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What Is Our Worth?
July 28, 2013 - 6:40pm

A confluence of events happened last week, culminating on Friday, which has me wondering about how much we (and others) value our work, specifically our research output in various forms. First, the AHA came out with their statement supporting a longer embargo period for dissertations, with the subsequent debate. Then ProfHacker’s Adeline Koh decided to publish her dissertation, which people can read online for free, but have to pay $2.99 to download. As she so eloquently puts it:

I chose to charge a small amount ($2.99) for someone to download my full dissertation because I think that academic work is labor and author should receive some acknowledgement of this labor. I don’t get very much per download (I receive a dollar per download, I believe), but I think making a token gesture towards appreciation of that labor is not unreasonable.

Then, I read that For-Profits aren’t all that bad after all, and I was all ready to send it over to Tressie McMillan Cottom to see what she thought (and hopefully provoke a insightful and on-target blog post from her) when I remembered that she’s re-evaluating her public writing and work:

I do not have the authority of a prestigious role, office, or institution to bolster any of my claims to my intellectual labor. Therefore, I’m particularly vulnerable to my work being minimized and co-opted. It is the way of the capitalistic beast. I can rail against that and even hope to change it someday but the reality is I live and work in this construct, just as most of you do.

Both these women-scholars embrace open access and writing-in-public, but their positions reflect a very real tension in those positions and our own personal positions as early career academics: what is our work worth, both in terms of money and (for lack of a better word) prestige? How do we ensure that we are properly compensated for our work, both now and later? How do we keep from our work and our ideas from being exploited? Scholarship is supposed to be a conversation, but what happens if discussions that we initiated go on behind our backs?

I don’t have any easy answers, obviously. Last week at #DH2013, we were told to follow our passion and do what we love. As Kathi Inman Berens pointed out in her DH2013 talk, love doesn’t pay the bills and often we are forced to give up what we love in order to make ends meet. This was met with quite a bit of resistance. Adeline was also quite heavily criticized for putting a price on her work, however minimal it is (and, again, you can read it for free online, you just can’t download it). Again, it reflects, it seems, a certain distaste of demanding that we be adequately compensated for the work we do, or even compensated at all. Academics are continually undervaluing the skills we have and the value of our work and research.

I’m just a small part of this conversation (if only bringing it up in a different forum, within a different context). I am starting to increasingly do work outside of my position as an academic, and it can be quite lucrative. Some would choose to make me feel guilty for this work, criticize and question my “devotion” to my chosen profession. But I am going to continue to speak out and say, I will only be as devoted to my profession as it shows devoted to me. I’m tired of being devalued and then being made to feel worse when I bring it up. I’m also tired of worrying about money.

I’m learning my worth. But I’m also still trying to figure out how to make sure I earn what I’m worth. 

 

 

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