What are mistakes ECRs could avoid?

Eight of nine posts based on my webinar for Georgia State University's CIBER - Interview by Tamer Cavusgil

Seeing academia purely as competition

First, and following up on the best practices, I would say, don’t see academia purely in terms of competition. Yes, the job market is very competitive these days, but that doesn’t mean you have to behave competitively if that means doing anything to beat others.

Academia is all about collaboration, you will collaborate on research projects, journal articles, funding applications, as well as in plenty of other internal and external leadership roles. You might even be team teaching at your institution. So learning how to collaborate effectively is crucial.

This may be more important than sheer brilliance. If I am on a selection committee, I am looking for someone who is competent and that I would like to work with. I am not looking for someone who might be a star performer but is going to stab me in the back when I am not looking.

Not understanding journals are communities

A second, more concrete, mistake is not understanding that journals are communities. Understand that publishing in a journal means that you are joining a conversation. Don’t overhype your contribution saying you are the first to have ever done this. Usually, that’s not even true; it just means you have either not done a proper literature review. Or you may have framed your study too narrowly and are simply filling a hairline crack.

But even if you are truly the first, you need to explain why other academics need to know about this. You need to make some connections to what people already know. I have called it the cement between the bricks of knowledge that are collectively building up the house of scientific knowledge.

Academic journals are communities revolving around academic conversations, conversations that might be heated (well as much as one can call academic discussions heated) and long-standing. Unfortunately, many academics seem to forget common sense when submitting to a journal. A large proportion of the submissions to any journal seem to be of the following type:

Hello, you have never heard of me before, but please listen to this exciting, completely unrelated, thing I have to tell you. I haven’t bothered to listen to anything that any of you said before, but I presume you are dying to hear what I have to say anyway.

Seeing top journals as the only game in town

Finally, thinking that only publications in certain journals are worthy, both as an author and as a reader. You can have an impact, whether that is academic or societal, without publishing in these journals.

In terms of citation impact, out of my dozen most cited outputs, three are books – one of which self-published – five are publications in journals that are not at all highly ranked, probably B or even C journals, one is a piece of software (which is in fact my most cited piece of work) and only three are in top journals like JIBS, JWB, or SMJ, even though I have published more than a dozen articles in JIBS and JWB.

Too many academics see their career primarily as publishing in top academic journals. That’s such a narrow conception of an academic career. It may be what works early in your career in institutions that have tenure track systems, but although this is common in the US, this is by no means universal. In my view, this focus also creates cookie-cutter academics who are easily replaceable. There will always be a person who is slightly better at “hitting” these top journals.

What makes for an irreplaceable academic is someone who has a unique set of skills and a very clear career narrative that is fuelled by a coherent passion to make a difference. A very clear vision of what they would like to achieve in their professional lives rather than simply a desire to publish as many articles as possible.

If you have unique skills, either because of your background or because of early life experiences, use those skills rather than suppress them to fit in with what you think the ideal academic should be. If it is not appreciated at your current institution, remember that there are plenty of universities in the world. Going back to my top-3 career tips: Find your happy place!

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