Tuesday, 30 October 2012

'It's a Sad End to a Great...Um...'

Medics were today called to a house in the leafy home counties to try and resuscitate a local celebrity.

Known only as '94', the once glamorous patient had recently cut a shuffling, slightly confused figure, and friends had become increasingly concerned by his apparent lack of direction.

'He used to corner people at parties,' confided one university, that wished to remain anonymous. 'He'd plead with them to be his friend, to join him. When they didn't, he'd start to rant and swear. It was frankly embarrassing'.

Lately he had been seen at bus stops in the dodgier university towns, with a can of Special Brew, shouting at the passing cars. On more than one occasion the police had to be called, and one of his fourteen remaining friends had to bail him out.

It is believed that 94 had issues around maintaining his position in society.  When passers-by started to concentrate their funding elsewhere his friends abandoned him, and his descent accelerated.

'It's a sad end to a great..um, a great...er,' said another university, eyes darting around the room. 'By the way, have you seen Russell?'


Friday, 26 October 2012

Getting Published in Journals: Notes #5


Today sees the final set of notes from last week's session on 'getting published in journals'. Slides of all the presentations, together with a full set of this week's notes, are available on the Grants Factory & ECR Network SharePoint site.

Responding to Referees Comments
Jon Williamson

Before responding to referees, you have to keep in mind what you want to achieve, namely:
·         To get published;
·         To improve your paper;
·         To defend your paper against changes that will weaken it.

The comments should be considered in light of these. Consider each of them, and decide whether making the suggested changes is crucial (i.e. the article will be rejected if you don’t), improving, or unnecessary. It may be the case that, once you receive the comments, you decide that the changes will irrevocably alter your intentions, and that you should instead try submitting it elsewhere.

In responding to the comments, you will submit three documents:
·         The altered paper itself. You should try and make all the changes suggested, if you haven’t, explain why not in the letter (below);
·         Your response, which lists the reviewers’ comments and your changes in light of them. This can be longer than the paper itself;
·         A covering letter. This provides an opportunity to talk ‘off the record’ to the editor about any review that was particularly problematic.

Additional Thoughts
Sally Sheldon

You should always take advantage of advice and help that is available, either from colleagues within your School, or in other Schools/institutions that know the field. Never submit anything without having had some reviews internal, informal feedback first.

If you are uncertain about submitting to a certain journal, contact the editor. They will be able to advise:
·         If your proposed paper will fit their journal;
·         If your article will be published in time for the REF (including, importantly, whether the journal pre-publishes on line – this counts as ‘publication’ for REF purposes);
·         During the review process, what you should do if any of the referee’s changes are difficult to meet.

Finally, don’t limit yourself to academic publications, but think more widely about how you can ‘mine’ your paper for different audiences. Whilst this might not help your academic profile, it will help you to meet the government’s impact agenda and may bring your research to the attention of important interested audiences, who might never find it in academic journals.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Getting Published in Journals: Notes #4


Today it's the fourth set of notes from last week's session on getting published in journals: Prof John Mingers from KBS.

How Articles Are Selected
John Mingers

The review process for prestigious journals is drawn out and difficult. However, if you engage with it fully, it can be productive and fruitful, leading to a better article at the end of it.

As an example of what is involved, the review process for MISQ is as follows:
·         60% of submissions are desk rejected;
·         The rest have the potential to be published. Each paper is assigned to an associate editor, who sends it to 2 or 3 referees. Their response will be slow, as they tend to be the top people with many calls on their time.
·         The referees will provide 2-3 page reports.
·         The associate editor will then provide a report and recommendation for the senior editor, who will respond to the author.
·         The author will then have to respond to the comments. His or her response should take the form of a table, showing what changes have been made.

Through this process the article should improve, but there’s a danger that it could get worse. If the referees were unclear about your research, but were willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, they may reject your article once your changes have clarified the true nature of your work.

Given the uncertainty of the process, you should consider whether it is worth submitting to a prestigious journal at all. The process is long, risky, and you may have to change the thrust of your argument. More positively, it should lead to a better paper, with more citations, be wider read, will open doors, and will act as a ‘mark of quality’ of you as an academic.

If you do decide to target a top journal, you need to work strategically:  
·         Think which journal you want to submit to first, and adapt your research or writing to fit it;
·         Keep in mind the REF criteria for research: innovative, rigorous, significant, and interesting;
·         Be aware what the journal actually publishes, not what it says it publishes;
·         Submitting to a special issue might be easier. Alternatively, journals are sometimes willing to take a chance on a ‘blue ocean paper’, i.e. one that opens up a new and interesting direction in the discipline;
·         Make sure your research is strongly grounded in the literature, that it links to ongoing debates, and that you justify your position and methods;
·         Spell out why your research and findings are important;
·         Include a strong concluding section;
·         Write for a general audience.

Practically, you should do your homework and make sure that you are writing in the ‘house style’ for the journal, that the structure of your article is the same as others in the journal, that the references are in the right format (Endnote can help with this), and that you use clear and direct English, avoiding the passive voice.

Ultimately, submitting to a top journal isn’t quick or easy, and you have to accept that you may get rejected. Everyone does at some point. However, if you really engage with the process, work hard at making the changes, it will be worth it.

Tomorrow will see the final set of notes: Prof Jon Williamson on responding to reviewers' comments.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Getting Published in Journals: Notes #3


Yesterday I provided some brief notes from Tim Strangleman's talk on 'disseminating your thesis'. Today it's the turn of Prof Rosaleen Duffy from DICE, who spoke about how to choose a journal to which to submit. 

Choosing a Journal
Rosaleen Duffy

With so much pressure on your time, you need to think carefully about what article to write, and where to submit. Ideally, you should focus on a smaller number of higher quality pieces, and try to maximise the potential influence of your work. To do this, give careful consideration about where you place your articles.
·         Does the journal reach ‘your’ audience – i.e. the people who you want to be aware of your work? Target a journal that you know addresses the debate to which you want to contribute. Alternatively, you may need to think laterally, and approach a journal outside your area that might be interested in applying the issues in your field to their own discipline.
·         Is it suited to your material and approach? For example, there is no point submitting a quantitative piece to a journal that deals predominantly in qualitative research.
·         Will it contribute positively to your REF submission?
·         Will it progress your career?
·         What is the journal’s ranking or impact factor?

In addition, you should be careful about accepting offers to contribute or collaborate. With time limited you need to select primarily those opportunities which will raise your profile and advance your career. There is no shame in turning down those that don’t:  collaborators and editors prefer ‘a quick no to a long maybe.’

Slides and full notes from the ECR Network session are available on Research Services SharePoint. Tomorrow we'll look at how articles are selected and reviewed, guided by Prof John Mingers.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Getting Published in Journals: Notes #2

Yesterday I outlined the background experience of those on the panel for the ECR Network session on 'Getting Published in Journals'. Today I'll summarise the thoughts of the first of the speakers, Prof Tim Strangleman, on 'disseminating your thesis.'

Disseminating your Thesis 
Tim Strangleman 

The work done in preparing your thesis provides a good foundation for taking the first steps in academic publication. The knowledge that you have gained gives you the background for writing book or extended reviews. These provide you with practice in writing for an audience, but also in establishing your profile and expertise. You need to be cautious in what you accept, however: there is a danger of ‘diluting’ your profile.

Whilst you can build on your thesis, you should be careful to widen your expertise. This is particularly important when it comes to recruitment: if you are seen as a one trick pony, you are less likely to be taken on.

In terms of developing a book from your thesis, this is easier now than it has been in the past. Be wary about working it up into a text book, as they aren’t as highly regarded, although text books can written so as to be more substantive and research-focussed.

Finally, think about disseminating your research more widely. Consider different media, such as blogs, films, conference papers or radio, such as Thinking Allowed, which actively seeks out interesting research.

The slides from Tim's talk are available on the Grants Factory & ECR Network SharePoint site, here.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Getting Published in Journals: Notes #1


Last week saw the second meeting of the Early Career Researcher Network. The focus was on how to get published in journals, and I'm planning to do some brief notes from all of the speakers' sessions over the course of this week. 

To kick things off, I thought it would be worth looking at who was involved in the session, and what their backgrounds are. The panel consisted of five senior academics with considerable experience of editing, and submitting to, leading journals in their fields:

Prof Sally Sheldon (Chair – KLS)

Sheldon is on the editorial board of Social and Legal Studies, Duffy is on the board of Modern African Studies, Mingers is on the board of MISQ, Strangleman is on the board of The Sociological Review 
and the Sociology Compass, and Williamson is editor of The Reasoner.

Tomorrow I'll provide some notes from the first talk in the session, Prof Tim Strangleman looking at 'Disseminating your Thesis'.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Grants Factory: Identifying an Idea


Grants Factory

Identifying an Idea: What the Funders Want

31 October 2012 2-4pm
Woolf Seminar Room 5

The next Grants Factory session will focus on how to successfully adapt and target your research to fit external funders. This might be a matter of adjusting your focus so that it aligns to the priorities of the Research Councils, or honing your proposal to make it clear that the your work addresses an urgent and important concern. The session will be led by Prof Gordon Lynch (SECL) and Prof Sally Sheldon (KLS), both of whom have had extensive experience in apply to and working for the Research Councils, and of helping colleagues in developing applications.

The event is free for all staff, and refreshments will be provided. However, do let me know if you intend to come along so that I can get a sense of numbers.

Posters and leaflets of this year's programme are now available (see below). Drop me a line if you would like a printable copy emailed to you, or you would like a hard copy sent.



Wednesday, 10 October 2012

RCUK Decent Success Rate Shock!

'100% you say? Well I'm sure
I could make my Chaucer
project fit  'Environmental Change''
Now here's a good news story that the Research Councils have been remarkably slow to crow about: success rates for most are looking surprisingly healthy. Looking at the latest published stats (RCUK has gathered links to them all here, including a broken AHRC one. *sigh* Best go direct, here), they give a lie to the current feeling that RCUK success rates have fallen so low that you may as well buy a ticket to EuroMillions. The  success rates for the five councils that have produced them for 2011-12 range from 21-41%, and average a healthy 31%.

Of course, there are a number of factors which have buoyed the figures:

  • firstly, some Councils have either introduced, or are strongly encouraging, some form of demand management. This is almost certainly the reason for EPSRC's 41% success rate.
  • secondly, other success rates are skewed by 100% success rates for some managed programmes, such as the 6 out of 6 that the AHRC's Researching Environment Change Follow Up scheme garnered. This helped the AHRC achieve an eye popping 40% success rate last year.
  • finally, many have seen application numbers drop, not necessarily because of demand management, but perhaps because applicants have become demoralised by rejection, or their attention has been diverted elsewhere, such as on the REF, or teaching , or (perish the thought!) impact activities.

I've collated the figures I can find, and the full table of application numbers and success rates can be found (for Kent staff only, I'm afraid) on our SharePoint site.

ECRs: Planning a Personal Research Strategy


The Vice Chancellor, Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, launched the University’s Early Career Researcher Network last week by reiterating how important new academics were to the long term health of a research intensive university. In front of a packed room the VC stated that the University was keen to support ECRs as they developed their careers and started to take on leadership responsibilities. Kent already provided a range of formal training courses, but this Network was the opportunity for ECRs to share their experiences, to focus on common issues, and to discuss with and learn from senior colleagues.

Prof Darren Griffin and Jenny Billings then looked at planning a personal research strategy. Their contrasting careers demonstrated that it was difficult to generalise about this, but there were common themes. Darren had had a very ‘traditional’ academic progression, from PhD, to RA, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Professor. Jenny, on the other hand, had had a career outside of academia, and was now working in a self-funded research centre.

ECRs needed to think about how they would be judged by their peers, and to plan for this. As Darren put it, ‘perception is reality’. If you are seen as the leading expert in your field, or a successful grant getter, or someone with great impact, then a virtuous circle is formed, and perceived success leads to further success. He outlined ’10 commandments for getting ahead in research’, which included taking opportunities when they presented themselves (including adapting your research interests slightly to fit with current priorities), building good relationships and allowing team members to shine, and using both failures and successes to build future research.

The group then opened up to discuss their experiences. The issue of time management was common, and Jenny made it clear that ECRs needed to be both flexible and assertive, and be willing to negotiate with others. Developing an academic career was hard work, particularly at the beginning, but being positive and persistent did pay dividends. Both Jenny and Darren encouraged ECRs to remain firm; for instance if a senior colleague said that they didn’t have much time to talk, ask them how much time they did have, and work with that. Knock on doors, and don’t be afraid of rejection.

Slides from the session are available on the Grants Factory SharePoint site, and this will be added to over time. The next ECR Network meeting will take place on 17 October, and will focus on ‘Getting Published in Journals’. It is being led by KLS, but all are welcome. If you want to come along, drop me a line.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Private Eye Lookalikes: 4* Output?

Having cut my teeth (metaphorically) on the great and the good from RCUK (for example here, here and here) I have finally reached the acme of the lookalike world. Never mind an article in Nature, there is no more prestigious publication in the lookalike discipline than Private Eye.


My life is complete. However, it does beg the question: is this a REFable output? If so, what is the impact factor of Private Eye? Is there an H index for lookalikes? How can I track my citations? Do 'likes' on Facebook count? *Sigh* Having reached this acme, I realise that all I've done is open up a world of academic angst...