Publish or Perish?

The academic world has been plagued with this dilemma for quite some time now. Wikipedia describes it beautifully as the “pressure in academia to rapidly and continuously publish academic work to sustain or further one’s career.” Nowadays, it has become necessary to publish as frequently as possible in order to demonstrate one’s academic talent. But is that the sole goal of doing research? Shouldn’t focus be given more to quality than to quantity? These are some of the fundamental questions that the present world of academia needs to find answers to.

This mad race to publish more and more had its origins in the late 1990s. Before that, scholars would do research and publish only when the final objective had been attained. In the 80s, graduate students would publish papers only after their dissertation was over and/or when a considerable breakthrough had been made. Focus, at that time, was more on the content of the publication rather than the time it had taken to publish. But as industry and money became more involved with research, scholars started publishing their results in the midst of their research. This resulted in the first paper becoming the precursor to the second one, the second one for the third one and so on and so forth. Instead of one good paper encompassing the complete work, a plethora of papers emerged describing parts of the work done. Instead of doing “radical” improvement focus was shifted to doing “iota” improvement.

The justification that university administrators give for stressing more on publications is based on the notion that it will act as an impetus for scholars to do cutting-edge research early on in their career. However, the flip-side of this argument is that scholars in their efforts to publish more and more give less and less time to develop good research ideas. Moreover, in their efforts to publish, scholars are often forced to forsake part/whole of their teaching responsibilities resulting in a break in the knowledge transfer process which is so important in universities. The fact that getting “tenure” depends upon the number of publications does not help either.

So the question is what can be done to avoid falling in this trap. How can we do quality research and still publish at a decent rate to maintain our academic prowess? Well, an innovative approach that IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has come up with to address this issue, is to split publications into two parts – conferences and journals. Conferences are more in number and easier to publish; Journals are much less in number and therefore, more difficult to get published in. However, getting a journal publication is considered much more creditable than having a conference paper. Thus, those scholars who want to publish more can do so in the form of conferences whereas those who want to do high-quality research have the option of getting their work accepted in a journal. This creates a win-win situation where both the individual, in particular, as well as the academic world, at large, is benefited. I, personally, feel that this is a great idea and that more and more disciplines should follow this tactic to ease the load on their respective scholars.

Spare the rod, spoil the child?

While recently talking with a colleague who has two small kids, regarding the primary education system in the US, I was surprised to know that there exists a law here which states that parents/teachers cannot “touch” their children/students. Now, I am not in favor of physical punishment here but I do feel that sometimes it does become necessary to enforce discipline on a child, if only for his/her own good.

I was born and brought up in India. There, I was spanked countless number of times by my parents and teachers, till, if my memory goes right, as high as middle school. Now, although it wasn’t a very pleasant experience at that time, I realized later that they did what they did for my own betterment. Through them, I learnt some lessons regarding life and how it works which I might not have learnt otherwise. But then, I come over here and find out that if a parent/teacher so much as harshly scolds a child, he/she is liable to get arrested and even jailed. I really don’t get it! In such a scenario, how can parents/teachers inculcate virtues in their kids?

When I brought this topic up with my colleague, he stated that this law was in place to prevent children from getting manhandled by step-parents/guardians; that children were becoming victims of broken homes and that this law had resulted in them having a much “freer” childhood than what it would have been otherwise. But I have a question to ask. By doing so, aren’t we exchanging their happiness in childhood with sadness in adult life? By sparing the rod earlier on in their lives, aren’t we spoiling them in the long run? Isn’t there a better approach towards this problem?

I personally feel that it is the duty of the parents/teachers to make the child distinguish right from wrong and some amount of freedom should be given to them in this regard. There is a difference between abuse and discipline and although one should definitely prevent the former, one should also definitely support the latter. I believe that workshops and seminars with parents/teachers/guardians which make them more aware of their responsibilities is a much better solution to this problem than a blanket law that ties their hands behind their backs. It is because every child is unique that it should be left to the “responsible” grown-ups to handle them differently.