co-authoring can be very different for researchers from different disciplines.

In the social sciences and the sciences, for example, co-authored articles have become the norm over the last few decades. My academic background is in English Literature, where we do not usually write collaboratively (Leane, Fletcher and Garg, 2019, Nyhan and Duke-Williams, 2014). Publishing a collaborative article or book can still be a career limiting move in the Humanities where single authorship is the norm.

Co-authoring can lead to additional disadvantage for women (in both STEM and HASS fields), for junior researchers, and researchers from developing countries, who are more likely to find that their contributions are under-recognised or devalued.

Photo by John Schnobrich | unsplash.com

As an early career researcher, I tried to keep publishing in the traditional ways, what is sometimes called ‘lone wolf’ scholarship (as in this previous Research Whisperer post ). It is pretty tough and solitary out there. You travel to the library or archives on your own, you read alone, you write alone, you edit alone. You might eventually get to work with a Research Assistant, but their intellectual contribution to the work is typically small: transcribing, fixing references, fact checking, copy editing (in other words, work that doesn’t merit co-authorship). You might go to conferences and present a paper on your work to build an audience and get feedback, but there’s a still a gap between what you present at a conference, and whether anyone actually wants to publish the finished article. Often, the only feedback you get is from peer reviewers. Read more of this post

preLights: A new way to share research?

Máté Pálfy is the Community Manager for preLights, a preprint highlighting service that was launched a year ago by the not-for-profit publisher The Company of Biologists.

Before taking up this role, Máté did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, studying gene regulation using zebrafish embryos. He is a big supporter of open science and is excited to see how preprints will shape the future of publishing. Máté tweets from @mate_palfy and you can follow preLights @preLights

The Research Whisperer was very interested to hear more about preLights because we’re always up for different ways of sharing research, and this model appears to benefit the researchers, our scholarly communities, and the research itself. That’s winning all around!

While preLights is focused on the biological sciences, the potential for its format extends much further than this area.   


preLights 1st birthday cake! Photo from Mate Palfy.

preLights 1st birthday cake! Photo from Máté Pálfy.

When I was a PhD student, one of my favourite things to do was to discuss the latest experiments and results related to my research, and exchange views on where the field was heading.

I particularly enjoyed poster sessions at conferences, where early career researchers can easily engage with more established scientists and discuss unpublished, ‘raw’ science.

In many aspects, preprints (non-reviewed versions of manuscripts deposited on a public server) can be viewed as similar to unpublished research presented at conferences and other meetings. They facilitate collaboration and open discussions about the work, but are much more transparent than conference talks or posters, as the details of the work are better documented. Given these advantages (along with a number of others, discussed here), you might think that researchers would’ve already made the public discussion of preprints part of their routine. Unfortunately, this hasn’t really been the case. Read more of this post

A call to arms for established researchers

Dr Matúš Mišík is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. His main area of expertise is energy security within the EU. He also studies the role of perceptions within the EU decision-making mechanism.

Matúš has published articles in Nature Energy, Energy, Energy Policy, Geopolitics, Czechoslovak Psychology, Journal of Popular Culture, Comparative European Politics, Asia Europe Journal and Slovak Sociological Review. He regularly writes for the leading Slovak dailies and comments on energy policy related topics in the electronic media. He has undertaken study / research trips to Norway (2006), Kazakhstan (2009), Finland (2009), the UK (2011), Austria (2012) and Canada (2015-2016). Matúš will be spending the 2018 fall semester at the Carleton University in Ottawa as a EU visiting scholar.

He tweets from @misikmatus.


Photo by Finn Hackshaw | unsplash.com

Photo by Finn Hackshaw | unsplash.com

The decision of Swedish research institutions not to renew their contract with Elsevier after 30 June 2018 is the latest instance in the “database wars”.

Several countries – with Germany in the lead – have gotten into a dispute with major publishers over the rising prices for database subscriptions, which persist despite increasing numbers of open access articles.

I think it’s up to established researchers to initiate change in the way research results are being distributed.

Several governments have already claimed that publicly funded research has to be made freely available, while some research agencies require all supported research to be published open access. For example, the European Commission’s goal is to have all research freely available right after publication by 2020 and its grant schemes require all results to be accessible to everyone without paywall.

Journals have already started to offer open access options to enable unrestricted access to published papers, which requires authors to pay a fee to cover publishers’ costs. Read more of this post

When peer review goes well – and when it doesn’t

Dr Jodie Goldney is a qualitative researcher with extensive experience working in the community services sector.

Her PhD is a critique of the scientist-practitioner, or Boulder model of pedagogy that underpins the training of psychologists in most of the Western World. Drawing on that work, Jodie created the attributional approach to recruitment and training, which screens for reflexivity and capacity to learn from experience over a static knowledge-base.

Jodie recently launched Qualitate (www.qualitate.com.au; on Twitter: @Qualitate01), which applies qualitative methodologies to the problems of industry.

She is both adjunct and sessional academic with Charles Sturt University. Jodie tweets from @jgoldn01.


Photo by eatsmilesleep | www.flickr.com/photos/45378259@N05 (Shared via CC license 2.0 - creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Photo by eatsmilesleep | http://www.flickr.com/photos/45378259@N05 (Shared via CC license 2.0 – creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

In the academic world, getting published is serious business, it can mean the difference between getting a job, and not even getting an interview.

For new PhD graduates, this need is particularly strong, with the catchphrase “publish or perish” whispered in hushed tones, as people unpack why one colleague seems able to carve out a professional path, with greater permanency than multiple sessional (and very part-time) roles across several institutions!

There is also an arguably ethical component to this expectation to publish and share one’s work. Those who’ve undertaken a doctorate have had heavy investments (in the form of time, mentorship, and financial support) from their respective academic institutions, supervisors, research participants, associated communities, and schools of study. Giving back in some way is only right.

I recently completed my PhD and, in keeping with publishing expectations, I have worked consistently to translate my thesis into scholarly, peer-reviewed articles over the last five months (among other work and family commitments). The results of this process for me so far are eight pieces at various stages of the publication process:  two in press, two in the review cycle, and four are in preparation.

Reflecting on my experiences thus far, I have been amazed by the diversity of ways that a prospective author can be treated by journals and their editors, how differently the peer-review process can occur, and what is considered as constituting academic substance. Read more of this post

Re-skilling

Rusty horse (Photo by Marcus Schwan) | flickr.com

Rusty horse (Photo by Marcus Schwan) | flickr.com

I was reminded recently of how much you need to keep exercising some skills as a scholar.

What you learn in academia isn’t like ‘riding a bike’ and there are skills that can be forgotten. In my case, I should probably confess that I don’t even know how to ride a bike so we’re talking about being way behind the 8-ball here.

The skills I’m talking about are those involved in editing a special issue journal.

The setting was as amenable as it could be for a good outcome. I was co-editing the issue with one of my best academic buddies. We had worked together on different projects before, including co-authoring a piece of writing, and we knew we could work together.

The journal was one I was very familiar with and had published with a couple of times before. It was a publication friendly to our particular focus and range of topics.

The general editor of the journal was also a good academic friend so, really, it was as collegial an environment as it could be.

I have previously edited six special issue journals, across a range of publications and with different co-editors or solo. Even so, I hadn’t edited a special issue for a few years and I felt rusty. Read more of this post

Writing the second edition

Helen KaraHelen Kara’s main interest is in research methods, which she writes about and teaches to practitioners and postgraduate students. She also self-publishes short e-books for doctoral students. She tweets at @DrHelenKara.

This post is timed to coincide with the official publication of the second edition of her first research methods book, Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide, by Policy Press. (Not that official dates mean much nowadays. The official publication date is tomorrow, but copies have been available for the last two weeks.)


A detail from the cover of the book, showing Helen's name and the words 'Second Edition'. The cover design shows different jigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together.

A detail from Helen’s new edition.

If you’ve written a textbook or monograph, you should be thinking about a second edition.

Readers who love your book can have an up-to-date version, and you can bring out a new book for a lot less work than writing an actual new book. Win-win!

I’ve just been through the process of preparing a second edition and, as so often with my writing, this is the post I wish I’d been able to read at the outset.

When I decided it might be time for a second edition, I looked around online for advice, but there wasn’t much information available. I needed some clues. My lovely editor was helpful. ‘We’re not just going to tweak a few things and slap a new cover on,’ she said (which was fine by me). She offered to ask a couple of people who had been using the book for teaching to give suggestions of changes they would like to see, which I thought was a great idea. One person sent a couple of paragraphs of comments, the other sent two and a half pages; they didn’t always agree with each other, but their feedback was usefully thought-provoking.

Then I had to do a proposal for my publisher. It’s similar to a new book proposal, and in fact I was able to copy-and-paste several sections from the original proposal in 2011, but I needed to provide a rationale for the new edition. Read more of this post