What's the story behind your first paper?

Explains the background to my first ever academic publication, which was chosen as the top paper for research in global careers

My paper The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates was first-ranked in the WAIB top-20 on research in global careers. I was therefore interviewed by Saba Colakoglu and Ha Nguyen, who came up with some great questions. This blogpost covers their first question.

Can you tell us the story behind your IJHRM 1995 paper?

This article, like the Bears, Bumblebees, and Spiders article that was also ranked in the WAIB top-20 was linked to my PhD. The 1995 paper was my very first publication. It came directly from my literature review in the first year of my PhD, where I found expatriate failure to be a big topic. Most articles on expatriation with a statement that expatriate failure rates were (very) high to justify doing research on the topic of expatriation. But when I started looking up the references they used, I couldn’t find any empirical evidence for this claim. So, I went through some 30 articles in the whole citation network. That wasn't easy. Remember this was before the Internet even existed. And what I found was that there really wasn’t any empirical evidence. The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates appeared to have been created by massive (mis)citations of three articles.

The article itself was published quite easily in the then new International Journal of Human Resource Management. I only had to do one round with very minor revisions, which took me all of half a day. Moreover, the single reviewer for the paper was very kind. So, for a junior academic it was an excellent start to the publishing process, nothing like some of my later experiences that were quite brutal. For one of my next articles I was told by one of the reviewers that I might as well give up my academic career as I clearly had no clue how to write. I am glad I didn't listen to their advice as I still think academia is a great career.

To be honest though, I cringe a little when I read my 1995 article now as its writing style is a bit clumsy. Not a lot of people know this, but I never enrolled in a formal PhD programme. This was not unusual in the Netherlands 30 years ago. Formal PhD programs were only just starting up and most academics would do their PhD part-time while already working as a regular lecturer, as I did. But it did mean I didn’t get any formal training during my PhD studies. I also had to find my own supervisors. One was in another institution, the other even in another country. They were wonderful people, but very hands-off. So, to be honest I had absolutely no clue how to write an academic article.

But I enjoyed researching the article and getting to the bottom of something. As you can hear in the interview that I did in the Frontline IB interview series by Ilgaz Arikan, I wanted to be a detective when I was young. If I read the 1995 paper now, I can see it is very much written up as a detective story. I was documenting my investigations in real time, something I was later told you should never do in academic articles. I didn’t have a strong affinity to theory early in my career, but I did – and still do – enjoy forensic investigations to get to the bottom of something. I think I was lucky to inherit a bit of creativity from my father – who is an artist, a sculpturer – and a lot of common sense and a strong ability to just keep going from my mother. The two combined were perfect for this kind of article.

More forensic examinations

I have continued to publish papers that required forensic investigations all through my academic career in the next decades. Most of these articles were in the area of bibliometrics and research evaluation which is more data driven than Business & Management:

In the same series