Finding Meaning in Scholarship

Why one's work matters.


February 22, 2016

Two recent news stories caused me to reflect on my scholarship and how much my work matters. First was  a ranking of the top 100 Philippine authors in terms of citation under Google Scholar, which yielded a handful of names among my Political Science colleagues, many of them have published works since the 1990s. Second was a recent memorandum about the new Professorial Chair my University is instituting, which contained draft evaluation guidelines for publication productivity. The guidelines included measures such as “number of citations from Google Scholar— at least 100 to get the minimum points” and pro-rated measure for ISI publication depending on the “journal impact factor.” Like many others who have until this point not really paid attention to these things, I did check my Google Scholar citation metrics, only to find out that I am still way below my University’s benchmark. I have also only been published in journals whose impact factor is less than 1.

I have never felt so humbled. Here I was, slaving away applying for research grants, writing articles/book chapters, finding collaborators, yet all my efforts seem to pale in comparison to colleagues in the natural and physical sciences for which “publication,” in the manner imagined by Google Scholar, is hard-wired to their disciplines. Although I consider myself a prolific academic in terms of publication, my dream of getting a Scientist 3 (I am a Scientist 1 right now) remains elusive, as I am unable to get points under the citation metrics nor could I ever expect to be “invited as plenary speaker in a professional conference”. In Political Science, only well-established (and old-time) scholars get to be given this honour, or those who represent an agency which funded the conference. It’s sad, and frankly tiring, to think that my best wouldn’t ever be good enough if this is all there is to being an academic.

But news from my social media circle about colleagues who are doing things differently are pulling me out of the doldrums. One colleague was a petitioner to a disqualification case against a Presidential candidate, and singlehandedly prepared and delivered oral arguments before our Supreme Court (an impressive feat as he is NOT a lawyer). Another colleague organised a pool of experts to inject sense and issue-based discussion on electoral issues in our print and broadcast media. Another has taken gender mainstreaming into our government to new levels— flying from end to end of the Philippines, undertaking workshops to make sure every agency takes women’s issues to heart. They are passionate, driven and unafraid to confront power. They live their politics; their work touches the lives of ordinary people in ways that are not captured by Google Scholar.

I was once at a crossroads at 32 years old, fresh from my Ph.D. I chose a research and publication track, treating public service as an add-on rather than something integral to finding meaning in what I do. Now at my career peak, I am disappointed to realise that I am not as fulfilled as my 3 other colleagues, but lack the courage to turnaround and remake myself. I hope that my younger colleagues will not have to choose one over the other, and can discover meaning in their careers and be happy about it.


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