Publish or perish: The myth and reality of academic publishing


Post written by Icy Lee based on an article in the latest issue of Language Teaching

While writing for scholarly publications is considered a crucial dimension of academic work, the ‘publish-or-perish’ system in our field has increasingly caused anxiety and induced stress among not only young academics but also more established scholars. The publish-or-perish sentiment has bred cynicism about the purposes of academia and is increasingly criticised because it shifts emphasis away from teaching. Instead of arguing for or against ‘publish or perish’, or the place of research as opposed to teaching, in this talk I focus on academic publishing itself, examine the problems associated with publishing in the publish-or-perish system, revisit what it means to publish in the system, and propose some coping strategies to survive ‘publish or perish’.

Using my own publishing experience as a point of departure, I challenge the assumption that knowledge contribution should be solely or mainly gauged on the basis of the venue of publications. By comparing the perspectives of twelve Asia-based scholars based on data collected from email interviews, I propose that ‘scholarliness’ should be defined by knowledge dissemination and advancement in our field, rather than indexes or journal impact factors.  Although academia is dominated by the publish-or-perish sentiment, and in spite of universities’ requirements about publishing, my own experience and my informants’ views strengthen my belief that we don’t just publish to keep our jobs, but to become contributing members of the academic/research community, to advance knowledge in the field, to gain personal satisfaction, and to make a difference. We don’t publish just for university administrators but for the benefit of the research academic/educational community. While we may be obliged to publish in certain journals, we should be aware of the need to view scholarship broadly and cherish the possibility of publishing work of different types, such as full-length research articles, practically-oriented papers, research in progress, book reviews, issues in forum/responses to previously published articles, book chapters and conference proceedings. We should also believe that quality work can appear in all kinds of journals (SSCI-listed and otherwise), and the most important thing about publishing is that our work can open up new frontiers and bring improvement to teaching and learning.

Instead of ‘publish or perish’, we academics should persist and publish, and publish to accomplish – to create knowledge, or to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions. If ‘publish or perish’ could be replaced with a more positive mantra like ‘publish to accomplish’, and if publishing could be rewarded for its own sake and publications evaluated for their own worth, academic publishing would become a much more rewarding, fulfilling and productive experience for all concerned.

Read the full article ‘Publish or perish: The myth and reality of academic publishing‘ here

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