Becoming an Academic Author - From Novice to Expert - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Becoming an Academic Author
From Novice to Expert
Writing as Professional Development

At what point does a scholar have the right to call herself or himself an author? A professor in his third year had presented at local, state, and one national conference and, with extensive support from his more experienced colleagues, he published one short article in the regional journal for his field. He considered himself to be a scholar because he read widely in his discipline, was an effective instructor of undergraduate courses, and had an impressive record of service at the university and in the larger community. However, when his portfolio was evaluated by his departmental colleagues and the university-wide committee, they disagreed with his self-assessment and noted deficiencies in “scholarly productivity”. Stunned and deflated, the professor talked with a departmental colleague who had been hired the same year. He too had a record of solid teaching and service and, in addition, had made numerous conference presentations, had published two articles in respected professional journals, was awarded an in-house grant for an innovative project, and secured a small external grant to support the project for another year. However, he did not consider himself to be a scholar/author yet; in his mind, there was a “critical mass” of at least four or five major publications necessary before he could regard himself as an author. Yet when departmental and university-wide peers assessed his work, he was commended for his scholarly productivity thus far. As this situation depicts, definitions of scholarly productivity vary, even among faculty members at the same institution and in the same department. So, how much scholarship is enough to remain in good standing at a university?

The answer is that it depends, to a considerable extent, on the institution. However, if professors set as a goal an average of approximately two to three major scholarly writing achievements per year, they will have, at the seventh year (when evaluation for tenure typically takes place) a very respectable showing of scholarly productivity. Many institutions require an external review of faculty credentials when professors are seeking tenure or promotion. External reviewers often are required submit their own credentials in order to establish that they are experts in the field. To prevent favoritism, external reviewers usually need to verify that they do not know the candidate personally, only her or his work. Journal editors often are asked to do this. They have vast experience in comparing the relative merits of manuscripts submitted to their journals and frequently have assessed the portfolios of professors at different ranks in accordance with different institutions’ policies and procedures. Years of this type of service provides a more informed and expansive view of how academics fulfill institutional expectations. Some of the traits that will serve you well as an academic author include:

· Willingness to modify writing habits to accomplish various scholarly writing tasks (e.g., journal articles, conference proposals, books, grants, in-house reports)

· A conceptual “landscape” of a topic that results from delving deep into the literature

· Innovative ideas that advance thinking beyond what is commonly understood

· Diligence in refining a manuscript before sharing it with others

· Courage to subject work to peer review, both before the work is submitted for publication and after

· Confidence to develop an authoritative, yet accessible writer’s voice

· Resilience to rebound from disappointment and persistence to try again Ego strength to respond appropriately to reviewers’ and editors’ criticism

· Humility to acknowledge that not all of their ideas and manuscripts are equally good (adapted from Jalongo, 2002).

In interviews with doctoral students in education and leadership, many of them assumed that time was the only impediment to publications and that they would suddenly have more time after they moved into higher education positions (Jalongo, Ebbeck, & Boyer, 2014). What they did not seem to anticipate—despite the cautionary words of their instructors to the contrary-was that, just like their first year of being a teacher or a school administrator, they were about to “start all over again”. Perhaps based more on portrayals of higher education faculty in the media than contemporary realities, they envisioned themselves lounging around in well-appointed offices of ivy-covered buildings, ruminating over great ideas. As one student wishfully anticipated, “once the reins come off, once we are in positions, and we can really devote more of our time to scholarship and writing and exploration and inquiry, that will be really a kind of liberating feeling” (Jalongo et al., 2013). Practitioners from many fields may assume that being a professor surely is easier than the job they currently hold, that professors operate as entirely free agents,” and that stressors will be few. No surprise, then, that new higher education faculty report a form of culture shock, with expectations for scholarly writing, research, and publication the major source of angst (Boice, 2000). Of the three major expectations for higher education faculty — teaching, service, and research—doctoral candidates and new faculty members tend to be least familiar with and confident about writing and publishing research, unless or until someone helps them to find their way. During interviews conducted with leaders in the field of education, a well-established author who was interviewed described the identity work required in this way: “…you need to know yourself as a writer…Write to your strengths and admit your weaknesses and think of fear [as a way] to help you ask questions…The timeliness, the ability to know yourself, and the ability to know your audience are the elements that make a successful writer” (Jalongo, 2013b, p. 72).

Activity 13.3: Chronicling Your Growth as a Writer

As you progress through a professional development activity focused on writing, make some notes about your insights. Create a before and after page of the first title and the final one, of a paragraph or section that was revised until it flows, of particularly helpful feedback from others, and a collection of quotations from expert writers that speak to you. If you are in a class or writing workshop, develop a very brief (5-min time limit) presentation with these elements included.