Publish or Perish
As we begin the festive season, and head into a new year it is timely to reflect on the past year and consider the life of an academic.
The life of a university academic is appealing to a number of people; however the majority of non-academics do not consider the fact that academics not only teach specific courses over a number of months each year, but are expected to conduct research and publish their research in academic journals.
Academic career promotion is based on acceptable teaching evaluations and research outputs. Research outputs are evaluated by a combination of quantity (the number of research articles published) and quality (the ranking of the journal in which the research is published). The minimum quantity and quality expectations vary by institution and discipline, but most disciplines, marketing included, have (or produce) journal rankings that explicitly indicate the perceived quality of each journal.
In North America, for example, tenure track academics are expected to publish a specific number of articles in the top ranked journals over a relatively short period of time. Hence for academics to successfully progress through their career the adage “publish or perish” is real. But what does this mean? And what is the effect of a “publish or perish” work environment on academics. A MAGScholar research team investigated this issue in 2012 and uncovered some interesting results (which have yet to be published).
Over 1,000 academics from five continents, covering a number of countries including USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a number of EU countries, participated in an online survey that delved into individual publishing history, personal outcomes, and life-balance factors. Although not all institutions have explicit publish or perish policies, there is an underlying expectation within the university environment that academics publish research. The quality of the research outlet (e.g., journal ranking) also plays an important role.
Contrary to popular belief, yet similar to findings in other areas of management, the results from the study indicate that a publish or perish culture generally has a negative influence on publishing success. More importantly, publishing success not only influences career progression but also life balance, health and well-being. The implication from the MAGscholar study is that most academics benefit from a supportive environment, rather than a punitive environment. Ironically academics who publish in highly ranked journals appear to do more poorly under a publish or perish regime than those academics who publish in lower ranked journals. This implies that a publish or perish environment is not beneficial for high output research focused academics, they may be more intrinsically driven. The MAGScholar research challenges the assumption that a publish or perish culture drives successful publications.
The study also found that women suffer more than men, under a publish or perish environment; they publish less and show more family life conflict. This result is not surprising given the busy life of most career women attempting to balance home and career. But it does provide a challenge.
The next MAGScholar survey, expected to take place in 2014, will look more closely at individuals and specific institutions, to explore the cultures and environments around universities. Do teaching and research institutions or hybrid institutions provide the better environment for publishing success?
Dr James Richard
Editor, MAGScholar Business Review
The MAG Scholar Journal Rating List 2009
The MAG Scholar Journal Rating List 2011