September 14, 2013

Blogging about our profession

Follow-up on my previous post

I’m shooting off another quick blog post while my two boys nap.

I’m a little surprised by the amount of positive feedback I have received on my blog post about the multi-year process of getting my paper published at International Studies Quarterly.  Lots of people on twitter have been very supportive.  Many scholars have very similar stories.

Nothing fancy here.  I just documented my experience with a single paper.  It wasn’t my worst experience, but far from my best.  I hated the outcome (years of waiting for publication) but I felt that the process was fair.  Editors and reviewers gave me a fair shake at every turn.  i eventually got the paper published in a very good journal.

I made the mistake of checking out political science rumors to see if there was any talk of my post.

Let me be honest.  I do read the rumor blog (I’ve mention this on my blog previously), but I am pretty embarrassed to admit it.  It is like tabloid filled with very little news and some really lame attempts at sensationalism.  I stopped taking it seriously when I was on a search at WashU many years ago and most of the facts posted about the search were wrong.  I started hating it when anonymous posters started attacking faculty and graduate students for their publication records and discussing their personal lives.  Believe it or not, I do not post there.   

I’m always a little disappointed that my posts on research get a lot less attention than posts on the job market, job talks, or publication process.  But this is probably a function of both having a lot wider audience and having less completion.  There are tons of great posts out their on interesting research projects, but not a lot of posts on the discipline.

I’m probably not the best person to be providing insights on our discipline.  I have mostly fumbled through my career, doing my best to do good research, be a good teacher, and provding service to my university and the discipline.  I don’t have especially strong opinions on most aspects of our profession, but I do have years of experience on search committees, APSA and MPSA section organizers, author and reviewer.  So I might as well embrace my role of at least providing some details on my own experience.

So I will take a quick stab at filling in a few more details from my previous post.  I had a paper that I started many, many years ago that was just published in ISQ yesterday.  Some more facts about the paper.

  • I am a tenured faculty member now, but I started this project midway on my tenure clock.  I thought that I would have three papers using this data and a grant prior to tenure.  This is my only paper that came out of that project.
  • Someone on the rumor blog asked about how much the paper changed over time.  To be honest, I don't really remember.  I’ve published around 25 papers, each of them going to an average of 3 journals.  I’m sure I have at least 7-8 papers that died in the review process and quite a few in the pipeline.  I’d say I’ve made 100+ submissions in a little over 10 years.  I don’t really keep good records on the previous submissions, so I don’t know the exact changes.  What I do know is that more core result was the same throughout the process, but my framing, literature review, and robustness tests changed substantially over time.  This paper definitely got better through the review process.
  • I had a sense that this was a high risk project, but I didn’t think too much about it.  I definitely wouldn't have guessed that I would get one paper out of this project after all of these years.  (Chris Blattman has a nice post on risky field experiments that is relevant to this point.)
  • This study uses confidential data.  I archieved that data at the Bureau of Economic Analysis and have full replication materials there. But only a handful of people have access to this.  Many journal and NSF reviewers were very hostile to using confidential data.  This was probably the most unique part of my experience.  I have mixed feelings on the use of confidential data.
  • As far as I can remember, the core results didn’t change much and I was always using the same data.  But what was stunning to me is how much reviewer tone changed based on my framing of the paper.  A friend of mine says that most reviewers make up their minds in the first five pages of a manuscript.  I don’t know if that is true in general, but it certainly felt like it with this paper.
  • I made a lot of mistakes with this project.  I didn’t have a very clear testable theory, and made the classic mistake of presenting regression after regression which actually muddled my contribution.  This was far from a perfect paper when it started the review process so I should be clear that much of the blame for this delay is on my shoulders.

This is what I can remember from this project.  I have a companion paper that I actually scrapped for a number of reasons.  When to quit a project might make a good blog post as well.

I'm not sure of what to make about the lack of blog posts about personal experiences in the profession.  There certainly are scholars willing to post their exeriences, but there seems to be a real undersupply of factual information.  It could be that many of us are embarrssed by these experiences.  It could also be that most of the attention that comes from these sorts of posts isn't good.  Being famous for a blog post is probably one of the worst professional outcomes.  

My kid nap window is closing and I have to get back to a bunch of work emails.  Here is a quick set of links on my previous posts of our discipline.  

Brands and Fads in Academia

The Stability of  US News Graduate Student Rankings

My Experience with Big(ish) Data

Posts on academic job talks here, here and here

Failed Research Log

Reviewing Articles, Lots of Articles

The Academic Job Market here, here, here, here and here


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