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How to survive the academic marketplace

/ 12:04 AM November 20, 2014

At a recent international conference on translation studies hosted by the University of the Philippines Diliman, I posed a question to Karina Bolasco, founder of publishing firm Anvil, whether it would also venture into online academic journals like Taylor and Francis, a trade books publisher based in the United Kingdom. I considered it an innocuous query until I belatedly linked it to a conversation with a colleague concerning the announcement of the university where I teach that it would also evaluate part-time instructors based on research output. My colleague grimaced at such a huge imposition since scouting for a qualified applicant would definitely present a challenge. I chuckled in agreement that we’re reaching for the stars.

On hindsight, the question actually implies a tacit uncertainty about the future of younger academics who seriously pursue a tenure track. How do we survive the demands of professionalization and the business model adapted by universities? When I began graduate studies 13 years ago, I could boast to be the youngest in my class. If there were a departmental version of Guinness, I could have maintained the record until graduation. This year I wrote a recommendation letter for a fresh graduate who decided to study full time in a master’s program. On Saturdays I get to see former students scurrying to their graduate seminars.

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Younger faces have become a prevalent sight in graduate schools. Before, one would occasionally hear a classmate rant on the combined pressures of mothering, teaching and studying. Today a working mom’s cohorts comprise single, fresh graduates enrolled full load. Back then, a graduate degree was an afterthought among those who envisioned themselves as teachers. I know someone who finished her PhD three months before her retirement. Not anymore.

As universities embrace the business model of free market economy, the dictum “publish or perish” hits a home run. A few years ago I passed by UP’s Department of English and read a job post specifying a research track record as qualification. It wouldn’t have surprised me if UP demanded a tough requirement on publications for English instructors. But it was a job ad from the University of the East Caloocan. Gone were the days when one could concentrate on teaching. Today an academic needs to consider publishing seriously.

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A graduate degree and publication requirements grip an academic by the neck. For younger entrants, the university’s star system creates a Catch-22: visibility—and promotion—depends on citations, but one’s articles can’t be cited unless they’re visible. Here are some tips to increase publications while pursuing graduate studies:

  1. Transform seminar papers into conference papers or journal articles. It’s hitting two—or three—birds with one stone. Scour conferences and journals that may potentially accept your paper. Study the aims and scope, author’s guidelines, and sample articles. Then pattern your seminar paper on journal requirements. Prof. Priscelina Patajo-Legasto used to ask us on the first day of class: “What’s your problematique?” That blunt question helped me write papers that I turned into published articles and conference papers.
  1. Master the art of abstract writing. Perfect it and no conference would reject you. Despite disciplinal differences between the sciences and humanities, any well-crafted, 200-word abstract answers most of these questions: Does the article demonstrate knowledge of the literature? Does it fill any gap in the debate? Is the statement of the problem succinctly phrased? What methodology was used? What is the conclusion? What is the significance of the study? Then add three or four keywords below your abstract.
  1. Go open-access. As a greenhorn, you have accessibility of your publications as your primary concern. Dispel the ridiculous notion that open-access journals are substandard because they don’t charge subscriptions. My first article appeared in an open-access UK journal after it survived meticulous comments from dedicated reviewers. Once you get the knack of academic writing, target an impact-factor journal.
  1. Take advantage of social networking sites. As a self-professed new Luddite, I never gave serious thought to creating accounts in Researchgate and Academia.edu. Both sites allow you to upload articles and conference papers. You get notified once somebody has viewed or downloaded your publications. The analytics gauges the level of interest for your topic. I created accounts barely four months ago. What led me to decide? It wasn’t academic visibility. I had my moment of conversion when life hit me smack on the head and I began thinking Heideggerian existentialism.

A mortifying confession on visibility: I get more hits from a conference paper on Andres Bonifacio delivered during his sesquicentennial. Though recently uploaded, it has outpaced my Shakespeare article published three years ago. If the paper got rejected by two journals, it doesn’t stop producing kooky, but consistent, hits. Convinced that I fill a gap on historiography, I still submitted it to a third journal. I’m waiting for response, but whatever decision it arrives at matters less to me now. It’s not that I’ve given up; the figures persuade me enough that I’ve not written in vain.

As you anticipate a shortage of teaching load in 2016, an impressive research track record may work in your favor.

 

Cyril Belvis is assistant professor of literature at De La Salle Araneta University, Malabon City.

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TAGS: Abstract Writing, Academic, Academic Journals, Academic Marketplace, Anvil, Karina Bolasco, Luddite, United Kingdom, University of the East Caloocan, university of the Philippines diliman
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