On Monday 1 November, I’m going to be giving a research seminar on Public Diplomacy and Educational Exchange. Colin Alexander, editor of “The Frontiers of Public Diplomacy,” has organised a 9-part series of seminars based on the edited volume, with each author discussing their contribution. It’s a free online event, 16:00-17:00 GMT, and all are welcome!
Register through Eventbrite to get the seminar link:
After I was rejected in 2018 for a dream tenure-track postdoc fellowship in my favourite city, this line from “Fix You” went through my head for longer than I’d care to admit…It perfectly captures the shame of not being good enough. I honestly felt like I had tried my best, which made the rejection very painful.
For the past year or so, I’ve been applying to lots of jobs, both inside and outside of academia. Every time, I’ve been rejected without ever being invited to an interview. It stings a little, especially when I thought I had a good shot, but I’ve gotten used to it. When we were on holiday in Somerset a few weeks ago, I got invited to interview for a lecturer position that I’d nearly forgotten about–it was a full-time, permanent, Grade 8 role. It was interdisciplinary and very exciting–an awesome job that I didn’t expect to be shortlisted for. I applied anyway because it’s like the lottery–you have to be in it to win it.
This time, I prepared harder than ever. I looked up all of the panel members and took notes on their research interests and roles. I looked at their research groups and saw where my work would fit in. I read the Vice Chancellor’s statement on Black Lives Matter and watched videos about their reciprocal mentoring initiative, which I loved. I looked through their student life and support pages, and was really impressed with their values–you can tell they appreciate the fact that students have a life outside of the university. I worked hard on my presentation, practiced it with a timer several times, recorded myself and watched it back, edited my notes.
On the day, I was extremely nervous and did all of my “power pose” and breathing tricks to calm down (thank you Amy Cuddy!). When it actually was time for the interview, I knew I’d prepared as well as I could. My presentation went well, but the actual interview questions were harder. I could tell that I hadn’t made enough of a research agenda, especially in terms of a funding plan, but to be honest, without an affiliation for the past 2 years, I don’t even know where to start with funding. I need a research funding officer to walk me through the process, and I need time and space (aka childcare) to come up with research ideas and write up proposals. Proposals also require some background research (preliminary lit review), and I don’t have the time or journal access I need to do that. It doesn’t help that I’ve been sleep deprived for two years, either. When I work through these issues, I feel like I’m making excuses, and I worry that the underlying truth is that I’m just not good enough and I just haven’t tried hard enough.
A couple of days later, I got the rejection call while I was on the school run, picking up George and chasing Paul around the playground. Getting feedback in public was not ideal, and it was especially annoying given the fact I’d been carrying my phone around with me constantly with the ringer on for the past 2 days. I kept it together, and I managed not to cry until we got home. Richard took the boys over for me and I followed the advice in Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s Burnout to “feel my feelings.” I just sat and cried. It wasn’t even about this specific job–although that was disappointing and I had gotten my hopes up for it. I cried because it was yet another rejection in a long string of rejections. I cried because, to argue with Paolo Coelho, it felt like the universe was conspiring against me. If this isn’t the right path, if I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing, then what am I supposed to be doing? If I’m not meant to have an academic career, why did the universe allow me to go this far–passing my PhD viva without corrections, getting articles and chapters published, presenting at conferences–but not get a proper, full-time, permanent job now? If something better is meant for me, why is it taking so long?
Friends and family were quick to send comforting words, and I distracted myself with a busy weekend (food festival, visiting friends, church). I also read Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, which had been sitting in my to-be-read pile for just such a time as this…
Rising Strong is the follow-up to Daring Greatly, both in terms of Brown’s publishing timeline and also in actual practice. Daring Greatly inspires you to put yourself out there–take a chance, apply for that job, open yourself up to a new relationship, etc. Unfortunately, being that brave can/will result in a crash, and that’s where Rising Strong comes in. It’s about picking yourself up after failure.
Brené Brown outlines a 3-stage process based on emotions and storytelling: the Reckoning, the Rumble, and the Revolution. The first stage is about thinking through your emotions–not just feeling your feelings (although that’s crucial, too–instead of numbing them), but also questioning them. My reckoning with the job rejection news happened right away–even as I was reacting to it, I knew I wasn’t actually that upset about that particular rejection. It was about linking my self-worth to my accomplishments and feeling worthless. It was about being embarrassed that had been made redundant two years ago and still hadn’t found a job. It was the shame of not being good enough to get a job. Good enough to get a PhD (seven years ago…), but not good enough to do anything with it. Sylvia Plath talked about this feeling in The Bell Jar–being good at winning scholarships, but struggling with the real world outside of school.
And this kind of storytelling is where the Rumble comes in. The story you tell yourself about the event in question is the SFD (Brown borrows Anne Lamott’s term “shitty first draft”). My SFD was that I wasn’t cut out for academia, I had wasted my 20s and half of my 30s, and I would never find a proper job because, at the end of the day, I just wasn’t good enough. The SFD is full of confabulations–“lies, honestly told” (p. 81)–and conspiracies. Rumbling with it is about working through what the actual facts are, what your assumptions are, what’s going on with other people in the story, and what’s underneath your own response to the event.
So what actually happened?
I interviewed for a job and didn’t get it.
Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s not a reflection on my self-worth, or even on my ability to ever establish myself in academia.
It was one job, one interview, one department, one panel.
There are other jobs, both inside and outside of academia, and I need to have faith that I will eventually find the right fit somewhere.
My job search history sounds terrible in my mind (only 2 interviews in 3 years), but if you compare it to dating, it makes more sense. I can see that I just haven’t found the right one yet and I need to keep believing that something better is out there. It’s like going on an unsuccessful first date in 2018, having some rejections on dating apps, and then having another unsuccessful first date in 2021, and deciding you’re never going to meet anyone and you’re going to die alone. If somebody presented that timeline to me, I would tell them to put themselves out there more, or stop looking and just try do to more of what they love to do.
The final stage, the Revolution, is about re-writing the story and creating a new ending. Obviously, I want the ending of the story to be that I finally get a career (preferably in academia, but I’m open to other possibilities). It’s supposed to be based on the learnings from the Rumble, so I suppose mine is the realisation that I am actually good enough, I have actually already been a lecturer and I can be one again. I have a PhD and publications and experience that they can’t take away from me, no matter how long I’m a sleep deprived stay-at-home-mom who hardly ever gets to write anymore.
The Rising Strong process has also reinforced the importance of self-compassion, and the need for me to go back and re-read Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion. If a friend was going through the job search process and struggling like I am, there’s no way I would ever say or think “You’re just not cut out for this.” I would comfort them, commiserate with them, make them a cup of tea, and remind them of all of their best qualities. I would tell them to keep trying and reassure them that the right job is out there, and it will come at the right time.
Now I just need to practice talking to myself like that!
This morning I watched the New York Times report on the January 6th riot. It’s very hard to watch, but everybody who was patriotically barbecuing and watching fireworks last Sunday for Independence Day should watch it and take a moment to reflect on the state of the union.
Rewatching the events of that day, brought together so seamlessly in this report, I felt that same sense of shock and horror. It was surreal. If I didn’t know that it had actually happened, I wouldn’t think it was possible for people to breach the Capitol building. I’ve never been inside it, but I’ve been through security at the National Archives–it was airport-level scrutiny, with armed guards, metal detectors, and x-ray machines. A normal, law-abiding, sensible person would not think to try to breach it or attack it or “take it back”.
I was struck by the way they chanted “treason” while they were, in my eyes, committing treason. It reminded me of the classic discourse analysis example, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter.” In their eyes, they were there to fight the “treason” of a “stolen” election–a great injustice had taken place, and they (somehow?) thought they would stop it by taking over the Capitol building. It’s so hard to be empathetic and see January 6th from their perspective, because their perspective is counterfactual. How can you have a dialogue with them?
Looking at the sea of angry white faces waving Confederate flags, I was also reminded of the Civil Rights era and the aggressive crowds protesting school integration. So little has changed since then.
This anger and hatred didn’t go away with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. It didn’t go away when we elected a Black President. We see it in the counter-protests that meet Black Lives Matter demonstrations. We see it in daily miscarriages of justice, in persistent inequalities, in casual racism and overt racism.
Investigating what happened on January 6th is about more than Trump. He’s a symptom of a larger problem. It’s about a whole system that made these people feel they were the ones who had been wronged, that they were fighting “treason” (rather than committing it), and that they had the right (and even the duty) to breach the Capitol and stop the Constitutionally-mandated process of certifying an election that their own party’s officials had declared was secure, free, and fair.
I’m sure in the Civil Rights era it felt like American was hopelessly divided and there was no way forward, just as it does now. Things have improved in the past 60 years, even if we still have a long way to go.
In an effort to tackle my TBR pile (which is quickly becoming a TBR bookcase), I finally read The Alchemist. Having heard Paulo Coelho on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations and seeing the book referenced in a lot of self-help/psych content, I picked the book up at a charity shop ages ago but I never got around to reading it. I picked it up just after finishing Daring Greatly–Brené Brown mentioned The Alchemist and I can definitely see the link between her work and his. The above quote captures it well. They’re talking about vulnerability, and the great lesson is that being vulnerable (opening yourself up to the possibility of pain/suffering) is less painful than the avoidance of vulnerability (keeping yourself closed off and armoured up).
The most popular quotation from The Alchemist, though, is the concept of the Law of Attraction.
I’m not sure how much I believe it or buy into it. I think I used to–when things were going well, it was easy to believe that the universe was helping me succeed. After the past year and a half, though, it’s a much tougher idea to accept. Yesterday morning, for instance, I faced a school closure and a journal rejection, and it felt like the universe was conspiring against me ever establishing a career. Brené Brown talks about the inner voice “gremlins” of shame and self-doubt, and they were very loud yesterday. I was disappointed and frustrated to miss out on my (very limited) writing time, and the gremlins just shrugged and said “It doesn’t matter anyway–even when you do have time to write, it’s not good enough to get published.” Why bother? Why keep putting myself out there and getting hurt by rejections? What’s the point? If I’m not good enough, I’m just wasting my time and everybody else’s time. The gremlins make a very strong case.
The response to the self-doubt/shame gremlins is this quote above–the idea that failures and set-backs are temporary moments on the path to your goal. It’s a common message throughout the self-help/psych world and, although people talk about it, they rarely operationalise just how you go about getting back up that 6th, 7th or 8th time. People talk about the importance of perseverance–Oprah was fired at 23 and told she wasn’t a good fit for TV, Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times and his wife got it out of the trash and convinced him to keep trying. These are lovely stories rolled out to inspire, but what if they’re the exceptions that prove the rule? At what point do you cut your losses and walk away? (And my losses in pursuit of an academic career are massive–mortgage-sized student loan debt, years of not working a proper job and contributing to retirement savings, etc.). Paulo Coelho would have you believe in yourself, but what if you actually aren’t good enough? It’s like the people on American Idol/Pop Idol who dream of being the next Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, and they’ve been told their whole lives how great they are (by loving friends/family), but then they sing in the audition and they can’t carry a tune in a bucket. They are heartbroken and/or in denial when the judges reject them. I don’t want to be one of them, getting up over and over with no hope of success.
How do you know whether you’re a fired Oprah or an American Idol reject? And if you really are a fired Oprah, how do you find the inner strength to get up the 6th, 7th or 8th time?
Claims for significance feel pompous and uncomfortable. It’s audacity. It reminds me of the “carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man” tweet I’ve posted before. Academic journal articles are usually about such a narrow, niche topic, and read by so few people, that it feels ridiculous to make claims that our findings are world-changing and impactful.
Awkward as they may feel, claims for significance are an essential part of your journal article–it’s the marketing side, really, explaining why your article should interest the reader. Wendy Laura Belcher noted that they have grown bolder, with “aggressive wording in claims for significance” increasing in recent decades (Belcher, 2019, p. 192). She also acknowledges how difficult they are to write, and her “make writing social” motto is absolutely essential for this task. Talking about your work and going through the “So what?” exercise with an actual human being gives you an opportunity to thrash out just what your article contributes.
Last week, I finally had a chance to talk about my work with someone who had read my draft, my friend Carly who originally introduced me to Writing your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks. Our discussion was so helpful and boosted my confidence about my paper. We each played our roles in the feedback process well–she was enthusiastic and offered constructive suggestions, and I listened and took notes without getting defensive. The biggest change she suggested was a macrostructural swap around of my findings–in my excitement, I had introduced the “change” group before the “status quo” group, and Carly suggested switching these around, as a “starting with the familiar” approach. I’ve made the revision now and it does read better.
In terms of claims for significance, this article reveals a discursive turn towards action against gun violence. We’ve seen how “thoughts and prayers” are no longer accepted responses–in satire, in political cartoons, in social media comments sections. This study unpacks the backlash against “thoughts and prayers” and shows how politicians’ responses to gun violence are changing. Even though the recommended actions are very different between Democrats (gun control) and Republicans (school security), they both represent a turn away from “thoughts and prayers” and towards action. The “so what?” about that is that it suggests the US will take action on gun violence, that the gridlock and polarisation on gun policy might finally be overcome with some legislative action. Time will tell, but the next year and a half are an opportunity for change, with the Democrats controlling Congress and the White House, and given the Biden-Harris administration’s pro-gun-control rhetoric.
Does my paper end gun violence? No. Does it help us understand this divisive, paradoxical issue? Hopefully yes! I just need to be audacious enough to drop the “hopefully”…
The Frontiers of Public Diplomacy is officially published! It’s been a pleasure to contribute to this volume, edited by Dr. Colin Alexander, who I’ve known since our MA days at Leeds, and contributed to by a couple of other former Leeds folks, Gary Rawnsley and Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob (none of the 4 of us are at Leeds now, but you can see from this book that there used to be a thriving PD group!).
My chapter tries to be a bit innovative and plays around with theory more than we generally see in exchange diplomacy research. It was definitely an effort to leave my comfort zone and challenge myself (and readers) to think differently about exchanges and where they fit within the larger contexts of public diplomacy, international education, and statecraft more generally.
Looking forward to getting my hard copy and reading the other contributions, especially from the non-Leeds folks whose work I’m less familiar with. This autumn, we’re going to be holding a series of virtual talks on the book, with contributing authors sharing their chapters and answering questions. I’ll be posting more details about those closer to the time.
I’m currently reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, and even though I know what it’s all about from following her TED talks and podcasts and Super Soul Conversations with Oprah, reading it is still mind-blowing.
I’m starting to realize why the job search is so hard and uncomfortable: it’s all about vulnerability.
Applying for a job is literally putting yourself up for judgment.
On a recent Unlocking Us podcast episode (linked below), Dr. Yaba Blay said she had found academia “the least affirming space” for her, and I felt that in my soul. Looking for a job in academia is incredibly painful and soul-destroying–every job posting is for a niche topic and requires relocating and demands an extensive track record of excellent, world-changing research, etc. I can scroll through pages and pages of academic job postings without finding a single thing that I can apply for–and I come away thinking it’s because I’m not good enough. I haven’t had enough publications or research experience or funding awards. As Brene Brown terms it, I operate from a place of scarcity.
The job search is all about scarcity (lacking qualifications/experience/money) and perfectionism (fear of judgment and rejection, trying to please and impress at the interview), and it requires you to be vulnerable. Nightmare.
This is especially true if, like me, you associate your self-worth with your accomplishments. Your CV/resume is a list of your accomplishments, so if you put it out there and it gets rejected, you feel worthless. Even worse, if you get shortlisted and get your hopes up and go to an interview, you can get rejected by people who actually met you and talked with you. How do you go through that without feeling worthless?
Brené Brown’s answer is that you don’t attach your self-worth to your accomplishments, to a job, to a relationship, etc. You just stand in the knowledge that you are enough. Right now, as is. If you can separate those things and know that whatever happens, you are enough, then you can withstand disappointments.
I’ve had the hardest time wrapping my head around that concept. If you don’t prove yourself with achievements, then how do you? It made no sense to me. Growing up, I only understood my worth in terms of achievement, specifically academic achievement. I was motivated by it, and now Brené Brown’s telling me I didn’t actually have to get a PhD to be worthy? That the overweight, crooked-toothed, frizzy-haired 13-year-old in a baggy t-shirt in my 8th grade school picture was good enough just as she was? Believing that requires a wholesale rejection of everything society has taught me all my life.
And that’s just it. You don’t prove yourself–you can’t and you don’t have to. You are just inherently worthy of love and belonging because you are human. It’s completely at odds with the world around us, with advertising and tv and movies, etc. But there’s also something very obvious about it. Of course everyone has value.
I struggle to accept this lesson for myself and my own self-worth, but one day I realised that I already do accept that people have inherent worth–when it comes to other people. When I was doom-scrolling job sites, it occurred to me that I don’t know what careers our old friends at church had before they retired, but I still think they’re wonderful people. They’re friendly, kind, funny, generous, community-minded. I see them as “contributing members of society,” a designation I won’t give myself until I have a “proper” job.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around vulnerability and trying to muster up the courage to put myself out there (blogging is part of it), but I think it’s all part of the need for self-compassion. Acknowledging that this is hard, recognising that nobody gets it right all the time, and standing firm in the knowledge that you are already enough, just as you are.
I had an epiphany one day on reading for my research: You don’t have to read enough to become an expert, you just have to read enough to write your journal article. If I were advising a student, I would tell them the lit review just shows that they know what’s out there–who the major scholars are, what approaches/case studies/theories have been used, what the big debates are. You can talk about the “state of the field” without getting hung up on every single new journal article and book that comes out while you’re writing up your research. There’s just too much material out there—you’ll never read it all. I was thrilled to see Wendy Laura Belcher emphasise that point in this chapter!
“You must abandon the hope of being comprehensive in your reading. No one is reading everything in his or her discipline or field.”
(Belcher, 2019, p. 152)
Belcher’s approach tackles the main problem my students (and I) have had with lit reviews in the past–where to start? It’s overwhelming to look at piles of notes and stacks of books and try to make sense of them. When I’ve taught my Masters students about the lit review, I’ve had them draw mind maps with big circles for the different areas or bodies of literature that are relevant for their project, and then figure out which aspects are most important to focus on in the lit review (or sometimes, to be really pragmatic, we’ll pick the strongest areas that we have the most to say about…). The mind map works for me, but approaching the lit review can still feel overwhelming. Quite a few students misunderstand the point of the lit review, and think it’s just compiled “book report”-style summaries of every relevant text they read. It’s not–but what is it?
Belcher builds upon an analogy by Kenneth Burke about academic writing being a conversation taking place amongst people, and advises us to consider our “entry point” into the conversation. I absolutely love this analogy, one because I can so clearly picture times when I’ve been around people at a conference discussing their research and I know exactly what she means by the entry point to join in, and two, because it’s so easy to explain to my students.
The most common entry point is the one that I was usually told was the only one–the so-called “knowledge gap.” In our MA dissertations, we all had to identify a “knowledge gap” that our work was filling. I’m not crazy about the knowledge gap concept because it encourages people to go for something so small and niche for the sake of originality that they can end up pursuing something that isn’t especially interesting or relevant. That said, sometimes there are actually interesting gaps in the knowledge–before the Fulbright Legacy conference/book I contributed to, for instance, there hadn’t been any work done on gender or race in the Fulbright Program, both of which are important areas that should have been covered long before 2015. Sometimes the gap is simply a case of updating the field, which is also a valuable gap–this is especially true in “New Media”/digital media research, which has to be continually updated to keep up with trends and new technologies. I just read a journal article from several years ago exploring why members of Congress were adopting Twitter–now, scholars might look at their adoption of TikTok, or compare how they represent themselves on Instagram vs. Twitter, etc.
My first draft of the lit review for this paper was all over the place. I thought the “conversation taking place” was a massive debate over the role of deliberation in democratic politics or the role of social media in political communication, and I was overwhelmed. This chapter helped me rethink the “conversation” and narrow it down to two areas–how people talk about guns (and the state of the US gun debate in general), and how members of Congress use Twitter. While it’s still related to big concepts like deliberative democracy and online political communication, it’s more narrowly focused and manageable.
I also loved the citation values section, emphasising the need to cite women, people of colour, and non-English texts where possible. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many female scholars write about the gun debate (Kristin Goss, Jennifer Carlson), but it still seems that the experts that get cited the most are white men (Robert Spitzer, Adam Winkler). I was rightly stunned by the error example Belcher mentioned–a journal’s special issue on Black Lives Matter didn’t include any black authors (Belcher, 2019, p. 162). Yikes! It reminded me of that viral photo of the “GOP Women’s health caucus” that was exclusively men sitting around the table:
Last week President Biden announced modest gun control proposals and referred to gun violence in the U.S. as “an international embarrassment.” I’ve certainly felt that it is during my time abroad–every time we see another mass shooting in the news, I feel embarrassed and frustrated by my home country. Gun violence in America feels like an intractable problem. There needs to be a deep cultural shift. It’s going to take a lot of work to convince the American people that guns are not essential to your individual freedom. Living in a place with no guns and free healthcare has shown me that this is what “freedom” actually looks like. It’s the freedom to not get shot in a road rage incident, the freedom for my kids to spend their time at school learning instead of practicing active shooter drills, and the freedom to go to the doctor when we need to without worrying about a co-pay.
Mass shootings account for a tiny proportion of overall gun deaths in the U.S. each year, but the persistence of mass shooting events does raise eyebrows in countries where the first mass shooting was the only mass shooting, because gun policy changed as a response.
Canada: “In 1989, a student armed with a semiautomatic rifle killed fourteen students and injured more than a dozen others at a Montreal engineering school. The incident is widely credited with driving major gun reforms that imposed a twenty-eight-day waiting period for purchases; mandatory safety training courses; more detailed background checks; bans on large-capacity magazines; and bans or greater restrictions on military-style firearms and ammunition.” (CFR)
Australia: “The inflection point for modern gun control in Australia was the Port Arthur massacre of 1996, when a young man killed thirty-five people and wounded nearly two dozen others. The rampage, perpetrated with a semiautomatic rifle, was the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history. Less than two weeks later, the conservative-led national government pushed through fundamental changes to the country’s gun laws in cooperation with the various states and territories, which regulate firearms.” (CFR)
United Kingdom: “In 1987, a lone gunman armed with two semiautomatic rifles and a handgun went on a six-hour shooting spree roughly seventy miles west of London, killing more than a dozen people and then himself. In the wake of the incident, known as the Hungerford massacre, Britain introduced the Firearms (Amendment) Act, which expanded the list of banned weapons, including certain semiautomatic rifles, and increased registration requirements for other weapons. A gun-related tragedy in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996 prompted Britain’s strictest gun laws yet. A man armed with four handguns shot and killed sixteen schoolchildren and one adult before committing suicide in the country’s worst mass shooting to date. The incident sparked a public campaign known as the Snowdrop Petition, which helped drive legislation banning handguns, with few exceptions. The government also instituted a temporary gun buyback program, which many credit with taking tens of thousands of illegal or unwanted guns out of supply.” (CFR)
New Zealand: The 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings led to the Arms Amendment Act, which banned semi-automatic firearms, magazines, and certain types of parts, and instituted a buy-back scheme.
Why doesn’t the U.S. react to mass shootings in the same way? Is it “gun culture”? Is it the Second Amendment? Is it the lobbying power of the NRA? Possibly all of the above. Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Loaded offers a compelling explanation for the difference between the U.S. and these countries:
“Violence perpetrated by armed settlers, even genocide, were not absent in the other territories where the British erected settler-colonies–Australia, Canada, and New Zealand–but the people of those polities never declared the gun a God-given right; only the founding fathers of the United States did that. And the people of the other Anglo settler-colonies did not have economies, governments, and social orders based on the enslavement of other human beings. The United States is indeed “exceptional,” just not in the way usually intoned by politicians and patriots.”
Dunbar-Ortiz, R. (2018) Loaded: a Disarming History of the Second Amendment, San Francisco: City Lights Books, p. 202.
America’s “original sin” of slavery is directly linked to the problems of gun violence, white supremacy, and systemic racism as they are perpetrated today. It’s an international embarrassment that needs to be addressed comprehensively–and President Biden’s reference to statistics on gun violence against African Americans is a good step in this direction.
It’s taken a few months of reading and a few weeks of writing, but I finally have a rough draft of my article to use with the Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks workbook I started last summer! I’ve been carrying on with reading it while writing, so I’ll share my thoughts on weeks 4 & 5 before I go back through it all again with my article draft in hand.
Week 4–Selecting a Journal
Journal selection has always been a weak point for me–the academic publishing world all seems very opaque. How are you supposed to know what the “top” journals are? They say to ask your supervisors, but that was tricky for me–Phil died, Robin left academia, and my replacement supervisors were experts in different fields. Whenever I did try to ask for advice about choosing a journal, they just would ask “What journals do you read?” I don’t read any journals–I read the specific articles related to the topic I’m researching, and they come from a wide range of different journals. Looking over the citations in my PhD thesis, there is no one journal that stands out. I cited articles from 33 different journals, and only 3 of them had more than one article cited. I find articles from Communications Abstracts or Google Scholar, and go from there. The idea of sitting down and reading the most recent issues of a journal is lovely, and always recommended by my postgraduate research student advisers, but it’s just not something I’ve ever had the time to do.
The other advice I’ve received, this time from a fellow early career academic who had far more publications than I did, was to aim for the top journal first, then use peer-review feedback from them to improve the article and submit it to the next one on the list. I used this advice and submitted my paper to the Hague Journal of Diplomacy, which rejected it but gave me very helpful feedback to improve it, and I then submitted it to Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, which required another round of revisions, but did actually publish it. So, to some extent, the advice to aim high did work–but the initial rejection was very painful and I couldn’t face reading through the comments again to make the revisions. After a few months of putting it off and giving up on publishing that article, I opened up to a couple of friends about it and sent the feedback to them, which I highly recommend. It was much easier for an outsider to make sense of the recommendations than it was for my overwhelmed, bruised ego to figure out where to begin!
Belcher acknowledges this “top journal” advice and explains why it’s a bad idea–because the “top” journal in your field is probably not the journal that best fits your article, and it makes the “best” journals very slow and competitive. Belcher emphasises finding the right fit for your work, to save time and improve your chances of publication.
This chapter provided better guidance and mentoring re: journal selection than I’d ever received in grad school. After reading through the chapter, I spent some time browsing recent issues of journals on the library website and reading “About the Journal” pages. I ended up with three potential journals to submit my article to, complete with formatting instructions and notes on what they want from authors. I particularly liked Belcher’s advice to consider the implications for submitting your article to that particular journal. What does it mean for the article, in terms of emphasis, tone, formatting, use of jargon? What does publishing in that journal mean for your career? Does it take your publications list in a certain direction? For me, publishing in a well-regarded communications studies journal like Discourse & Society would help balance out my publications in the Journal of Trans-Atlantic Studies and Place Branding and Public Diplomacy. I’m trying to shift my CV over towards political communication to make myself more marketable (and it’s also where my heart’s always been–my MA was in political communication).