Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Printing our Digital Images, Scanned Negatives, and the Limits of the Digital.

I print out some of my digital or digitized color images using a color xerox machine. They look ok, until you get close up and realize that what you will see are the dot patterns of the screen. If I printed them out on a inkjet printer (or even at Walgreens), one that was good on photos, the deeper details would be retained. I will have to find out.

Put differently, insofar as a photograph will necessarily capture all that is within the purview of the lens and film, there is usually lots more than we attend to--details, and whatnot in the fore/background, whatever. When we make a print, we are selective but also give up lots of the detail, usually. Yet for archival purposes you want everything. Hence the archives we have of digital images, and often of scanned negatives and transparencies, are abstractions from the originals. Yes, you can get better resolution up to the Nyquist limit in a digital, but film loses its resolution more gently and may go further (albeit with weak quality) than the digital sensor or scan. None of this is new or surprising, since what we save is often such an abstraction, whether it be sound or materials or images.

One might argue that digital will become much more capable as we get more resolving sensors. I believe that will be the case. And a well scanned negative will print better than the negative itself (at least in most enlargers), since you are not demanding anything of the enlarger lens since it has been replaced, for a scan, with a lens that is typically of fine quality since it need not cover a large area. The mechanics of the scanner is also important.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tragedy and Being "Research Productive."

When tragedy strikes, what is most important is to care for yourself, and if nearby others can care a bit for you, ask. 

A friend described her situation: 

I am living my life post-mortem, and that I'm supposed to fit in the clothes and shoes, eat the food, live the life, of a person who is now dead, as if i am an imposter unable to connect with a person whose place i have taken.

The description is poignant and concrete. She is eloquent in talking about herself, with a genuine of literary and psychological insight. It may be useful try a diary or a memo about how you feel, if only to write such wonderful prose. 

People are always saying something like: just snap out of it, you'll get over it, get down to working--you'll be fine. They do not acknowledge tragedy, and wounds that won't just heal--the wounds are chronic although you do learn to live with them and go on, eventually.

I do believe it is good to read, to think, to write oneself notes about what's on your mind, future projects, etc. But real work demands a level of presence that may not be available.  In a culture of "research productive faculty," there's insufficient room for tragedy or thinking that takes time. 

That I know all of what I say here does not insulate me from believing I should be able to just produce.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rereading Some of My Earlier Books

I have no idea if this will be of wider interest, but I am recording what I have just experienced.

I have been thinking about What next? in my work. Usually, I do not reread my books once they come out, unless for another edition or some such reason. In any case, I just reread four of my books, from 1982, 1989, 2000, and 2011. (I had a much clearer sense of the contents of the 1992, 1996 (2), 2003, and 2013 books.) Each chapter of each book is a distinct essay or a study of a particular example, linked together by the Introduction and other materials.

1. I realized that most of the themes that have concerned me over the years were there, developed in some detail and elaboration, even though I did not now recall what I wrote then. Much of what I might have written about in future work was already worked out in these earlier books. (In general, to be effective in scholarship, you have to say the same thing, in different ways or with further elaborations, several times. So, what was said earlier might still be reimagined and expanded.)  
2. Moreover, I was struck by my analytic descriptions of various phenomena in planning, public policy, and design. There is a consistency in my approach (or you might call it a lack of inventiveness) to thinking about the world. Moreover, those analytic descriptions are not abstractions, per se. Rather they have particular examples and situations in mind, and I am trying to find out what is essential in those examples and situations and in related examples and situations. Analogy characterizes how I think about the world, and I even write about that mode of thinking (presumably using analogy). My descriptions are generic descriptions, using a mildly technical vocabulary, of the particular cases, in light of other cases (the analogy) and their description.
3. I tried again and again to write without polemic or taking advantage of positions with which I did not concur. For me, it was a matter of providing an adequate description, borrowing from whichever theoretical or ideological perspective that would serve my description.
4. I had forgotten how much I had been influenced by my reading of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, and books about Husserl, and how useful those authors' works were for me. When I use the term "useful," I am saying that my concern was not to faithfully present their thought, so much as to find in their thinking and writing what I needed to do my descriptions.

Right now, I have little idea how I came to think in terms of analogy and analytic description, not even sure who are my models for such work.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Having a Sense of What You are Up To

It is useful to write yourself a paragraph or two about what you are up to. You are doing some sort of research, or preparing to do such research. But that research lives in a larger environment of others' research and the policy realm. If you can see what you are doing in that larger perspective, you will have a better sense of where you might be going.

Even senior scholars benefit from such an account of what they are doing. Often, they are so productive, the larger questions are put aside to get the work done. Perhaps they will win an award or become a member of an honorary society, and their friends who are trying to have them admitted will write such an account. But I believe it is useful for the actual scholar to do so.

Over the years I have been forced to write such an account for myself, as I apply for fellowships and grants that are much less specific than are most of my colleagues' projects. I have to tell a story that makes sense of the diverse materials I have worked on, and why and how they fit into that larger context. 

My initial attempt, what I had written below in greyed italics was too compressed to be understood more widely. Let me try to extend it a bit, so that it will be understood in two ways--What does this have to do with planning and public policy? and, What are the concrete instances of this work? It totals to 174 words. Don't be concerned if you leave out some things--rather be sure that what you include is effective and a good description. 

​    Over the years, I have written about: 
        --the artificiality of the natural environment;
        --the probability of doom; 
        --how abrupt collective changes (such as neighborhood tipping) may come about through the interaction of  individuals; 
        --the ideas built into seemingly innocent mathematical techniques or physical models; 
        --how actors such as entrepreneurs and special forces in the armed services make decisions and commitments; 
        --how big decisions are made and justified (as in infrastructure investments);
        --and, in the last fifteen years, I have pursued systematic photographic documentation of Los Angeles (storefront churches, people at work in industry,...) and written about doing such documentation.

    My concern is with models or ways of thinking that might appear algebraic or quantitative, and ways of acting and thinking that are better understood in the sacred realm of commitment and sacrifice. Topically, I have been concerned with mathematical and physical models in planning and cities, the environment both natural and built, and actors and the decisions they make--each of which cuts across the quantitative/sacred divide.  [Early on, I was quite surprised that I needed to understand religious discourse and thinking if I was to do my work.]

I just wrote the above, but of course I have been saying something like it for years. My point here is that you want to see yourself in a more objective way.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Academic Roadkill. Who will bear a next generation...Parents as Professors

No one wants to become academic roadkill. Here is my contribution today to The Academic Minute. Above is a link to the actual podcast.
I have watched many a faculty member walk in front of an oncoming truck, ask, “What truck?” and become academic roadkill. You don’t want to follow their lead. Drawing from my book, The Scholar’s Survival Manual and a new book ms, …
It’s the work that counts. What is your project? What is the Big Idea? Tell a story about what you are doing. Buried in the manuscript is the main point—will a reader notice it? In the Introduction, have you presented the main idea and explained it?
Organize, Draft, Rewrite, and then Submit—first to a colleague, then to a publication venue, and perhaps then to another venue.
Quality matters, scrupulous matters, getting it out matters. Audience matter.
Teaching and Seminars are the occasion to give away the Main Idea, or to find out the spearker’s.. Find out, What is Really Going On in the speaker’s talk. You have to be an active listener.
Now, You have a job in a bureaucracy. Do what you are supposed to do, and if not find a more suitable position. Stay out of nonsense. Realize that you are at a particular stage in your career.
You will need the Kindness of Strangers, even if you have a home-run dossier at promotion and tenure time.
And, You’ll need a Go-Bag, so that if the bureaucracy is unresponsive to you, you can find another landing pad. Grants and External Support allow you to do your work, and they keep the Dean away. Do you owe them, or do they owe you?
Just because you are in a fine position, does not mean you are worthy.
And, Likely another truck is coming at You. It is already too late if you are asking, “What truck?”
I have been telling friends that the universities have yet to adequately address the fact that a next generation depends on women to have babies, and that in our society Mama not only bears the child but is likely to have to take major responsibility for bringing up baby and child. Papa may well be helpful, but in general Mama is expected to take on most of the work. My insight is not sociological but personal, having adopted a newborn on my own when I was 42 and an untenured associate professor, his having "special needs" discovered when he was 4 1/2, and his now being a gracious gentleman at age 30. The surprising outcome was that bringing up baby, so to speak, allowed me to write 8 books and plenty of articles--the focus was so essential. I did not travel much, few meetings, but was a good teacher and contributed to university service. I did attend lots of seminars with a child in tow, a child who played with LEGO during the seminar. BUT although my rank did not indicate it, when I was 42, I had published many significant articles, one book and had another in process, and had received major fellowships. And I did give up what most of us would consider a social life. I took what I could get, a job. I am the exception that proves the rule.

Here is an interview with concerning these issues. (

Q&A with authors of new book on balancing home and work life as an academic scientist

Submitted by Colleen Flaherty on December 2, 2016 - 3:00am
Much of the literature on balancing faculty and home life centers on women. There’s talk of the “baby penalty” [1] for women who choose to have children, for example.
A new book, based on five years of research involving academic scientists, sheds more light on the struggles of both men and women as they try to grow their careers and their families. Failing Families, Failing Science: Work-Family Conflict in Academic Science [2] (New York University Press) is based on the idea that work-life balance is not an issue exclusive to women -- and must be addressed with gender-neutral solutions. Failure to meet that challenge will result in a dangerous talent drain away from academic science, warn authors Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University, and Anne E. Lincoln, associate professor of sociology at Southern Methodist University.
Ecklund and Lincoln participated in a written discussion about the book.
Q: The book draws on 2,000 surveys of junior and senior scientists and in-depth interviews. Can you share a bit more about your methodology? What did you want to know, about whom?
Ecklund: We surveyed biologists and physicists at 20 top American universities in late 2008 and early 2009 and then followed up over the next few years with 150 in-depth interviews with a random sample of those who responded to the survey. We spent three years collecting data and two years analyzing data on the lives of junior and senior scientists at top U.S. research universities; through a survey of 2,503 scientists and in-depth interviews, they captured both the breadth that comes from surveying a large number of scientists and the depth that comes from face-to face discussions.
This is a book about how women and men who are scientists at the top U.S. research universities negotiate family life and how the strategies they use will change science. The inability to balance life as a scientist with life as a parent is more than a personal issue or a women’s issue. It is a structural failure resulting from the expectation that the “ideal” scientist will prioritize complete and utter devotion to career above all else.
Q: What are your major findings? How did they differ by gender?
Lincoln: When this research began, we planned to tell the story of how scientists perceive women’s achievements in science and impediments to achievement for women in science. As research often does, ours uncovered something we were not expecting. While women definitely discussed discrimination in science, we were surprised to find that both women and men mostly talked with us about work-family dynamics in science.
We find that indeed women are hit harder by the pressures of elite academic science, and there is definitely “a motherhood penalty” (we devote a chapter of our book to discussing it). But the institution of science -- and academic science, in particular -- is bad for those who want to have children or pursuits outside of their careers, bad for both men and women.
Perhaps most importantly and most consequential for universities, our five years of research reveals that early-career academic scientists struggle with balancing their work and family lives. This struggle is stopping many young scientists from pursuing positions at top research universities -- or further pursuing academic science at all -- a circumstance that comes at great cost to our national science infrastructure.
Q: Can you talk a little bit more about the challenges early-career scientists face?
Ecklund: Reaching the level of tenured faculty, the pinnacle of achievement in academia, is a more momentous task than it has ever been. Four years of undergraduate studies are followed by four to six or more years of Ph.D. work. By the time a scientist earns her doctorate, she is likely to be in her late 20s, the time in the life course when most Americans are beginning to settle down. Scientists still must undertake at least one, and increasingly multiple, postdoctoral appointments, which usually range from two to six years, and because many postdoctoral positions are dependent on grant funding, they do not offer the competitive pay, benefits or stability of private-sector jobs.
Next comes an appointment as an assistant professor, lasting five to seven years, and finally -- if successful! -- a tenured associate professor appointment. At this point, most scientists are in their late 30s or early 40s, well past the time most Americans have started raising children. The time as a tenure-track professor is perhaps the most intense and stressful in an academic life, with no specific timeline for moving from associate to full professor. In this highly competitive and lengthy process, when is the right time to start a family? Scientists in academia often feel they have to wait until they are tenured, a perception that has led to a trend of later childbearing among scientists.
Q: How does the book add to the existing literature on work-life balance in the sciences?
Lincoln: Nearly all of the literature on work-life balance in the sciences focuses on women’s experiences. That work is needed, but our work takes the tension between family life and the calling of scientific work out of its current framing as just a “woman’s problem” to talk about the experiences of both men and women. The tension of scientists balancing work and family is really a structural problem for universities and national science bodies, like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Q: What are the particular challenges that academic scientists face, as opposed to other scientists and/or faculty members in other disciplines?
Ecklund: Among all academic disciplines and all professions, scientific disciplines increasingly require longer training and more travel, core structural factors that impinge on family life. Furthermore, researchers find that, when compared with middle- and working-class occupations, the professions, such as medicine, law and banking, have been slower to accommodate workers with families -- and universities are particularly poor at accommodating family life. They’re often far behind the corporate world in providing family-friendly workplaces.
Today, academic scientists must keep multiple complex tasks going simultaneously, which might in any one day include lab management, teaching and applying for funding. At the same time, universities are providing fewer and fewer administrative supports.
Q: What are the implications of your findings for higher education? What’s at stake when academics feel they can’t find balance between work and home?
Lincoln: We are finding that some of our best and brightest will leave science.
Q: What are your recommendations for higher education? What can institutions do to help? How should science as a whole respond?
Ecklund: Universities need to follow the most family-friendly corporations. Provide child care centers that are affordable for all scientists. Provide better nonstandard child care benefits, like child care credits for when scientists need to travel for scientific work and need to take their children with them. Make leaves and stopping tenure clocks automatic upon the birth of a child. Develop checks and balances at the department level. Empower individuals to change cultures. The last chapter of our book provides extensive recommendations for universities and science departments, as well as national scientific funding bodies, like the NIH and the NSF.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Don't be a Klutz, Boor, or ...

I am told stories of administrators (deans, provosts, even presidents) who sacrifice their authority when they talk to colleagues.
1. You may not want to give your colleague a raise, but it does you no good to systematically diminish their achievements in front of them.  You might say, I will see what I can do about it, and I'll get back to you by the end of the month. We do appreciate your contributions to scholarship. Our department has become much stronger, and so the competition for salary increases has become much greater. You are surely part of that improvement.
2. You may really wish your colleague to head this major task force, but they tell you their parents are in hospital and need attention. You do not say, I am sorry to see you sacrifice your career for transient family issues. You might say, Please give this a bit further consideration. I fully understand the demands of family, but perhaps in a week or two you will find the inner strength to serve family and institution. We wish you and your family the very best.
3. A faculty member may have caused you great trouble, and have set themselves up to be dismissed. Your letter to them should be circumspect, and include no insulting remarks or personal disrespect. Rather, you might say, We regret the need to separate you from the university, given your years of faithful service, but we have no choice.

You do not have to agree with your colleague. You may have to listen to them go on knowing that they are self-centered and mistaken. What you must do, and this is part of your job, is to listen, make sympathetic remarks, indicate objective constraints you face, and say you will get back to them. And then get back to them, even if you are saying the No you might have said in the conversation--with enough kind words to make you seem both appreciative and incapable of satisfying them.

You may feel inferior, even if you do not recognize that feeling yourserlf (others surely do),  to your colleague who is so strong as a scholar, much stronger in fact than you are. You are the dean or chair, say, and you are no longer evaluated on your scholarship, but on your leadership and administrative capacity. You want to have colleagues who are much stronger than you, and you want to be responsive to their needs, if you can. You want to come from strength, and that strength may be different than their strength.

You never indulge your anger, your resentment, etc. You get paid the big bucks, this is just at your pay grade, and your job is to be responsive and sympathetic while not letting their temper tantrums and special pleading get in the way of doing the best job you can. Moreover, ask your closest friends or your spouse, Am I considerate of those who work for or with me. Do I allow myself to be impolite or insulting to those over whom I have power or who serve me. Of course, if you are inconsiderate or insulting you may well needlessly hurt colleagues and staff. But even more significantly, perhaps, your reputation as a boor or klutz will follow (or lead) you far and wide. It's a smaller world than we believe, and gossip of this sort is the currency in the scholarly world. If you are a considerate and responsive person, that too will be echoed.

Moreover, if you and your colleagues create a welcoming and supportive environment, you will find it much easier to appoint new faculty, at whatever level. That reputation will be well known, and give you an advantage that money and perks cannot buy. On the other hand, if you and your colleagues and your department or university comes to be known as a place where unfairness and "politics" dominate, that too will be widely shared. Money and perks are unlikely to compensate for that. Keep in mind, You want to appoint and retain the strongest faculty you can recruit. Nothing you say will in the end do more for your institution's reputation than the work of your colleagues. If Coca-Cola did not taste good, no amount of advertising about how Coke makes your life wonderful will work.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Contributions to Scholarship, Visibility, Salience, Citations. . .

You want your work to be seen by others, to be used in furthering their work, and take up space in the scholarly realm. You don't want just "another publication." You want your work to be seen and published in a journal of some repute. [I get all these emails from journals promising citations and publication, but they are unlikely to be strong or worthy of my or your effort.] You want others to note your name in the Table of Contents and turn to that page, especially if the title is also informative. You don't need to produce work that is insignificant or weak--it takes just as long to do a good paper as a weak one.

If you find that you are not one of the strongest scholars in your field, and by definition most of us will so find ourselves, you want to do the best work you can, find a niche where your contribution is useful and valued, and go to work. Ours is a collective enterprise, and fields move forward through a wide range of contributions.

Your work must be substantial, and you must present it so that its strengths are evident, and you take responsibility for its weaknesses or limits. In general, most papers should represent about a person-year of work, and if there are five authors it's unlikely that you can do the paper in 1/5th the time. If you have a large project, you may want to publish several papers out of it, but each should be substantial. And having papers appear in different, but strong, venues will make it likely someone interested will find out about the work. Of course, present the work ahead of time at meetings, and if you are more established you have the chance to talk about the work at various departments and so get useful criticism before you do a final draft. But early on in your career this is less likely. 

Make sure the title gives away the whole story. Cute is nice, but substantive is better. "The Market for Lemons," by Akerlof, was cute and substantive, but few of us are so inventive. Better "boring" and informative, than cute and obscure. A typical mistaken title might be, Whose Ox is Gored: A Study in Academic Committee Meetings, when the right title is, Passive Aggressive Behavior in University Committee Meetings.

You want to think in terms of contributions  to scholarship, rather than numbers of articles or pages. The latter matter, surely, but in the end, it is the contributions that make a difference. Cumulative contributions are usually needed, since no one is likely to follow up on your work at first. 

Get your advisor or mentor to help you aim high and appropriately. Good advisors or mentors want their students to do better than they have done, for to have successful students is perhaps the greatest testimony to a professor.

Making Your Papers Credible. Your Need for an Advisor or Protector. The Kindness of Strangers.

Recently, a physician-researcher I know  asked me to read over a paper, since it had trouble with the journals. The problems I found are exemplary, and worthy of note and avoiding:

1. Make your claim credible. If you have weak numbers and statistics, but have found something interesting, present it as such. 

So what I did was the following, writing a new first paragraph of the paper:

We provide tantalizing evidence that the long-term consequences of dislocation, here due to disaster, may be very different than the literature might suggest. Namely, those who are displaced and move away permanently do better than those who stay. The data are not strong statistically, the comparison group and the convenience sampling is not so rigorous as one might desire, and there is reason to believe the leavers are better educated than the stayers. No one has been able to ask this question before, with data, so in part we are writing to encourage further inquiry. We should note that the literature in city planning suggests that those who were displaced by urban renewal and the disruption of their close knit community, thrive in their new environment of suburban homes. (Herbert Gans, The Urban Villagers and The Levittowners)

Suddenly, the work is in an entirely different context. And rather than some sort of narrative about the data, I suggested a table of the information and a discussion of where the results were manifestly strong, with a proviso about statistical reliability.

That I have provided a new first paragraph for the paper and a new context is just what I do, and some other scholars might do. I had a friend who would write introductions for his students' papers, putting the work in context.  I suspect I am quite good at this (I listen for the music, and ignore the details, and so see what is going on), but surely not good enough for my own work! 

2.  You need to find an expert in your area of work to get the papers vetted before you send them out. You don't want to get rejected because your paper looks inappropriate or not a fit for the journal. [Recently, I had this happen twice--two different papers. I sent them off, one got reviewed, but the review was essentially What is this doing here? I have done this more often than is prudent, more as a way of getting something off my desk. It's stupid. I've survived, but I do not recommend following in my footsteps.]

3. More generally, your advisor or someone who takes you under their wing is essential to your career. At the beginning, to acculturate you to the particular field, later, to nominate you for prizes and write letters of reference. Some of us might make it without such, barely. But in my experience there is always the kindness of strangers who are supportive. I recently made a list, keeping in mind that my PhD was finished in 1968, that it was in physics, not the field I have published in (all my "physics/mathematics" books are about models we use in social science), etc--and it was a list that made me grateful for those "strangers" who in fact became friends.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Contribution, Numbers, Statistics. Note the Trigger Warning at the end.

You all know what I am saying below...  I am not at all saying that we abandon citation numbers, etc. I've just seen too many manipulations, gaming the system, misleading claims, so that in the end I only ask: what is the contribution?, what is the quality?, did they do the work?  Yes I use Consumer Reports, and I tend to ignore small differences in scores, and go for the higher number even though they tell me that differences of three points or less do not matter--just because it is easy, and the consequences are minor. But here we are talking about something of greater consequence.

Numbers in promotion packets may even be helpful, but in general they are manipulated. I've probably read 1000 dossiers, and so have seen lots of numbers (claimed to be statistics), only some of which are not faked one way or the other. In general, very low or very high numbers are indicative, but they ought be checked against your other evidence, and be treated with suspicion (this is my experience, having been bamboozled at first more than once--if there is a university promotion committee, the best part is that what you miss your colleague will discover). So I have read about 10,000 reference letters, and something like 25%, at best, are really helpful. I know of one distinguished scientist who checks his h-index value each Friday--but he is at the very top of his field, very well recognized and rewarded.

1. In general, what matters in the end is your contribution to scholarship. That is a substantive notion, and letters of reference and your personal statement should indicate that. MIT's economics department, at least in 1980, asked only that question. Numbers of publications, venues, citations, etc are only secondary. I do appreciate the need for numbers and statistics (if they are really statistics rather than numbers misrepresenting themselves as statistics). And playing Moneyball has proved extraordinarily useful, revealing what human judgment misses. Kahneman and Tversky have much to teach us.
    As for numbers and rankings, it would be useful to have the most elementary of measures of uncertainty attached to them. When rankings differ by a tenth of a point, it surely matters for bragging, but not for actual information. See # 5 below. The numbers we get from citation sources are claimed to be complete samples, but in fact they are often polluted with junk. What should be the errors assigned to them?

2. If you are using numbers, and almost all citation "statistics" are just numbers
    a. comparisons with a relevant cohort are useful
    b. be sure they are not stuffed--
        1. do most of the citations come from when someone was a postdoc with a famous scholar--so that you compare your candidate with someone elsewhere with terrific numbers, but in fact the high-number scholar's number come from that postdoc period
        2. is the source of the numbers reliable--Google overcounts, ISI does not count books but is the most studied by the sociologists of science
        3. do they accord with what you know of the contribution?

3. Again I understand the need for these numbers in rankings etc. Just be sure you are getting what you are paying for. Of course, you may be willing to allow the market to use these numbers and rankings to value your goods, but are you so happy when your value goes way down?

4. Universities are fabulous at pumping themselves up--eg. Best in the West, heralding its new rankings in someone's system etc,...  Again, I want a university the football team would be proud of (said by the coach at U. Oklahoma in 1922 to the state legislature to get better support for the University)

5. Trigger warning, PG or R rating: When I was a little boy, the New York Post regularly gave the stats of women, beginning with the size of their brassiere. Bigger was better, and Jayne Mansfield topped them all, as I recall. (Her daughter, ?Marrissa Hargitay, stars in a current TV series.) Currently, men's claims have entered the political realm, and historically, codpieces for men, and in the 1980s socks stuffed in men's briefs, and pornographic movies of the 1970s and 80s featured such claims or visible evidence. I gather from women I know, bigger may not be better, for it is how you use your instrument that matters. In certain cities, a combination of silicone and exercise have a dramatic effect on the numbers and looks of women. In others, plastic surgery plays a large role. And I was told many times, that you marry someone who would be a good mother or father to your children.
    My point here is that attend to what matters, and use the numbers (pretending to be statistics) to check your intuitions. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Contributions to Scholarship: Books, Deep and Rich Articles, Projects

Recently I received a request for information on publications from Planetizen. We were expected to count publications. What was striking to me was that books and edited volumes were in one category. Scholarly strength is rarely indicated by an edited volume, although the organizational and personal strengths play a substantial role. To write a book is an entirely different enterprise.

Similarly, if we count articles, the venue of appearance matters enormously. And so does the length. If you publish long detailed articles about your research, the amount of work required is likely much greater than if you publish several short articles. Intense detailed work takes a very long time to be done properly. 

Obviously, we will continue to develop rankings and count things in various ways. But I want to encourage colleagues in our field to take on substantial projects, perhaps involving two or three or more years of work. Only then is the contribution likely to be substantial. Yes, there are very influential articles that are brief, or that are think pieces, or controversial. But planning needs the kinds of deep studies that lead, if not to books, to a series of increasingly influential articles. Robert Sampson, of Chicago and now Harvard, provides one such model, for example. I'm sure there are others.

You want to improve practice and understanding, you want to take up intellectual space. 
I realize that if you are in a tenure track job, and your work will be judged about five to seven years down the line, there is a temptation to grind it out. But the moment you have tenure, you ought to consider more demanding projects. Our academic positions are great privileges. Let us take advantage of them. It may be effectively entrepreneurial to organize stuff, edit volumes, publish lots of articles. But if you want to make a contribution that will be recognized over the long run, that may not be the way to go.

I should add that in some fields the norm is the article that reports on a particular study, the contribution being a series of such articles. I have no objection to that. Just be sure that that series adds up.