Guest Post: Early Career Academic Publishing

Our friend Myk Habets, of Carey Graduate School, Auckland, New Zealand, has been gracious enough to provide us with a guest post on early career academic publishing. If anyone does not know Myk, you should know that he is incredibly prolific. I personally found this post to be really helpful and insightful, and would love to know your thoughts.

Why Publish?

In the current environment it is often said that an academic’s motto for survival is “publish or perish.” And there is truth in the claim. Full-time tertiary level educators are expected to hold higher degrees (the PhD preferably) and continue to contribute meaningfully to their respective academic disciplines with original research, published for critical interaction and dissemination. Theological educators, and by ‘theological’ I mean the broad list of disciplines associated with the modern seminary, also have theological reasons for publishing, amongst which we may include: witness, public reasoning (a form of apologetics), discipleship, the guarding of sound doctrine, sanctification, and the advancement of pursuing God with all our minds. Each generation seeks to stand on the shoulders of the giants who preceded them in order to leave the next generation with a greater legacy of Christian convictions, tools for Bible reading, and resources for the advancement of Christian knowledge. In short, taking rational trouble over the content of the Bible is an act which issues out of worship, is worship, and leads to worship. There are other reasons to publish; of course, not least of which includes the excitement and immediacy which recently published work gives to the lecturer entering their respective classes at the forefront of current Christian thinking. Academics publish and Christian academics publish with a purpose. This may be taken as a given.

As a member of an academic institution it is required that all faculty are research active. While that stipulation is hard to quantify a rather subjective but helpful measure may be the following:

  • Academics in the first 5 years of their tenure should expect to have two academic pieces published a year. This may be an article and a full sized critical book review in a major journal, or two original articles in academic journals. They should also look to publish one monograph every 7 years (2 sabbatical cycles). In this phase it is a good idea to complete a lot of critical book reviews for a number of journals. Such academics are new and emerging scholars.
  • Academics in the first 10 years of their tenure should expect to have several academic pieces published a year, with one monograph published every 5 years. Alternatively, they may publish less journal articles per year and work on edited volumes of work, while also working toward a monograph or two (over a 2 sabbatical cycle). Academics in this category are usually also engaged in editorial work on journals and other such academic administration as they are becoming established. Such academics are scholars seeking to be established in their areas of expertise.
  • Academics of 10 years or more should expect to have several academic pieces published each year and in addition they should expect to be publishing a monograph every sabbatical cycle and perhaps working towards a major monograph over the course of 2 or 3 sabbatical cycles. They will also be contributing chapters to books and undertaking other academic editorial work for journals and publishers. Such academics are established scholars.

What and Where to Publish?

I was given helpful advice from several people when I started out in my first academic post to the effect that a good academic should develop several lines of speciality research. So after the completion and publication of the PhD thesis, the next step is to look for another natural but distinct research specialty topic and seek to master that and publish in that area too, while keeping up to date and continuing to publish in the first area. I would add that I think a career academic should seek to add a new research area of expertise every 7 years or so. These areas will most likely be complementary to your primary research field but they should be distinct enough to allow multiple conversations at the same time. In time the career academic builds up a comprehensive and diverse portfolio of research. It is advised that such areas of research flow into and out of masters courses that one teaches as a natural way to identify a new area of research, to use such research, and to develop the ideas on an on-going basis. This also means that for each masters course taught the lecturer has published in that area and brings that freshness to the classes and the students see that the lecturer is an expert in the field.

As the monograph and the academic journal are the key research outputs of the theological academic these should be offered to those publishers recognised as producing good quality academic work. Here OUP, CUP, Routledge, T & T Clark, Ashgate, Apollos, Brill, etc are the premier publishers and should be approached for first right of refusal. The same would go with submitting a journal article – submit your work to the very best journals in your field (A rated ones) and then work down from there if rejected. Academics will buy expensive books in their field out of necessity, as will good libraries, so retail cost is not so important with these academic monographs. I do not encourage faculty to sign with vanity presses or with those ‘academic’ presses who ask for thousands of dollars from the author (i.e. Peter Lang etc); unless there is some special case for this. With edited works, my own policy is that any good publisher who can produce these at affordable prices is a good option as the more people who read them the better. Here IVP, Eerdmans, Baker, Wipf and Stock etc do a very good job.

As an illustration of the above I can use myself. I am a systematician whose PhD was on the doctrine of theosis in the theology of Thomas Torrance. Upon publishing the PhD (Ashgate) I continue to research and write about the theology of Torrance (well beyond the theme of theosis), and I also write about theosis (beyond the work of Torrance). My masters was in Spirit Christology so I continue to read, research, and write in that area as well. I have a third area of expertise and that is in what I am calling a Third Article Theology. It will take me 7-10 years to ‘master’ this area and to contribute essays and then a major monograph so that is what I am currently reading about and at least a good part of two sabbaticals will be spent in this area of research. In addition to the above there are other areas of interest that my taught courses throw up and so I publish occasional pieces on them. Finally, I am passionate about a number of theological issues and concepts and try to always have one edited volume of work on the go at any given time.

Edited work deserves more comment. Being the editor of a work allows the researcher to indulge an area of interest but not be responsible for having to write an entire monograph on it; something which is normally beyond the new and emerging researcher anyway. It is also a topic of interest to the researcher to be developed; it allows the researcher to offer the academic community a unique work around a concept which is clearly of interest to academics such as yourself. Editing a work also brings the new and emerging researcher into collegial dialogue with a range of contributors, many of whom are likely to be seasoned scholars, and that builds networks and acquaintances from which (hopefully), reciprocal invitations arise for you to contribute to their works. Thus a network of academic and collegial relationships are formed and developed. It also helps the emerging scholar to build up a publishing CV which helps build rapport with publishers and editors (especially if the work sells!).

Finally, critical book reviews are a useful tool for the new and emerging scholar to do, especially in the first 5 years of their career. I would advise emerging scholars to do 10 or more critical book reviews a year and for several reasons. First, it gets you free books! Second, it helps you form good critical reading habits, increases reading comprehension, and develops critical skills. Third, I have found that honestly and accurately summarizing others’ ideas, then critiquing them, helps make you a better thinker and writer yourself. Fourth, you build up a rapport with publishers and your name gets known (for good or for ill!). After five years of intense reviews scholars find they back off in order to pursue their own projects more and they are then invited to review specific books which are published in their areas of expertise. Thus, you produce less reviews but of greater scholarship.

What Else?

Sabbaticals are essential and I try to take them on time and to maximise such time. A proposal should be written up and approved and research tasks clearly thought through before the sabbatical. Work out where you study best (office, home, abroad) and try to get to those places to write. Scholarships etc are important to organise on an on-going basis if possible (good luck!). One full day a week for research is also a good routine to get into; not a cumulative ‘days’ worth of research over a week!

In addition to research and publications academics are required to do administrative tasks, supervise higher degree students, and if in a seminary type context, to be active in the churches. We also know that work-life balance is important and so good time management and self-care need to be in place for a career academic to flourish and not just survive. So how to fit it all in? There are no easy answers to this and we are each so different so what follows is highly subjective. Being married with young children means I don’t personally do much if any work on the weekends…ever. Apart from preaching and the odd weekend seminar I do not typically research over the weekend. I also don’t work at night very often. My work hours are, at present due to family life, confined to work hours, thus work hours become work hours. I try to keep formal office hours, to set research and publication goals, to read as much as I can, and to write as much as I can during work hours. I find that term time is a write off for research as I am consumed with students, supervision, and administration. But outside of term time I clear my desk and research and write, I commit myself to projects and then have to complete them. As the children get older I assume I will have more time for research and writing but for now, it is limited so I try to make full use of it.

Week nights and weekends are guilt free family times, church attendance, relaxation, and social events. This is what creates a rhythm to the academic life for me so that I flourish, not merely survive.

The secret I think to a long, healthy, and productive academic career is to find out how you work, what God requires of you, and who you are variously responsible to, and to go for it. Stanley Grenz once said when he visited New Zealand that upon the completion of his PhD under Pannenberg, the Dr said to him, “Stan, you have the choice to be profound or prolific.” Grenz said he chose the latter. I too have sought to emulate such advice. Other colleagues are more profound than me and follow a different, but no less worthy path. May God bless our scholarship for the building up of the saints to the glory of God.

Dr Myk Habets, Carey Graduate School, Auckland, New Zealand

Deus semper maior!


6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Early Career Academic Publishing

  1. Thanks Myk, I am enjoying following your work. Thanks especially for including the importance of balance and order in the life of academic discipline. All too often family and life are relegated as secondary activities, tolerated at best. You appear to have constructed a robust and obviously successful model – ‘rhythm’ -where your family and wider life in general enrich and contribute to your perspective. Valuable.

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