9th March 2010: ERA Strategies for ‘Disappeared’ Academic Publication Records

Two separate meetings on career directions: Where do you want to be in 3-to-5 years? What actions can you take to move toward these goals?

 

Collaborator Ben Eltham has written a piece on how the 2010 final rankings for Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) has affected his academic publishing record: ‘When Your Publication Record Disappears’. A title reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails‘ song ‘The Day The Whole World Went Away.’

 

For the past year I have been dealing, professionally, with issues that Ben raises.Whilst outside academia, journal publications are often viewed as irrelevant, they are crucial to the academic promotions game, and to getting external competitive grants. A personal view:

ERA is the Rudd Government’s evaluation framework for research excellence, developed by the Australian Research Council, to include a ranked list of academic journals and discipline-specific conferences. The ARC released the final ranked list in February 2010. It may be revised and updated in the future, but not this year.

 

The ARC’s goal for this ranked list was to ensure it was comprehensive, peer-reviewed,
would stand up to international scrutiny, and would provide guidance to administrators, managers and researchers on quality research outputs.

 

In the near-term ERA’s 2010 final rankings will require adjustments to our academic publication records. Some of the journals we have published in such as M/C were revised down or excluded, probably because of perceived issues with their peer review process. More starkly, ERA’s guidelines for academic publications filters out most of my writings over the past 15 years: magazines and journals that no longer exist (21C, Artbyte), websites (Disinformation), magazine articles with original research (Desktop, Marketing, Internet.au), unrefereed conference papers, technical reports, and contract research. It also does not usually include textbooks, research monographs, and working papers. The ‘disappearance’ effect that Ben describes also happens elsewhere: when Disinformation upgraded its site to new servers, we sometimes lost several articles during the transition that writers had no back-ups of.

Others are in a tougher position: mid-career academics who have taught and not published or applied for external competitive grants, or who understandably focussed on quantity of articles for DEST points rather than ERA’s focus on quality ranked journals and ‘field of research’ codes. ERA has caused a dramatic re-evaluation for some mid-career and senior academics of their publication record, impact factors, and other esteem measures.

 

In response to Ben’s piece, I mentioned the following possible strategies:

 

1. Know your University’s policy and procedure on ‘research active’ status and how it is calculated. There may be variations of this at Faculty and School level. Once you finish your PhD and have Early Career Researcher status for the next 5 years, focus on building your publication record, internal grants as a rehearsal for external grants, forming a collaborative team, and establishing networks to have industry and government partners. The ARC does not want ERA to be used for academic performance reviews, but this is likely to happen.

 

2. Send in all relevant research outputs to your University’s annual HERDC data collection. Although there is usually at least 12 months delay in this, HERDC outputs mean you contribute to the block grant funding that your University can get for research. Some of this is usually passed on to individual researchers for School and Faculty level research accounts. Where you can, include citation data using ISI Web of Knowledge or Scopus.

 

3. Develop a ‘program of research’ with a 3-to-5 year time-frame. The ‘program’ should encompass multiple projects, collaborations, and creative work or research outputs. This helps the post-PhD transition to ECR status, and ensures you don’t try to put everything into one or two journal articles. One challenge is to first conceptualise what this ‘program of research’ might be, and then translating it into ‘field of research’ codes that are used as institutional metadata. A second is to be able to articulate to others how your approach differs from others in the field; what your distinctive, significant and original contributions may be; and how you will achieve your goals, on-budget, and within the specified time-frame.

 

4. Scholarly published books, i.e. by academic publishers, are counted for both ERA and HERDC data collection. The problem Ben notes for history academics is also a problem for political scientists, who may publish in top journals, but whose life-work usually goes into a major book for Cambridge, Princeton, Routledge, Georgetown, Harvard, Yale, or a similar academic publisher. The ARC does not have a list of academic publishers.

 

A second problem:

 

The ‘research active’ policies and procedures at many universities give a book the same points as two or three articles published in an A* or A-level journal. This points system seriously underestimates the work involved to conceptualise and write the book, and then to get it through the publisher’s development editing process. So, as an incentives scheme it may have subtle and unanticipated effects on knowledge creation.

 

5. Get your research outputs into your University’s institutional repository. This may be run by IT ServicesĀ or Library staff. The repository may have different policies and scope of what it will accept: I have publications at both Victoria and Swinburne universities, and each
institution is slightly different. Take the time to include the relevant metadata for each submission, especially the 4-to-6 digit ‘field of research’ codes. Keep the last version of the article you submitted to an academic journal, because due to publisher copyright and intellectual property contracts, often this is the only version that an institutional repository can publish.

6. Archive your ‘primary’ research and develop a stream of publications. Ben probably approached his excellent Meanjinwork with the mindset of a journalist and long-form essayist. He did 20 interviews for one piece. This is more work than goes into many articles for B- and C-level journals, and even for some A-level ones. He could easily reuse and revisit this ‘primary’ research, for the next three or four years in academia. For example, a paper that reviews current frameworks to identify a knowledge gap or research problem, could then lead to a methodology paper, then to comparative case studies, and then to an evaluation or meta-analysis study.

3rd March 2010: Market St Dumplings

‘Pair of hands’ work continues.

Subjects during tonight’s dumpling dinner at Market St with Ben Eltham and partner Sarah-Jane Woulahan: how Everett M. Rogersdiffusion of innovation theory can be applied to customer demand for dumplings; Pavement‘s much-anticipated set at the 2010 Golden Plains Festival; what qualities empower an office space to support a team’s creativity; if underground emo band Forlorn Gaze would do a hospital tour like Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968); how Ben manages to keep up-to-date on current issues for Crikey and New Matilda; and current projects. Thanks, Ben and SJ, for dinner.

2nd March 2010: Fool’s Gold

‘Pair of hands’ editing and budget development on a research tender.

Finished reading Gillian Tett‘s book Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets, and Unleashed a Catastrophe (New York: The Free Press, 2009). Tett’s social anthropology perspective highlights the role of securitisation and financial innovation in the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Most of her sources appear to be a J.P. Morgan cohort, interviews with J.P. Morgan Chase chief executive officer Jamie Dimon, and industry conferences such as the European Securitisation Forum. Tett believes the J.P. Morgan cohort pioneered collateralised debt obligations in the mid-1990s and that this ‘super-senior debt’ had a pivotal role in the crisis. Fool’s Gold is most interesting when Tett describes the cohort’s original goals and the CDO innovation-to-market process; although Dimon is also portrayed as a savvy corporate philosopher and details-oriented manager.

In response to a Geert Lovink post on blind peer review in academia, Barry Saunders and academic friends tweet this process in an open ecosystem. My take? Many authors will already know who their critics are if there are clear personal agendas rather than constructive suggestions on how to improve an article. Look at the list of associate editors when applying to a ‘target’ journal as they will probably review your work. There are ways to handle ‘rejoinder’ processes – such as to show the internal inconsistencies between positive and negative reviewers. Many academic journals now use a hybrid approach.

In November, Ben Eltham and I wrote a conference paper and presentation on Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis. It’s been read by Australia’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and been heavily downloaded. Today, Ben received news that University of East London senior lecturer Terri Senft has used our paper in her coursework on digital media culture here. Check out Terri’s personal site, LinkedIn profile, and LiveJournal blog.

Academic Publications 2009

Burns, Alex & Eltham, Ben (2009). ‘Twitter Free Iran: An Evaluation
of Twitter’s Role in Public Diplomacy and Information Operations in
Iran’s 2009 Election Crisis’
. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong,
Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum
2009
. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 298-310 [PDF pp. 322-334]. Presentation slides here.

Social media platforms such as Twitter pose new challenges for
decision-makers in an international crisis. We examine Twitter’s role
during Iran’s 2009 election crisis using a comparative analysis of
Twitter investors, US State Department diplomats, citizen activists and
Iranian protesters and paramilitary forces. We code for key events
during the election’s aftermath from 12 June to 5 August 2009, and
evaluate Twitter. Foreign policy, international political economy and
historical sociology frameworks provide a deeper context of how Twitter
was used by different users for defensive information operations and
public diplomacy. Those who believe Twitter and other social network
technologies will enable ordinary people to seize power from repressive
regimes should consider the fate of Iran’s protesters, some of whom
paid for their enthusiastic adoption of Twitter with their lives.

Burns, Alex & Saunders, Barry (2009). ‘Journalists as Investigators
and ‘Quality Media’ Reputation’
. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong,
Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum
2009
. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 281-297 [PDF pp. 305-321]. Presentation slides here.

The current ‘future of journalism’ debates focus on the crossover (or
lack thereof) of mainstream journalism practices and citizen
journalism, the ‘democratisation’ of journalism, and the ‘crisis in
innovation’ around the ‘death of newspapers’. This paper analyses a
cohort of 20 investigative journalists to understand their skills sets,
training and practices, notably where higher order research skills are
adapted from intelligence, forensic accounting, computer programming,
and law enforcement. We identify areas where different levels of
infrastructure and support are necessary within media institutions, and
suggest how investigative journalism enhances the reputation of
‘quality media’ outlets.


A 2008 academic publication that made the Top 25 downloaded papers of the past year on Victoria University’s institutional repository:

Floyd, Josh, Burns, Alex and Ramos, Jose (2008). A Challenging Conversation on Integral Futures: Embodied Foresight & Trialogues. Journal of Futures Studies, 13(2), 69-86.

Practitioner reflection is vital for knowledge frameworks such as Ken
Wilber’s Integral perspective. Richard Slaughter, Joseph Voros and
others have combined Wilber’s perspective and Futures Studies to create
Integral Futures as a new stance. This paper develops Embodied
Foresight as a new approach about the development of new Integral
Futures methodologies (or meta-methodologies) and practitioners, with a
heightened sensitivity to ethics and specific, local contexts. Three
practitioners conduct a ‘trialogue’ – a three-way deep dialogue – to
discuss issues of theory generation, practitioner development,
meta-methodologies, institutional limits, knowledge systems, and
archetypal pathologies. Personal experiences within the Futures Studies
and Integral communities, and in other initiatory and wisdom traditions
are explored.