Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Publish or Perish

One of the challenges for Christian post grads and academics is academia's culture to 'Publish or Perish'. One American academic shares her experiences of this culture:
When I was in graduate school, I was taught by a number of excellent limnologists. The mental model we were given of the academic life was that of a cohort of fish, something called “young of year.” As a fish cohort, we were supposedly thrown into a lake with resources where we had to compete. The best would get more resources, work harder, grow faster, and eventually be the fittest. These would succeed and get the best academic jobs, get the best grants, and become leaders in their professional societies.

One professor declared in a seminar, “In the end, what stands is your publication record. Jobs may come and go, spouses may come and go, but at the end, what you have is your publication record.”

This astonished me at the time and does not at all reflect my worldview. Although this person was an eminent scientist whom I highly respected, I felt empowered to strongly disagree. I disagree with his statement and with the “young of year” metaphor. I am not in competition with my cohort of fish friends, trying hard to be the one with the most papers at the end of my life. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons many women drop out of the scientific world after getting their Ph.D.s is that they often do not accept that as a life goal.

- Dorothy Boorse, In Focus: Asking the Right Question: Reflections on Life Teaching at a Small College.

Instead, Boorse offers an alternative approach:

I do not look at scientific productivity as the only measure of success. Rather than asking, “Am I doing everything I thought I would do?” or “Am I doing as much in my field as other people?” I suggest we ask, “Am I contributing to the world?” and “Does my life work?” A Christian can ask, “Am I doing what I think God is calling me to do with my talents and abilities?”
Do you pray for Christians in academia, that their 'attitude would be the same as Christ Jesus...' (cf. Phil 2.5 ff).

h/t Goannatree


meredith said...

Thanks for these excerpts, Matt. Very interesting reading. I'm not sure if the culture is quite as brutal here as it is perhaps in the US, but there is certainly a temptation, now that universities here see themselves more and more as service providers trying to win clinets in an international market, to compete with american institutions and replicate their methods and cultures.

In my experience (in the humanities at Sydney), there is indeed quite a lot of pressure to publish, though a good supervisor will help you draw the line - sometimes its better to let an idea really mature, and sometimes the next big thing to work on is not an article, but the actual thesis!

But helpful to think about how a christian attitude to life, meaning, purpose etc, might impact the way researchers think about what they do.

Anna M Blanch said...

I think it is also helpful to clarify that the strong encouragement to publish begins much earlier in the graduate training process in the US. In many ways, I feel like the Australian system (being modeled largely on the UK) enables the intellectual development of the young scholar in a much more organic way - however, it would have been nice If I'd been given the nuts and bolts information earlier in the process (even at Honors level) in Australia.

That's sort of why i wrote the post discussing Boorse's take in the first place - as an attempt to reconcile my experience in the US and Australia

J said...

A better question:

are modern academics even capable of being.. authentically Christian?

Perusing the average blog of religious phonies (i.e. Faith and Theology, "Crucem", Kotzko, etc) one senses the only answer must be a resounding NO, regardless of the amount of theo-jargon and pseudo-philosophy spewed.

Matthew Moffitt said...

@J Why do you think not?

Anna M Blanch said...

@ J: I echo the question -- why not?

and calling Ben Myers et al phony reeks of hubris.

Might i ask what your definition of "authentically christian" is?

Matthew said...

Hi J,

Thanks for the drive-by comment, but since you haven't come back to justify your comment, I'm inclined to disregard your opinion of the blogs you named.