Publish or Perish!!!

The academic world has been plagued with this dilemma for quite some time now. Wikipedia describes it as the “pressure in academia to rapidly and continuously publish academic work to sustain or further one’s career” [1]. Nowadays, it has become necessary to publish more and more papers 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 publish only when the final objective of the research had been attained. In the 1980s, 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 it. But as industry and money became more involved with research, scholars started publishing their results while the work was in progress. This resulted in the first paper becoming the precursor to the second, the second paper for the third, and so on and so forth; i.e. instead of one good paper encompassing the complete work, a plethora of papers emerged describing sections of the work done. Instead of doing “radical” improvement focus was shifted to doing “iota” improvement.

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

So the question to be answered is – what can be done to avoid falling in this trap? How can we do quality research and still publish (at a decent pace) to maintain our academic prowess? Well, one innovative approach that IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) [2] uses to address this issue is to split publications into two groups – conferences and journals. Conferences are more in number and easier to publish in; Journals are much less in number and are much more difficult to publish 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 conference papers whereas those who want to do high-quality research have the option of getting their work accepted in a journal. Another option that is becoming very popular is “Open Access”. Wikipedia describes it as the “practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles” [3]. Through Open Access, scholars can attain a higher citation index for their paper as well as disseminate their work more easily to the general public. It is believed that by making more people familiar with one’s work, researchers (especially tenure-track faculty) can increase their funding opportunities considerably.

To conclude, these options are creating a win-win situation where both the individual, in particular, as well as the academic world, at large, is benefited. I feel that separating publications into conferences and journals as well as Open Access are great ideas and that more and more disciplines/institutes should follow these tactics to ease the load on their respective scholars/members.





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