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May 29, 2019

Mentioned in Dispatches: Exchanges at Monash

Raqib & RoyGreat to hear last week about a workshop co-facilitated this month by one of my editorial board 'down under', Roy Rozario. The event aimed at early-career and postgraduate researchers centred around successful academic publishing in books and journals, with a keynote from Dr Raqib Chowdhury. With over 150 delegates signed up, everything I've heard makes it sound like exactly the sort of event which I'd have loved to have been in the audience for myself; with the exception that I'm not due to make any appearance in Australia anytime soon [1]. More’s the pity.

I'm especially delighted to hear the event went so well, as the event was co-organised and facilitated by the industrious Roy himself. He used the opportunity to give the journal a first-rate platform to speak to an audience of engaged scholars about the benefits of publishing through Exchanges. Personally, I’ve found there’s no more productive or effective route to promote the journal to early-career researchers than speaking directly to groups of them! All in all it was a really stellar effort from Raqib and Roy, and my hat is well and truly off to them both. I've already had one or two conversations from scholars in the audience about prospective publications with Exchanges, which is a really positive outcome. Hopefully there'll be even more once people have had a chance to let the discussions sink in further.

Naturally, as I'm a month away from speaking on academic publishing to a similar crowd of early career researchers in (hopefully) sunny Prato, Italy, this session very much resonates with my own interests right now. Hence, I'm really looking forward to some interesting, insightful and perhaps challenging discussions with the delegates at the Utopian Studies conference workshop. I suspect the audience size won’t quite align with the Monash event though, although I’ll be happy to be proved wrong. Now I only need to work out how I can run a session like this here at Warwick... [2]

Crowded and buzzing seminar at Monash May 2019[1] Well, unless someone invites me out there to speak myself. Have laptop, will travel!

[2] Although, truth be told, it's a lot more fun to go and speak to audiences beyond the confines of the Coventry ring-road!


February 26, 2019

Raising Local Visibility

In the past few weeks I’ve been engaged in a bit more of marketing push for Exchanges, largely because I continue to be acutely aware that our visibility across even Warwick leaves something to be desired. I confess, I’ve held back a little bit on promoting Exchanges within Warwick, due to our desire to increasingly ‘consciously uncouple’ the journal from the original ‘local brand’, and to try and attract more manuscripts from external scholars. This has worked to a degree, and I continue to be delighted each time I receive a new submission from a scholar globally. That said, one of our core strengths has always been some truly excellent, reflexive and critical papers from our ‘local’ scholars here in Coventry. Hence, to try and refresh this awareness locally I’ve recently sent out mailshots to key people across campus, in an effort to get some of our promotional literature and call for papers in front of post-graduate and early career researchers alike. If you’re the recipient of one of our promotional packs, including free gift, do let me know if you’d like to know more.

Part of this marketing too has been engendered through meeting significant campus figures. I met last week with Sandy Sparks, a key figure in Warwick’s researcher professional development programme. Sandy’s been a supporter of Exchanges right from the very start, and I was delighted to finally get the chance in her busy schedule to talk about the current direction of the journal. I know too that Sandy’s got the ear of many senior researchers across campus, so I couldn’t wish for a better informed or gracious advocate for the title.

Further afield too, I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to meet with visiting Monash University’s International Partnerships Manager Allan Mahler. Principally we were talking about ways in which their university can help, support and recognise the contribution made by my excellent Monash editors, but the conversation diverged to ways in which Monash can do more to raise the visibility of Exchanges among their research communities. I know from personal experience in recent weeks that raising awareness even for a part-time member of staff can take a lot of time out of the available work time. For my editors, who are contributing to the journal alongside their regular studies and employment, I can only imagine how challenging it can be! That many of them still make herculean efforts to raise awareness of the title for potential authors, readers and reviewers makes me so damned proud I could glow!

We’re fortunate that Monash and Warwick, though their University Alliance, have such strong links, and I’m hopeful my discussions with Allan will bear tangible fruit as this year goes on. If nothing else, I’ve increased the awareness of the Alliance of this locus of ongoing, scholarly and impactful collaboration between our two universities. In time, I hope I’ll be able to repeat this conversation with partnership managers from our other global research partner institutions.

The question remains, will all this effort actually increase the readership, author submissions and regular reviewers? I can’t say for sure yet. I’ll certainly continue to take every opportunity I can to promote Exchanges and our vital mission to champion publication and facilitate contributions to scholarly discourse from early career and post-graduate researchers!


February 12, 2019

Effective Scholarly Communication – Workshopping the Issues for PGRs

Effective communication is at the heart of everything we do as scholars. This is was why I was delighted last week to spend three hours running a workshop entitled Effective Scholarly Communication[1] for a post-graduate researcher audience. I’m lucky, because improving my own communication has always been an intrinsic aspect of my professional life. Partly, this is because I’ve benefited from quite a varied career trajectory, having been a participative interactive storyteller since before I was a teenager[2], and in the past decade a prolific produser[3] creator of videos and podcasts. That’s before we come to my doctoral studies specialising in emerging scholarly communication practices and the few hundred articles, reviews, chapters, reports, editorials and conference papers I’ve produced during my career(s)[4]. Despite, technically, currently being an early career researcher myself, I've successfully drawn on these scholarly and performance experiences to deliver communication workshops to professionals, scholars and the public alike for many years.

Consequently, when I was invited last August to put together a session for our Research Skills Programme (RSSP)[5] here at Warwick, I felt reliably confident in attempting to create an engaging three-hour workshop in this communicative domain. Or at least I was confident, when I originally pitched the session towards the tail end of a long hot summer. Pragmatically, finding the time to redevelop and enhance some of my earlier training into a bespoke and suitably polished researcher focussed session, absorbed rather more preparation time than I initially anticipated. Given researcher training isn’t my major focus here at Warwick, understandably this was perhaps an unsurprising conclusion to have reached.

As any experienced trainer will tell you, it’s a little difficult going in cold delivering a learning event to a new community for the first time. For myself, I wasn’t 100% sure what the intended audience would want, need or desire to get out of the workshop. I knew the kinds of material I’d have welcomed during my own doctoral training journey, but as noted, I’ve the benefit of being less a more mature scholar than many PhD candidates. Ideally, it would have been useful to get a group of PGRs together for a focus group some months ahead of the session, to workshop their skills needs more precisely[6]. Nevertheless, I toyed with making the entire session hands-on, being a kinaesthetic learner myself this would have been my personal learning preference. However, I really felt the session needed fleshing out with some elements of chalk-and-talk to provide illustrative and instructive context. I decided given the constraints of available workshop time that what would work best would be to offer the delegates a schmorgesborg of topics within the realms of written, verbal, non-verbal and digital academic communication. The intention being, no matter what delegates’ interests or personal learning expectations were, that ideally there’d be satisfactory learning elements for everyone.

Access the session slides via the image below, although without my narrative they might lose a certain clarity.

2019_feb_effective_comms_session.jpg

So it was that the Effective Scholarly Communication workshop version 1.0 received its premier performance last week to a, well, slightly smaller than was optimal audience. No matter! My teaching and public performance motto has long been ‘Just play the gig!’ Which means through embracing my customary passionate and entertaining teaching performance, hopefully I provided the handful of delegates with something useful to ponder, consider and reflect upon. I do feel structurally the low turnout worked against the desired delegate interaction levels I was hoping to engender. Certainly, I had to revise on the fly a number of the workshop elements as well, to accommodate for the low numbers. I’m not entirely convinced these rejigged versions quite delivered the learning outcomes for which I was aiming. The session was designed as much for the delegates to learn from one another’s varied practice and experience, as listen to the ‘great sage on the stage’. The low numbers, I personally believe, were detrimental to some of the value delegates received from their participation, which is regretful.

Nevertheless, from the delegates’ feedback, the workshop does seem to have been a very successful activity and they benefitted from their attendance. The worked exercises and interactivity came in for particular praise, which was deeply satisfying as a good workshop stands or falls on such activities. Undoubtedly, the degree of personal attention I was able to offer the audience likely contributed to their satisfaction too.

Like many academics, I remain somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to my teaching and communicative practice, being rarely entirely satisfied with my materials and performance. I went into delivering this workshop fully aware that the original flavour, 1.0 version likely had some ‘fat’ which could have been judiciously trimmed, along with some contextual material which received insufficient prominence. Partly, this is a consequence of available preparation time, but it’s also a result of exposing the workshop to live, breathing, scholarly delegates for the first time. Hence, I’ve spent a couple of hours today looking through the delegate feedback, alongside my personal critique of the session, to identify what worked well, what didn’t, and where the session was lacking content. Good, solid, self-critical, reflexive practice in action, which will come in useful should this session be prepared for a second outing.

Naturally, the question forms in my thoughts: what next for this workshop? I’d originally planned to run the session twice within the RSSP 18/19, although I had to cancel the original November ’18 premier due to my pressing, more urgently in need of addressing, work commitments. Currently, there are no concrete plans to run the session again, although I based on the feedback I’d anticipate being asked to offer it in RSSP 19/20. That aside, I’ve had an outline approach to run the workshop (or elements) with the IAS’ Accolade training programme for our research fellows. Given the delegate numbers we get to those events, I think the challenge would be making the session coherent as I don’t think upwards of twenty delegates would make for a viable session[7].

With the training written, field-tested and subjected to a little peer review (thank you delegates!!), I’m sure evolving the next iteration will be faster, although I’ve a few more communication texts I’d like to read in preparation! Then there’s the 3.0 version and perhaps taking the show on the road to consider. Certainly, this is one workshop I’ll be able to deliver repeatedly, albeit with subtle and suitable enhancements.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the RSSP Student Careers and Skills team for their administrative support and commissioning the session. Also the netizens of the air-l@listserv.aoir.org list for sharing their insights. Finally, thanks to the PGR delegates who attended, shared, participated and engaged, I hope the session was of value!



[1] Version 2.0 may revert to Effective Academic Communication as I Scholarly Communication tends semantically to be associated with publishing, and the session was broader in scope.

[2] Live action and table-top role-player variety, in non-academic speak.

[3] Portmanteau of ‘producer’ and ‘user’ indicating someone engaged in ‘peer productive’ creative activities, as a ‘professionalised amateur’. Something community media sharing platforms have enabled.

[4] Some of which people have even read!

[6] Might be something useful to conduct for a revised version. If any PGRs would like to take part, drop me a line.

[7] Ideally around 12-16 delegates, enough for interaction, but not too many to diminish individual attention.


September 12, 2018

Peer review and critical academic writing (Day 1)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this week I’m helping to facilitate various workshops and sessions at the PLOTINA Summer School on Peer Review, although strictly speaking there’s a lot about Critical Academic Writing in there too. Today, I was providing input to an Academic Writing Boot Camp – a mildly terrifying title, which practically boiled down to a safe, focussed and supportive environment for ECRs to write while having access to expert advice. I was there to provide that ‘expert’ [1] insight, or at least as much as I can muster from within my professional editorial experience. It was a very enjoyable session, during which I spent a lot of time reading through one paper and making (hopefully) helpful editorial remarks on it. A kind of pre-peer-review review. I’ll be doing a lot more of that on Friday afternoon, where hopefully the event delegates will be bring more of their work out to share with me. I suspect, I may be challenged by how many words a minute I can read critically though!

I think, in terms of guidance for ECR writers, some of the lessons that came out repeatedly during the today’s session were:

  • Choose your journal as soon as you can.
  • It will help guide you in terms of style, layout, word limits and the like. Writing an ‘on spec’ article can be good, but it’s no use producing a 10,000 word masterpiece if your eventual publication destination only accepts articles up to 6,000 words in length. Editors can and will decline to publish submissions which don’t meet their basic requirements without them even entering peer review or considering their intellectual contents [2]. If you’re not sure if your article will be suitable for a particular title, contact the editor in chief or one of the editorial board, their contact details are normally online. They’re generally committed and encouraging scholars, who will only be too happy to offer a little bit of guidance in terms of potential suitability.
  • Word limits matter to editors and peer reviewers.
  • For online journals there is no longer any physical concern in terms of ‘page space’. This means articles technically don’t have to be limited in length, the restricting factor is the time it takes peer reviewers and editors to review and edit articles of increasing length. It’s the major reasons most journals continue to have such limitations – I’ve had more than one prospective peer reviewer contact me to check the article they were about to review wouldn’t be too long for the time they had allocated to them. Time, for us all, is a precious commodity.
  • Turning a thesis chapter into an article can be challenging.
  • The good news is, many a chapter makes for a great article. The bad news is, there’s quite a bit of work involved. To start with, an article really needs to exist as a single entity, that means you can’t rely on material that appeared ‘earlier’ in your thesis to introduce your research. Nor can you rely on work appearing ‘later’ in the thesis, although you can introduce that as ‘future/prospective work’ in any concluding remarks. Additionally, there’s a common error by ECRs of writing material in the wrong tense (e.g. this research will review…), especially when adapting text from an introductory chapter. There’s also the question again of word length as discussed above. Your chapter might be perfection itself at 12,000 words, but you probably won’t be able to use all these words. Then, finally, there’s the question of authorial tone: what reads fine in a student submission, may not ideally cut the mustard as a contribution to the scholarly literature. Writing is rewriting, remember.
  • Style matters:
  • Simply put, if you’ve not followed the style (in terms of font, layout, footnotes, location of tables & figures, citation etc) of your chosen journal, don’t be surprised if an article is declined for publication unread. Many editors are dealing with such an influx of submissions, they simply do not have the time to be bothered with trying to deal with potential articles which haven’t bothered to read and apply their guidelines. At Exchanges we’re a little more understanding, but I’ve still declined submissions which have made no attempt at all to adopt to our style. My advice is if you’re not sure about the journal you’re writing for, create a document using as simple a set of formatting as possible, to allow you to adjust the style to suit the journal. Better yet, find a target journal and see if they have a publication template you can use to write with – Exchanges does!
  • Engaging readers is key:
  • Building up aspirations and expectations in your abstract and introduction to a paper is great, and indeed is key to getting people to read on. Alongside that claim to originality and contribution to knowledge (e.g. what does this paper offer to develop scholarship, discourse, learning etc.,), there is a risk of either offering too much or too little. I’ve seen papers that make wonderful claims and get me really excited, only to discover there’s not much intellectual filling to gnaw on. Be ambitious in your intentions, but be prepared to deliver, because peer reviewers (and editors) will take a dim view on papers that don’t actually match up against their initial claims or assertions.
  • Clarity is everything:
  • Never assume your prose, narrative or explanation is clear. We all get too close to our topics at times, and fail to see where we’ve muddled an issue, obfuscated something important or simply omitted a critical topic. If possible, always get a friendly fellow scholar from a similar (but not exactly the same) discipline to give your paper a quick read before you submit as they’ll always be able to point out where they just can’t quite follow your reasoning. It’s one reason why developing a good network of peers from different disciplines is an essential skill for today’s ECR, I should add. After all, I’m afraid I don’t normally have time to review pre-submission versions of work to any depth, as I’m too busy reading actual submissions!

Now, as an ECR myself, is my work subject to any of these issues? Yes, probably every single one – I’m still learning and growing as an author myself. That’s what being a publishing academic or peer reviewer is about, being able to spot which of the common issues your own work has, and learning how to work around them to produce a more polished and scholarly piece. Good luck in your own authorial journeys, and don’t forget, that as a title dedicated to publishing ECR research, Exchanges more than most journal titles, is here to try and help new scholars develop their voices.

[1] I suspect my old English Language teacher would have died of shock through this revelation

[2] For the record, Exchanges will consider longer than standard articles, but only if you talk to me before you submit them.


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