Where Am I Supposed To Publish?

Another career whine.

Applying for academic jobs that are invariably given to people who are much older than me, I’ve come across a frustrating conundrum.

In Scandyland, it takes about seven months from the application deadline to decide who gets an academic job. This is because the selection process is guided by two or three external referees. The department doesn’t get to choose the person they want, but they can pretty much choose the referees, and so influence whether they’ll be likely to get e.g. an empiricist or a theoretician.

Now, one of the most important assets an academic can display to the referees is a large number of publications in respected journals. That I have. Particularly, I’ve published a lot in Fornvännen, an ERIH grade B quarterly with an unbroken run since 1906. I’m the journal’s managing editor.

The frustrating thing is that several of the referees I’ve had the misfortune to send stuff to have commented along the lines that “Rundkvist has published a lot of research, but much of it is in Fornvännen which he edits and so it doesn’t carry much evidential weight”. So instead of me having a lot of publications plus a high-profile editorship among my qualifications, one tends to somehow cancel the other out in the eyes of the referees.

I’m not sure whom they’re insulting here. Either they’re saying that Fornvännen is a crap journal, an assessment that the European Science Foundation does not share. Or they ‘re saying that Fornvännen is indeed a good journal, but that I’ve been slipping in contributions that are way below its standards. This second reading would actually also tend to hit the journal, since journals shouldn’t have that kind of loopholes in their content standards.

The truth is that my stuff has to pass the same kind of quality control as everything else in this internationally respected journal. I’d be eager to publish in it even if I weren’t one of its editors. It’s a quarterly with a large circulation and a regular publication schedule. Scandy archaeology only has eleven journals at ERIH grade A-B, most of them are annuals, several are faltering and most have neither a book reviews section nor a debate section. Really, where am I supposed to publish to get kudos?

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Comments

  1. #1 MartinC
    December 9, 2008

    I think you are facing the problem that you are being judged based on the unwritten rules of peer review.
    In theory this should be a completely above board process with every author having an equal chance of publishing, so long as they have the same degree of evidence. In practice, however, it is very different. There is such an incredible amount of political shenanigans involved in the peer review precess (holding up competitors papers, stealing results, asking for impossible levels of evidence before acceptance, allowing ones own or friends papers through with less strict criteria of review, etc) that its not surprising that to face such attitudes from your external reviewers. They are simply confirming that most academics deal with a peer review process that is hugely unethical in practice and don’t seem to question whether your situation is likely to be different.

  2. #2 Martin R
    December 9, 2008

    So basically, becoming editor of one of your discipline’s main journals is a bad move if you want to pursue an academic career.

  3. #3 Bruce
    December 9, 2008

    I assume as editor you have a view into the referee selections for submitted papers. Does that process include explicit controls when the submitter is an editor? That is, do the referee administrators block your view into the referee process for your papers? If that exists and is documented and followed, then you have a legitimate gripe about the discounting of your papers and editorship.

    However, if there are no controls, then it doesn’t matter that you don’t game the system at the journal, the problem is that you can. What they appear to be saying is that because you can game the system, they can’t rely on your publications as evidence of quality.

  4. #4 Henrik
    December 9, 2008

    What’s wrong with, say:
    -Antiquity
    -Acta Archaeologica
    -Norwegian Archaeological Review
    -European Journal of Archaeology
    -Skalk

    (…apart from the fact that they may be edited by evil theoreticistians (well, not Skalk, obviously!))

    As an aside, I just recieved the latest issue of Kuml [now with international readership!] which as of this (2008) issue claims in the colophon that ‘Kuml is “peer-reviewed” ‘.

    Why the scare quotes, I wonder? ;-)

  5. #5 Martin R
    December 9, 2008

    Bruce, I see what you mean, but you aren’t aware how small the field is. The referees all read the journal. They know exactly what my stuff is like. It’s not that they’re discussing this nebulous body of work that they’ve never seen.

  6. #6 Martin R
    December 9, 2008

    Henrik, Skalk is excellent but it’s a pop-sci journal. Acta lags behind schedule and doesn’t take short papers. Antiquity doesn’t take long papers or anything with too regional an import. NAR is off my radar. Hardly anybody reads EJA and those who do don’t care about Scandy stuff.

    Fornvännen is simply the best way to reach my intended audience.

  7. #7 Henrik
    December 9, 2008

    I seem to have misunderstood you.

    Your post is ‘a career whine’ in which you identified an obstacle to academic employment – publishing mainly in the very journal that you edit.

    If you published only to further your career ‘real’ readers wouldn’t matter the least bit to you.

    But what I gather from your comments is that you actually care about who will read your published papers – and consequently that you publish in order to be read.

    That’s cool with me, but I se why it might make some people suspicious.

  8. #8 ArchAsa
    December 10, 2008

    I do understand your frustration with such a narrow minded attitude, and their “critique” would be better if they stated what exactly it is in your articles that they think is sub-standard. However, I must say that no researcher today can afford to concentrate their publications to mainly one or two journals. To compete you need international publications as well, and with your field being Iron Age Sweden and methodology you should have a very good chance of writing an article that can be published in Antiquity or J o Arch. Method and Theory and so on.

    Your research area is not just of interest to Scandinavians as you well know and you have an impressive international network. Both these aspects impress referees heavily, as well as editorships. If I were you I’d be content to publish maybe reviews in Fornvännen, but send my own articles to CSA, J o Danish Arch, Antiquity and – yes – EJA. The latter is not huge, but it is peer reviewed and it is sent out to all who attend EAA or are members which is not bad. It’s not just a matter of reaching a large part of the research community, but also about reaching different parts of the community. And showing that what you write is considered quality by many different people. That is not as easily argued away by biased referees. And trust me, sometimes they do have to bite the bullet and accept that even a candidate they don’t like is the most qualified. Nor are departments able to hand pick who they want (I can mention a couple of cases in archaeology recently).

    Apart from that – life’s a b*tch. And academia is its satanic offspring.

  9. #9 Martin R
    December 10, 2008

    Thanks for your kind encouragement. In the past three years I’ve published in

    * Arkeologen
    * Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology & History
    * European Journal of Archaeology
    * Folkvett
    * Grottan
    * Meddelanden från Saltsjöbadens hembygdsförening
    * Medieval Archaeology
    * Nackaboken
    * Populär Arkeologi
    * Seed Magazine
    * Skeptic Magazine
    * Universitetsläraren

    And, of course, Fornvännen. I also have manuscripts in press in

    * Finskt Museum
    * Ortnamnssällskapets i Uppsala årsskrift
    * Årsboken Uppland

    I guess I’ll just have to wait until I’m 41 like everybody else.

  10. #10 DianaGainer
    December 10, 2008

    It’s just a thought and might not help, but have you tried the Journal of American Folklore? They sometimes include articles that have nothing whatsoever to do with either America or folklore. There are tidbits that are really anthropology or archeology from time to time that really throw me but they’re fascinating. You write very well, so I don’t think language would be a problem. Maybe even a piece on the vagaries of trying to publish in academic journals, as something on the folklore of academia, would fit in there. Hey, it’s worth a shot. They’re a bit off the wall, but they’re academic, incredible as it may seem.

  11. #11 Martin R
    December 10, 2008

    Thank you!

  12. #12 megan
    December 10, 2008

    well, as an American grad student in archaeology, I will readily admit that the only articles I’ve read in American folklore are from the 1910s and are ethnographic. So I don’t know how much that will help your archaeology career :/

    Martin, it sounds like you’re hitting the dilemma of trying to get into the field as you think it should be, not as the employers see it to be. i.e. you write for the interested public and local archaeologists, they want people who write about big ideas for each other. It may be the frustrating issue of having to play the game by their rules to get anywhere. Yuck.

  13. #13 Martin R
    December 11, 2008

    trying to get into the field as you think it should be

    Oh yes, there is a lot about my field that needs changing. Scandy archaeology’s toleration of, even reverence for, non-science and non-archaeology is a disgrace. I’ve been saying this in print since I got into grad school, which probably colours certain referees’ judgement. Put me in a position to do something about it, and heads will roll. (-;

  14. #14 megan
    December 13, 2008

    yeah. in the states too, it’s one of the toughest things about the system. it just reinvents itself, because they continue to hire based on the same sets of criteria.

  15. #15 Mary
    December 27, 2008

    good grief, i never heard of anybody in that particular catch-22. and you do have a list of other journals…i think your main problem is you have opinions and let them be known.

  16. #16 Martin R
    December 28, 2008

    Yeah… And betting on the wrong horse (too close to retirement age!) for an avuncular figure to guide me through the system.

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