A few years ago I was desperately seeking a book contract, Writes Rachel Toor in the Chronicle of Higher Education“Things weren’t going well on the project I’d spent years working on, and I wanted a quick fix. In a frenzy I put together a crappy proposal for an advice book for graduate students and professors on writing and publishing and sent it to an editor I didn’t know at Harvard University Press.
“Five days later, Elizabeth Knoll responded by telling me she was already publishing a how-to-write-better book for academics, Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword (it’s excellent). Then she conveyed in the kindest way something I already knew: What I had proposed wasn’t a book. I had merely submitted a bunch of prose framing a table of contents for a collection of my Chronicle columns. She suggested we brainstorm an idea for a real book.
“We had a warm and frequently funny correspondence about scholarly publishing, academic writing, issues and problems in higher education, growing up as children of academics, college admissions, mutual friends, and many other things. I went back to my original book project but still hoped that someday I would be able to publish a book with Elizabeth. Recently I found I had lost my chance. She’d left the press to become assistant provost for faculty appointments at Harvard. So I jumped on the opportunity to ask Elizabeth to reflect about her time in publishing, and to offer some advice on book publishing to Chronicle readers.
“Elizabeth went into the family business. Her father was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska; her mother had been one of her father’s most talented students. “I got my Ph.D. in the history of science,” she said. “Basically I was—and am—always curious about what counts as knowledge in different times and places.” After working at the Journal of the American Medical Association, Elizabeth got a job as an editor at the University of California Press in 1988, then at W.H. Freeman in 1994. She moved to Harvard Press in 1997.
At almost any gathering of academic publishers or librarians, you’ll hear someone float the idea—sometimes phrased as a question—that the model for publishing scholarly monographs is broken.
As InsideHigherEd reports: “Two sets of ideas aired at the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting, held here this week, don’t say the model is damaged beyond repair. But the proposals, both from groups outside the university-press community, suggest that it needs to be retrofitted, at the least.
“One possible approach came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the other from a task force on scholarly communications run jointly by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both raised the question of how to better subsidize the digital publication of scholarly monographs, and both included the notion that faculty authors’ home institutions might do more to help pay for those books to be published. Such support would help deal with what university-press people often call the “free-rider problem,” in which institutions without presses—most of them, in other words—leave it to those with presses to support the system that gives faculty authors publication credentials.
“The AAU/ARL task force describes its plan as a “prospectus for an institutionally funded first-book subvention” that would shift the burden of payment to authors’ home institutions. That would “address the principal causes and effects of the market failure for monographs,” the prospectus says. It envisions that colleges and universities would agree to pay for an openly available “basic digital edition” of some faculty members’ first books; scholarly publishers could offer those titles for sale in other formats too.
“The plan also envisions that universities with a high level of research activity would offer subventions for three or four books a year, with an “annual subvention exposure” of roughly $68,000 to $73,000. Small colleges would pay for one or two books a year, and offer more modest subventions.
Just last month, Virginia’s high court upheld the University of Virginia’s right not to disclose a professor’s emails about his work on climate change to a conservative organization that requested their release under the Freedom of Information Act.
InsideHigher Ed reports that “Now the university is again being asked to disclose a faculty member’s email correspondence and other personal records — this time by a gay rights advocacy group that says it’s concerned that the work of renowned Constitutional law professor Douglas Laycock is being used to support anti-gay and pro-life legislation.
“Although the two Virginia requests came from different sides of the political aisle, experts say they raise similar issues. Namely, experts say, FOIA requests regarding professors’ preliminary scholarship and personal correspondence walk a fine line between ensuring transparency in public institutions and infringing on academic freedom. The newest case is particularly notable due to Laycock’s eminence in the field and the fact that he is married to U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.
“Earlier this month, the university received a FOIA request from two students, in consultation with GetEQUAL, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group based in Berkeley, Calif. The request seeks access to emails to and from Laycock’s university account to three conservative political organizations, along with phone records from the professor’s work cell phone from January 2012 to May of this year and expense reports for travel during the same period. The request also seeks access to relevant emails sent to and from the professor’s assistant, and the professor’s employment contract. The request says: “At the heart of this [FOIA] request is a general concern University of Virginia resources may have been used to help finance causes that are perpetuating harm to [LGBT] individuals and the reproductive rights of women across the country, including here on UVA’s campus.”
If you’re on the faculty job market, or will be soon, you may find yourself explaining the real possibility of failure to well-meaning family and friends.
And an attitude of Hunger Games triumphalism isn’t going to he helpful, as The Chronicle of Higher Education explains in an article entitled “The Odds Are Never in Your Favor.” by Atlas Odinshoot:
“Doctoral students are usually type-A overachievers, and so your loved ones have faith that you’ll come out OK because, well, you always have.
“But the academic job market is a process that necessitates failure. Your application materials will end up in the slush pile at dozens of departments, regardless of how well suited you are for the position or how carefully you tailor your materials. Outstanding candidates can easily fail to find a position. And that’s why, when I can’t quite convey that grim reality, I tell my family and friends that if they want to know what the job market is like for Ph.D.’s, they should read (or watch) The Hunger Games.
“Whether you see yourself on the job market as Katniss Everdeen (plucky heroine), Peeta Mellark (sensitive but somewhat clueless), or Cato (ruthless killing machine), only you can say.
The odds are never in your favor. I recently asked a successful job candidate—hired as an assistant professor at a very good college—what he viewed as a good application-response rate. That is, how many interviews should you get in relation to the number of applications you submit? He said, calmly, “Talking with other graduate students, I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of one in 20 to one in 30.”
“Those are your odds of even getting to the interview stage. That’s not an official statistic, but official statistics don’t exist for this sort of thing. The odds of surviving the Hunger Games? One in 24.
You don’t have to spend much time at the six-day second international Psychedelic Science conference in downtown Oakland to learn that not all its 1,900 attendees are academic scientists, and that few are strangers to the power of mind-bending drugs. So reports today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:
On my first day, boarding the conference’s sunset cruise of San Francisco Bay, I meet Chad, a middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, who says his trips with magic mushrooms have “reawakened him to the beauty of existence. “I am here out of curiosity,” he explains, adding that he has a desire to understand what he has experienced. “It is just really nice to know they are breaking through some of the barriers with formal research. God knows there is a lot of informal research.”
“As the sun sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge, I meet Seabrook. Wearing rings in both ears and a flower badge pinned to his cap, he says he has never had a bad trip in more than 20 LSD experiences. “The main thing I love about this is it is a reunion—I have so many old friends here it is like a family,” he says.
At least half the attendees on the cruise disembark early in San Francisco to join a celebration of Bicycle Day, commemorating the day in April 1943 that the Swiss chemist Albert Hofman sampled the lysergic acid diethylamide compound that he’d discovered and then rode his bike home.
“But dotted among the conference’s psychedelic aficionados, who along with healers, artists, and activists make up the bulk of attendees, are members of another tribe. Researchers in psychiatry and psychology are here presenting their latest findings on the use of psychedelics to help treat anxiety disorders and addictions for which conventional treatments don’t always work.
“Distinguished by their suits and business dress, the researchers are for the most part keeping to themselves any personal experiences with the drugs. They stress the drugs’ dangers as well as potential benefits. And I see none disembark for Bicycle Day. “We are a bunch of serious, sober academics,” Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles medical school, told me on the phone before the conference. Grob is presenting the published results of his study using psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to treat severe anxiety in advanced-stage cancer patients.
“I first get to know Grob—a personable man in a baggy suit with a beard and recently trimmed salt-and-pepper hair—the afternoon after the cruise, accompanying him to a nearby Starbucks to take a break from the conference’s colorful crowds and locate some hot water in which to dunk his echinacea tea bag. “People want to talk to you, they get really interested, and they kind of get in your space, and it’s like, ‘I gotta get my echinacea tea,'” he says.”