How to Publish Without Institutional Support

My institution defines me as a teacher. I knew this when I accepted a job teaching a 5-5 load a community college. Publication is not a part of my tenure review process, but teaching evaluations are, and I take part in an elaborate observation of my classes each year. The thing is, I am trained as a researcher and I define myself as a scholar, which to me means equal parts research, writing, and instruction. I was one of those people in graduate school who couldn’t wait to start my dissertation. Even as I have come to see myself as more of a teacher and found real meaning in working with my students, I feel a need to go beyond the classroom, to try and solve the systemic problems I see in my institution and community colleges more generally through inquiry and writing. This post is a look at my ongoing struggle to make space for the part of myself that is a writer in a teaching-focused job.

Problem 1: No Writing/Researching Community

Research is not exactly frowned upon at my institution, but there are not many folks around me who see themselves as researchers or academic writers. Lacking the environment of a research-focused community, I have to seek out like-minded scholars elsewhere. We have a four-year college in our town, and so far I have been lucky to meet junior scholars (on the tenure track and adjunct) to talk with about writing. I am learning to go out of my way to maintain scholarly community. I have no conference funding, but there are ways to finagle some travel money from our professional development funds at my college. Most importantly, I have become more assertive with my communications within my field. If I am writing something, I send emails to senior-scholar acquaintances I met during graduate school. I have them read my work. I have them suggest others I should be engaging with. Some senior scholars ignore my emails. But by and large, I have had great success and continue to nurture connections in my field.

Problem 2: No University Library

Books, articles, dissertations. I had no idea how lucky I was to have access to a university library system for 10 years of my life in higher ed. I have not figured out how to work around this constraint. I can interlibrary loan one book at a time for a few weeks, and our library provides access to some databases (JSTOR primarily). But electronic journals- no. Ongoing acquisitions to maintain an up-to-date collection- definitely no. Opportunities to suggest books that I would like to see in the collection- nope. The library budget is extraordinarily limited at community colleges with most of the focus on students and their needs. Fair enough. But this makes me more or less an independent scholar. Open access is my rallying cry. There is no such thing as academic meritocracy if some scholars have their access limited by paywalls.

Problem 3- No Research Funding

This problem has been surprisingly simple to get around. I have started applying for funding through professional organizations and external grants (I’ll let you know how that goes). I also have the option to spread my salary out over 12 months. With the academic year of about 9 months, this leaves me the entire summer to travel, write, and get my work out. The main problem is the timing. I managed to get two articles out this summer, but I will not likely have the time to return to them until winter break at the earliest. Depending on the time reviewers spend with the drafts, I may not be working on those pieces again until next summer, with actual publication dates some time in the year after that. I can see my current summer-writing strategy working for shorter pieces like articles and book chapters, but my ambition to complete a monograph does not seem feasible when I can only write for 2-3 months of the year. And there is that furious voice in my head that says no one should produce academic work without compensation. This is why we are increasingly undervalued as workers and professionals. I am not currently compensated for my scholarly work. Should I give it up? I can’t see myself doing that any time soon.

I am certain there are more and more of us in this position. How many scholars are spread between adjunct gigs, postdocs, visiting assistant professorships, and community college jobs? I imagine a lot of us struggle with finding  resources- be they time, money, community, or the promise of professional advancement- to keep writing. If research without compensation is the new norm, we are going to need to think seriously about how to pay for scholarship, and create access to all of us doing scholarly work.



7 thoughts on “How to Publish Without Institutional Support

  1. Academic librarian with a PhD and continuing desire to do scholarship in my PhD area here, and I so relate to many of these issues. I do have access to my university’s library/databases etc. which does help, but working a 9-5-type job 12 months a year makes writing (honestly, even *reading*) a slow and challenging process. I also struggle with needing some kind of community, because in my case I serve faculty/students in the area I have my PhD in, which means I have a different relationship with those people (some of whom very clearly view me as a servant) and I do not have colleagues within my own workplace who care about doing research (it’s seen as a necessary evil) and who definitely aren’t interested in the kind of research I want to do. I started a blog so I’d have some kind of space/potential community, but keeping up with it gets difficult as the academic year waxes and wanes! I also dream about writing a monograph, but I’m not sure if that’s really viable.

  2. With regard to problem #2 – there is a website called Sci Hub (first level domain frequently changes, but it is generally easy to find). It is used a lot by researchers from post-Soviet countries where the cost of one article equals some people’s month salary😉

  3. At the R1 where I work, it is easy for me to request status for a colleague as an “affiliated scholar.” This gives them a university e-mail address, access to the library, status to submit an IRB protocol (needed in our field), and other useful resources. I do this routinely for collaborators at smaller places; all I have to do is justify it as needed for the collaboration. Can you find a friend, former advisor, or cordial colleague in your field who can do this for you?

  4. Pingback: Recommended reads #88 | Small Pond Science

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