Antidotes for the Publish or Perish Syndrome

By: Mark J. Cooper, PhD in Faculty Development

Most universities require tenure-track faculty members to achieve in three particular domains – teaching, service, and scholarship. Scholarship provokes the most anxiety. Faculty members quickly succumb to the publish or perish syndrome; a syndrome depicted by obsessive thoughts about scholarship expectations, a frenzy to publish, restless nights, and a plethora of excuses. The antidotes cleverly identified in this article are designed to treat the publish or perish syndrome.

Redefine Teaching
A common outcry by some who resist scholarly production is, “My commitment is to teaching rather than scholarship.” Who would argue with such a contention? The argument is in the definition of the teaching environment. The faculty member who fails to teach outside the four walls of a university classroom closes too many teachable doors. Teaching and scholarly production are inseparable. Scholarly production is teaching outside room 231 and into the local, state, and/or national community. Once this notion is embraced, a faculty member is more inclined to gain an insatiable appetite to teach through scholarly production recognizing the value of distant learning.

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse
In the scholarly world, the cart involves the knowledge and skills required to publish. The horse involves the dispositions. It is the dispositions of the scholar that make or break the scholarship. Most faculty members hired have the knowledge and skills to successfully publish. Fewer have the dispositions to publish. In other words, talent is necessary but not sufficient. There must also be passion, initiative, persistence, perseverance, focus, determination, tenacity and the list goes on and on.

Write From the Heart
A failure to publish is often mind over matter. In other words, write about something that matters. A blind allegiance to publishing is often detected by a reviewer and reader. This indiscriminate type approach replaces the desire to champion a cause for a simple desire to obtain promotion and tenure. Scholarship undergirded by a sense of cause shows. It shows the breadth and depth of the scholar who longs for the message to become a means to affecting change and serving others.

Snobbery Alienates More Than It Cultivates
There are often arguments by academicians that scholarship should reflect research and that research must be either quantitative or qualitative in nature. The argument removes a most important scholarly role; a role assumed by scholars who choose to champion the research rather than conduct it. Qualitative and quantitative research is necessary but not sufficient. It is equally critical that scholars write expository, conceptual articles designed to translate the research into action. The acceptance of such a position will encourage not only more scholarly production among hesitant or disinterested researchers, but it will encourage the championing of the research.

You’re 90 Looking Back and Asking, “Did I Leave the World a Better Place?”
There are few tombstones that witness to a faculty members promotion and tenure. It is rare that someone giving a eulogy witnesses to the same. The question often asked is, “How did this person contribute to the quality of life among students and teachers?” A desire to leave the world a better place is a wonderful anecdote for procrastination, excuse-making, and a lack of commitment. Invariably, faculty members join the university to impact change. Very likely, there has never been a prospective faculty member who said, “I plan to get my Ph.D. because I have longed to be called professor.”

This article is written for one reason. Faculty members often suffer from the publish or perish syndrome; a syndrome that causes analysis paralysis and dispassionate scholarly production. In the first case, faculty members become immobilized from scholarly production for fear of failure. In the latter case, they become productive but the yield lacks heart and fails to champion a cause. We are here but a short time. If in this short time, faculty members who read this article produce scholarly work that affects change, improves lives, and helps the faculty member achieve promotion and tenure, then I will reflect back at 90 and say, “Job well done!” In this case, teaching will be integrated with scholarship for scholarship is an extension of our teaching.

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