To be or Not to be: Tenured!

‘Ok, I admit it: Productivity is Overrated’. I read this article by Theresa MacPhail  this morning and tweeted: Sure? or Not Sure? Is this advice for the ‘to be tenured’ or already ‘tenured’ academic?

The article made an impression because I had just submitted the final manuscript to the publishers of my 7th book ‘Women Entrepreneurs in the Indian Middle Class’ with a set of three co-authors!! All my books, including edited volumes are a group effort, except the earliest two. This book was two years in the writing without counting the two years working on the project on which it was based. In the first two years on the project we lost a dear colleague, in the first year of writing the manuscript I changed jobs, moving from an administrative position (that ate up all my ‘productive’ time) back to an academic one. And in the last year one co-author emigrated to Australia and the youngest submitted his Ph.D thesis to an university in Delhi!! Quite an eventful period! In collaborative work, chasing co-authors is part of the job! That is to say, if one does not persist doggedly there is no book!! Why a book, you cannot produce a journal article. And not to speak of a blog post, like this one!!

The article I read with interest, discussed the authors’ career as an academic and the constant feeling of guilt if one is not working on one’s latest paper for publication! Tell me! I have suffered this all my life and continue to do so. After my daughter was born, while she was a bundle of joy, I was ridden with the feeling of guilt as I had yet to submit the final version of my Ph.D thesis to my supervisor! To this day, my husband (also an academic) and I work on week ends, before going to work and after returning!! Our week-ends are spent with each of us on our laptops and if our daughter is around, she too! And now her partner too!! It becomes a kind of an addiction. Welcome to the dumb and uninspiring academic family! Ha Ha!

Now I have a new reason to feel guilty, this blog, which I try to keep non-academic! My profile says “Training as an Economist has stifled my writing, Hoping that blogging will release my creative writing spirits!!” So that’s the hope, unlocking creative juices. But it does not help reduce the guilt at not reading or writing academic stuff!

“Publish or Perish” is the work ethics of academia over the last few decades in India as well. We grew in academics a few decades ago in a very relaxed atmosphere! We were self motivated. The Damocles sword of TENURE did not hang over our heads. Yes, promotion was an issue in academic institutions and broadly based on publication record. Being on a tenure track was a Western phenomenon till two decades ago. The new generation of academics are hugely stressed. Tenure track in a good university or management institution implies publishing in A+, A rated journals! I actually had not heard of them till I joined a management institution a decade ago. I must plead guilty of being part of the system that created the grade-based scheme, including A+ journal publication, for promotions in this institution which I headed! Economists and other social scientists in the management institutions had another problem. The various official ABCD journal listings consisted mainly of journals in management and generally did not include social science journals. The phenomenon is now changing to journals with high ‘impact factor’, so that each institution can theoretically draw up its own list of A grade journals! All journals, in all subjects, provide their impact factor to encourage a flow of good articles. Publication of one article can take anywhere from one to three years. And the academic’s nightmare is: What if the journal finally rejects the article after an R&R (revise and resubmit) decision and after taking two years in the process?

A major distraction today is the smartphone. There is access to various apps, social media and access to sites, both academic and non-academics, on a hand-held device. Is it the boon or bane of academics? Well, it can be a boon as it provides access to relevant information, articles and new material instantly if one ‘follows’ the ‘right’ people or sites on various apps!

Newspaper articles in economic and business papers provide a lot of good information and analysis from reputed academics. This has resulted in a large number of new newspapers and magazines, physical and online, appearing periodically that are on the borderline of a newspaper/magazine and journal. The readership of such articles is much larger than an academic journal or a book. The book, unless there is an e-version, probably has the lowest readership! So much for my 7th book!!

And the most recent and perhaps most popular avenue open to academics is blogging! There are many extremely popular bloggers in academics in all subjects. The reach of these blogs to the large youth population, who are always on the smartphone, is infinite. Now there are blogs that rank blogs of different disciplines and genres!

To come back to my theme of tenure in academics, unfortunately, as far as I know, the last two, articles in newspapers and blog writing, is not counted in the assessment for those on the tenure track. Perhaps it is time the universities and institutions looked at these avenues of publication as well and give credit to their star academic journalists and bloggers! Don’t worry, I am not making a case for my blog, which is ‘strictly’ non-academic!

We come back to the Shakespearean Prince Hamlet’s dilemma ‘To be or not to be’ is the question. Do academics have a choice? For the risk-averse academics looking for a secure job in a good university the answer is ‘to be’ tenured. But for the more adventurous and risk-taking individual ‘not to be’ is a choice! One can opt for academic journalism, monetized blogging, independent consultancy, academic and political newspaper cartooning, coaching in any of these fields or juggling between all these options, and many more that a standard risk-averse Economist like me cannot yet visualize!

The point is, if reading and writing is what you love to do, then all these fields are open and each one of them is difficult and an up-hill task! Happy reading and writing friends!


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