Ask the Post-Acs: “What happens to my scholarly work after the transition?”

Occasionally the TPII Post-Ac Consultants put their heads together to respond to a particularly compelling question that arises in the course of their consultations with post-ac clients.  Today, they share their thoughts on the question of publishing after the post-ac transition.

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Question:

I know that I have a book in me. I’m concerned that alt-ac/post-ac employment means that I’ll never write that book because such activities aren’t prioritized there (e.g. through sabbaticals). I would like to say that I’ll write that book for free, just for the satisfaction of it, on nights and weekends but — honestly — no, I probably won’t. I value that time with my husband, daughter, and extended family, and am not willing to sacrifice it. Do there exist employers who value the dissemination of your prior research, to the point that they allow things like set-asides of a few hours per week (e.g. 4), grant paid sabbaticals for such projects, or, at the very least, grant temporary unpaid leaves for such projects that have some job security? If so, how do I find them, and negotiate this request?

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Replies:

We can’t imagine a scenario in which a post-ac employer would fund your scholarship. In the words of The Professor, “No, there is no post-ac support for writing a book.” Maggie notes that, if you serve in an alt-ac role with a university, your employer may allow you time for higher ed research that relates to your job; Margy, ever the optimist, wonders whether a post-ac scholar without an institutional affiliation could win a grant from, say, the NEH. What interests all of us most about this question, though, is the unspoken question beneath it: If I go post-ac, what happens to my scholarship?

Jessica L: To write and publish a book while post-ac,  I spent a lot of my own time on my book and had my parents watch my infant daughter for an entire week while I blitzed the thing. I also had publisher interest from before I even had my doctorate, and the revision process just entailed incorporating the reviewer feedback. I think this question points to the necessity of setting yourself up while still in school to continue your scholarship when you’re out, regardless of whether you’re ac or post/alt. One reason I’ve been successful in continuing my research, despite working outside of academia for a living, is that I actively went out and fostered those relationships while still a student. I spoke with my editor at Palgrave and secured interest while ABD, and got a very helpful reader’s report within a short time of submission. Having the path to publication laid out clearly in front of me made it seem more like an easy A-to-B than finding my way through the woods.

I won’t lie: it did take me a couple of years to get it together to publish the book, because I needed a bit of space from the whole thing and because of the demands of family and work life. But I graduated in 2009 with my PhD, and the book was published in December 2011; not bad, I think.

Margy H: For a lot of reasons I won’t go into here–although you can read all about them in this book–my decision to go post-ac meant that I would let go of my dream of digging out and publishing the grand Herman Melville masterpiece hiding within my dissertation.  Not having an academic job means that your research, if you keep it up, becomes essentially a leisure activity. And parents of small children like myself, especially ones with full-time jobs, seem to only have time for (or let’s be honest, only want to make time for) hobbies in which said small children can fully participate. That said, I do take comfort in knowing that my published articles and my dissertation are available online, so if my work was or is all that compelling, some tenure-line soul can find and build on it.

The world could hardly care less that I’ve set aside my Melville scholarship, but it actually values the work that I do now. And maybe this is why I feel just fine about not doing scholarship of my own: because my life’s work, as I have discovered, is to support others’ research. As an academic writing consultant and editor, I’m described by clients as a sort of coach, cheerleader, pre-peer reviewer, and scholarship-midwife. Working on projects that bring urgent problems to light from a variety of disciplinary perspectives has made my own past academic research feel somehow like a faded sweater that I donated to Goodwill and replaced with a whole new wardrobe. So for me, the key to giving up my own scholarship has been to find a new way to serve the scholarly enterprise.

Karen C: The subtext of this question seems to be: Do I have to give up my scholarly interests and identity if/when I take an Alt/Post-Ac job?  That depends on what we think research or scholarship is, why we do it, and who benefits from our work. Some pursued the PhD for reasons unrelated to a burning desire to research or publish.  These folks may bliss out in teaching-intensive roles or, once landed on Alt/Post-Ac ground, never look back or miss the scholarly grind. Alternatively, for some in the tenure system orbit, writing and/or seeking publication is largely driven by the evaluation process: few really consider whether they would still write or publish if they were NOT on the tenure track or in academe.  There is of course, another subset–Ac, Alt or Post–that is so motivated by and identified with their scholarly work that they would write and do research no matter what role they were in.

This discussion reveals not only that some academics write or publish when they don’t really want to, but also that (as TPII’s own Jessica Langer attests) some Alt/Post folks do so even when it is no longer “required.” This leads to some speculation about potential forms of Alt/Post-Ac writing: it may be that you will continue to disseminate your ideas, but in less “academic” modes for different audiences – e.g. journalism and other popular press, trade publishing, blogs, etc. Not coincidentally, the question of what “counts” as scholarship is being asked in academe itself, where the most elite publication venues tend to have a tiny readership!  Whether in the context of debates around criteria for tenure, interest in community-based scholarship and/or related diversity discourses, awareness is growing that there ISN’T a one-size-fits-all notion of scholarly “excellence” and that we should value different kinds of intellectual work. In other words, it may or may not be “a book” that you need or want to write.

Joe F.  In the past year that I’ve been post-ac, I’ve reshaped the work I did when researching and teaching—perhaps as if I keep taking apart a Lego creation to build something else with the same pieces. I appreciate the wider reach and audience for the kinds of work I and many others did in academia (American literature and film). As Karen C. notes, it’s important on the alt-ac or post-ac side to think about the many possible forms such writing can take: from web articles (paid, one hopes), to book reviews in your area of expertise (ditto), to a book or cross-platform product. Heck, a series of blog posts or tweet conversations can be fruitful venues for articulating or expanding your expertise—and maybe making connections leading to publishing opportunities.

So far, I’ve been trying to not let the research, teaching, and writing I’ve done go to waste, because I enjoy reading and discussing books and films. I’ve drawn what I did as an academic in a few ways: (1) Editing: Recently, I helped a friend finalize her biography of Hemingway for submission to the press; because I knew almost all the scholarly works she cited, managing the citations was relatively easy.  (2) Writing: I practice the #ArticleRemix that Katie Pryal introduced last year: that is, revising or reshaping a scholarly work for a broader audience. I ran one on my blog last summer, and. I’ve been encouraging others to remix their work in similar ways. Explore print or online venues that appeal to non-academic audiences. This kind of work can still be valuable creative or resume experience, even if you don’t list it on your CV. (3) Consulting: I’ve reminded new or future post-ac clients that their research doesn’t necessarily have to be confined to academia. It’s liberating to know that we can explore topics in fulfilling, engaging ways and not worry about if such work will please a search or T&P committee. (4) Expanding: I remind myself often that there are more ways to bring what I learned in academia to audiences outside it. For three years, I’ve run adult-enrichment classes at a local bookstore on 19th- and 20th-century American literature. I’ve made connections with local writers and artists to explore other means of making the material I know (and have taught) accessible and engaging.

Let me again echo Karen C.: on the post- and alt-ac sides, there isn’t a single way expertise is valued. I’m glad to see some current academics exploring ways for their research to reach broader audiences, especially when what they’re doing isn’t “proper” for a line on their CVs. I wrote a book as an academic (with no institutional funding), and I might do another as a former academic, albeit a more creative one (a novel or screenplay, possibly both). Remember that you still have expertise in the areas you researched and taught, even if you’re not currently doing the work you expected when you started graduate school. Who else might care as much about the topic as you do, and how can you start—or keep—reaching them?

The last word, from Karen C.:

This question invites us to trouble the boundaries between “Ac” and “non-ac” in potentially productive ways:  by asking WHY we research or write, as well as about the potential of expanding scholarship into different vehicles and formats–within or without the academy.  Ultimately Occam’s Razor may provide the simplest explanation, especially in this age of expanded options for self-publishing: if you want to write a book (or anything else) you will: if you don’t, you won’t.

 


Comments

Ask the Post-Acs: “What happens to my scholarly work after the transition?” — 8 Comments

  1. Karen (et al.),

    Could you perhaps expand on your answer(s) along the lines of secondary school teaching? I am specifically thinking of top-tier private high schools. Conventional wisdom is that taking a HS job of any kind is pretty much “walking away from academia,” but do you see any ways back in if one wanted to pursue them?

    Thanks much.

    • IS late still better than never?! It looks like you never got an answer here, Jeffrey! I’d say that the greatest asset of K-12 teaching in light of the question on the table is the academic calendar: it’s the closest structure to higher ed in allowing you some cyclical breaks and summer time to write. But it would obviously take discipline to keep momentum going in between, just like in academe. If it’s a private school (or maybe in the right state for public education), there may also be funds for your scholarly/professional development in terms of research/writing. As for walking away and returning, the odds aren’t high but also not zero: plenty of state colleges have significant teacher ed and K-12 collaborations that might make them interested in you; some like Bard are innovative High School to College bridge programs, so someone who has worked both sides of the fence would be of interest. Finally let’s not forget to state the obvious: if you have published anything of value, that could always be your calling card back in for the right position/dept/institution.

  2. This is a great question (and thoughtful responses) – and it was my biggest fear when I left academe (10 yrs ago!). Back then we called it being an “independent scholar” and I promised myself I would be one. I loved my research and wanted to keep it up, but I found I didn’t have the time or the desire once I got away from university pressures. However, even if we don’t take the research with us, we take the skills. I took my research skills with me to my first postac career educating students with learning disabilities and then again to my second postac career as a writer/editor in the special ed field (teaching myself what I have about special education and doing the editing I do are both so much easier because I first got a phd). I still read scholarly work in my original field, American Lit/cultural studies, but it’s purely a leisure activity. And for folks on the brink of this decision worrying about that academic book the way I did, I can say looking back that I’m glad I didn’t spend my time trying to publish my dissertation. I wrote a memoir (as yet unpublished) and started a couple of blogs instead and had a blast doing it!

  3. Great question and great answer.

    Jessica L elaborating on her experience publishing her book after she left academia would make a great blog post. In my discussions of alt-ac career paths with other scholars, people are worried that by losing an institutional affiliation, paths like publishing will no longer be available to them. (Plus, for all folks, strategizing the book process can be a mystifying process – and it sounds like Jessica has a winning strategy).

  4. I am doing a PhD in Business and in our field it is quite common that new PhD graduates choose a management consultancy, big name accounting firm or investment banking or private equity/venture capital, etc.

    There are two scenarios:
    1. You work as an analyst or researcher (back office positions). The main task is still conducting research, producing reports. For example, the famous term “BRIC” was coined by an analyst from Goldman Sachs. So these reports really matters and these analysts have opportunities to participate in academic conferences sponsored by the company.

    2. You work in front office and deal with clients. In this case, the daily job is not research anymore. However, in some cases, if you want to write an article , usually there could be research budget and time available from the company. If your proposal is accepted internally by the company, you get research time. You can conduct the research and disseminate the results.

    From the company’s perspective (since I study business), your research will bring the company publicity or even clients. For example, if your research shows a new XXX (marketing tool/new engineering technique/computer program…) will improve company sales/performance/cost saving(…) and you are an expert on that. Clients will go to your consultancies to get your service/training program.

    It is very important to note that most modern companies are built on a model of profit maximization (sadly). So if your research does not bring clients, performance, positive publicity or other benefits. I don’t see a reason why companies should support/pay for your research.

    Best,
    A reader

  5. This is sort of a tangential question: What happens to grant funding when you leave your position, but don’t go to another university? I know that rules vary according to the granting agency… but I am wondering what typically happens or if anyone post-acs out there could share their experiences. Mine is an NIH grant and I am a Co-PI with a person at another university. There’s no one else at my university with my expertise in the topic, so my university couldn’t make a good case for keeping the grant. Of course, my co-PI could look for another person at another institution to take my place and maybe the co-PI will want to, but we’ve had a great working relationship and think the person would actually want to figure out a way to keep me involved. I am wondering if I could convert to being a consultant on the grant and still get paid. (It would be cheaper, certainly to pay me directly and not have to pay my institution the indirects — even better if I could get paid that full amount — a few calendar months of salary plus indirects, and do the same on another grant for which I am a co-I, as well, that little financial cushion would really help give me a launching pad for what I do next. In terms of what it would mean in the short term for the grant, I think there is mostly upside: I would certainly be able to provide better quality work on the tasks I am responsible for, because I will no longer have teaching and other research responsibilities to worry about. I worry a little about any negative impact this could have for my co-PI on subsequent years of funding, since I would not want NIH to think the team is falling apart and therefore that they should pull the funds. I’m guessing if we are and can continue to be productive, that is what ultimately matters, but I don’t know. I plan to give my co-PI as much notice as possible, maybe even before I let my university know, but I have to get all my ducks in a row first. There is absolutely no one I can discuss this with without tipping my hand, so any advice based on real experience would be much appreciated!

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