IGI Global contributors weigh in on the pressures of academia and the "publish or perish" mentality plaguing the industry.

Publish or Perish: The Pressures of Academia

By Taylor Chernisky on Nov 3, 2017
PressuresofAcademia Academia is a field full of its own unique stresses and pressures. Many of these are not commonly acknowledged by those on the outside of this field looking in.

“Publish or Perish” is a well-known saying within this field. As it states, essentially you must publish research or “perish”, which can consist of losing your job, losing your grant funding, or being forced to take a significant pay cut.

“Publish or perish helps to keep the academic staff on their toes and be competitive instead of being laid-back,” Dr. Chiam Chooi Chea, an academician at Open University Malaysia, explains.

Mr. Roland Berberich, the Programme Director of the MSc in Project Management at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, looks at it from another angle, stating, “It focuses on one particular aspect of academic work, making the fact of being published the ultimate decision criteria, probably neglecting a number of equally important duties in the academic world.”

The publishing requirement seems to have both advantages and disadvantages to it. On one hand, it keeps professors from losing touch with current studies and, importantly, ensures that they are contributing their expert knowledge to the scholarly community. Yet on the other hand, it is focusing much of their time and energy on one particular aspect of their role, which causes them to possibly neglect other duties that are just as important. Some also believe that the mandatory nature of publishing is actually harming the pool of research.

“We need to look at the rationale for the “publish or perish” mentality. In short, this is a result of a production/growth-oriented model of success, something that in the economic arena, at least, has been proven to be unsustainable. Forced production dilutes quality. In forcing the production of “knowledge” are we simply producing facts or real knowledge?” explains Dr. Jeremy Horne, science advisor and curriculum coordinator the Inventors Assistance League.

He continues, “The stresses are manufactured ones emanating from that production ethos. In turn, those stresses are passed on to the researcher not unlike a production-line laborer in a factory in piece work. In turn, greater load is placed on those doing peer review. As the quality is watered down as a result of forced production and speed-up, so the peer reviewer must manage an ever increasing plethora of minutiae such that the proverbial forest of overall scope and purpose gets lost because of the trees of detail.”

This mentality has also contributed to the rise of predatory publishing, where non-credible publishers are charging researchers a fee to publish their work under the guise of Open Access. This work is then published without undergoing a credible peer review process. Due to the pressures placed on academicians, they are often willing to pay money, as long as their research ends up being published. Once this research has been published, it becomes part of the pool of knowledge and can be used as a reference again and again. Without undergoing a peer review process, the quality of the content is untrustworthy, meaning that potentially incorrect information or content that has not been fully developed is circulated amongst the research community.

Dr. Horne explains further, “The demand for publications produces the supply, [which] in this case is fake or predatory publications.”

Not only does this mentality contribute to the contamination of research, it also has an impact on the classroom environment. By being focused on research and being published, educators tend to let their primary purpose of teaching fall to the wayside.

Mr. Berberich elaborates upon this point, saying, “I often wonder if the declining standard of graduates everybody seems to complain about is not simply caused by declining standards in teaching which in turn is caused by setting priorities as we do. Personally, I believe that such priorities not only neglect these other duties you have as a teacher but, increasingly we are showing the next-generation of teachers ‘how to do it’ which might not be the best example we are setting.”

Luckily, this mentality has not discouraged many individuals from joining the academic research community. Dr. Chiam explains, “The teaching profession is still one of the most sought-after professions among students because many do not understand the real pressure of “publish or perish” until most of them are in the industry.” She continues, “Academicians are acknowledged in two categories- teaching and publication. […] Few academicians can achieve both at the same time. Which one is the university seeking?”

The pressures placed on researchers by the "publish or perish" mentality can result in a lose-lose situation. In China, the government has been cracking down on research that was published by a predatory publisher without undergoing a credible peer review process. This crackdown has led to researchers that have committed this fraud being blacklisted from research. These same researchers are still being required to publish, or risk losing their job, creating a vicious cycle that academicians cannot seem to break free from.

This cycle is hurting researchers, and if it continues this way, will hurt the research community as a whole. Steps need to be taken to correct this cycle and put an end to the "publish or perish" mentality - but how can this be achieved?
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IGI Global is also a proud sponsor of the Charleston Conference, which will be held on Nov. 6-10, 2017. Please visit our Director of E-Resources, Jackie Ricords, who will be at booth 73, and contact eresources@igi-global.com for additional conference details. Be sure to connect with IGI Global on Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn for the most timely information regarding this topic and several other pertinent topics that will be trending at the event.
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