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PhD research

Expected to research, but paid to publish

Image from _StaR-DusT_ (Flickr)

What’s more important, producing many low quality publications, or only a few high quality ones? I’m sure most people would agree that it’s the latter, and yet I’m expected to put out 3 publications in every 2 year cycle.

That doesn’t give me much time to plan a very rigorous study (or studies), implement it, evaluate it, write it up, get it reviewed and finally, to get it published. If I want to collaborate with anyone, its even harder. Earlier this week I read this post by @thesiswhisperer in which she mentions how the “…urge to write is driven by an interest in career maintenance – pure and simple”. That’s kind of how it feels for me right now. I know that if I want to progress, I need to produce.

On the other hand, I think that as a novice author / researcher / academic, I should be spending more time learning how to do good research, and be under less pressure to produce. Increasing the number of publications required to establish oneself in the field is a trend that sends a message to young academics that being prolific is more important than being prodigious (Mehlenbacher, 2010).

My question is this: do I strategically plan my academic career based on how many articles I can get out the door, or do I focus on producing fewer papers which add something meaningful to the field? I know what the answer should be, but it just doesn’t seem practical right now. There’s always going to be the tension between “quality vs. quantity(links to PDF, via Thesis Whisperer), but at the moment it feels like it has to be an either /or proposition.

Note: the title of this post was taken and modified from the PDF presentation by Dr. Ted Brown that I link to above.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.

2 replies on “Expected to research, but paid to publish”

Hi Rachael. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, especially about the need to publish formally. Obviously I believe that informal dissemination of research findings has many advantages over the traditional route. But I also understand that the system is designed one way, and that systems are hard to change. My institution receives funding from the Department of Education based on my publications in accredited journals. It’s not in the institutions best interest to encourage informal publication of research. My approach would be to encourage journals to open up access to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. A while ago I asked our national physiotherapy journal to go open and you can see the response from Megan Smith (then president of the Society) in the comments. I think that things will change but we need to realise that it’s not going to happen overnight. This is guerrilla warfare, not a shock and awe campaign 🙂

It would help if the time between completing research and publication was reduced, this seems to be an ongoing barrier to timely publication. But then I might also raise the question, why the need to publish in such formally rigorous publications that the end user can’t access anyway? There are easier publishing processes that enable better access for the end user, we just need to change the attitudes of the people that place the pressures on the researchers….

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