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The Value of Self-Promotion

The Value of Self-Promotion

July 18, 2011

One of the biggest myths of academia is that you only have to be smart enough and have good ideas to succeed. Nothing could be further from the truth. For better or worse, the marketization of academia and the persistence of "old boys’ clubs" in universities around the world means that who you know is just as important as what you know. In one study in economics, researchers found that manuscript ratings and acceptance rates were unaffected by the gender of the author, but were affected by "mutual affiliations" of author and journal editors and co-editors.

This is one of lesser-known aspects of the academic world, because so much of your graduate school training will have been about attaining the appropriate knowledge rather than the appropriate contacts. Indeed, some professors will insist that nothing but merit counts, even if they are well aware of realities to the contrary. We believe that it is a cruel disservice to graduate students for advisers not to prepare them for the realities of academia, no matter how much they might wish things were otherwise.

When you do finally get something published (and it does happen eventually), one of the most important things that you can do is send offprints of the article or copies of the book to the senior colleagues in your field. It used to be that when you had an article appear, the journal would send you free copies of the article in its published format, but today most journals just send you a PDF of your article. You can send this .pdf as an attachment via email to your friends and other junior colleagues, but if you really want someone senior to read your work (and then possibility cite it), it is best to print it and send it as a hard copy, with a handwritten note saying something like this: "I am sending you a copy of my latest article. I found your work really helpful while writing this, and I would appreciate any ideas you might have on how to improve my arguments."

This strategy works really well if the senior colleague is someone you have cited in your bibliography, and you should be citing all of the senior people in your field, even if their work is tangential to your own. Citation is a way of demonstrating that you know your field and you know who the key thinkers are. It is amazing how often the same person will be asked to referee your work.

Rachel was annoyed with a junior faculty member at another institution who works in the same field but seldom cites Rachel’s work, or, if cited, it is only disparagingly. Rachel was asked to referee three or four papers for this young woman before tenure. This woman’s university then asked Rachel to be one of the woman’s external reviewers for tenure. Luckily for this young woman, Rachel didn’t hold a grudge. Don’t count on that.

Another way to get your work read and cited is to make sure that you keep your faculty website up-to-date, and always ask the journals in which you publish if you can "self-archive" your article, which means posting the PDFs on your own website. Some journals won’t allow you to do this with their formatted text, but you can do this with the document you submitted to them as long as you cite where and when the final article was published.

A lot of websites also allow you to upload citations to your own work so that it will be easier for other academics to find. One site is Academia.edu, which is like Facebook for academics. Others include Getcited.org, Citeulike.org in the United Kingdom, and ResearcherID.org, which is specifically for the natural sciences. The benefit of these websites is that they provide an easy way to get your articles and books listed on the web in large, searchable databases.

Some academics also have their own personal websites, but your faculty page should be sufficient as long as you keep it current and always have the latest version of your CV available for download. You also want to have a short paragraph on your research interests, so that Google will find your page if someone is looking for an expert in a particular field. Of course, the World Wide Web is constantly changing, and it is not always easy to stay on top of all of the new academic sites, but it is worth your time to make sure that your hard-won publication gets out there and read as much as possible.

This means promoting your research (and yourself) by going to conferences, giving talks, and writing grants. Writing grants is one of the most important things you can do when you are starting out on the tenure track. Even if you have plenty of internal funding, grant writing is one of the best ways to put your name in front of the senior colleagues in your discipline.

No matter what discipline you are in (yes, even those of you in the humanities), there are always grants out there for research funds, summer salaries, summer workshops, conference travel, and so on. It is great if you get the grants, but it is worthwhile even if you don’t, as long as you have written a clear and concise grant proposal that describes your current research and scholarly goals. Grant-review committees are made up of senior professors, and they often read the grant proposals of their younger colleagues with great interest. Indeed, many overworked senior faculty agree to sit on grant committees because they want to keep up with the "cutting edge" of research in their fields.

Bio

Rachel Connelly is the Bion R. Cram Professor of Economics at Bowdoin College. Kristen Ghodsee is the John S. Osterwies Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin. This essay is adapted from their new book, Professor Mommy: Finding Work-Family Balance in Academia (Rowman & Littlefield).

 

 

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