Thursday, September 21, 2006

PhD Student Rant #2

Grrrr. I feel academically isolated and in a hopeless situation.

Why am I academically isolated? My contract ran out at the college I taught at last year and it was not renewed. Not a surprise there - I don't have a terminal degree. I didn't take a job elsewhere because I still need to finish my dissertation and I love living in this town where my husband makes enough to support us. We live very comfortably in our own house with nearly everything we need in walking distance. We are also virtually equidistant between our families. This means the quality of life is very good. So, it just didn't make sense to take another visiting position. So, I am working on my dissertation from a university that is on the other coast. It may as well be in Timbuktu. I can't have regular meetings with my advisor. Access to researchers to try to get something collaborative going is challenging. If I want to launch a new research project, I will have to do it online because I have zero access to lab space unless my alma mater and former employer grows some new generosity streak. With some finagling and sweet talking (begging) maybe they would work something out with me.

Why do I feel hopeless? In a nutshell, I have a great teaching CV. I taught at two excellent small liberal arts colleges while still ABD - something that virtually no one does which makes me special. My student evaluations range from average to outstanding depending on the class. But, I have a virtually non-existent research CV. I have given talks and poster presentations, involved students in my research - even got three of them into conferences to present our collaborative work, but I don't have a publication yet. Without that, I won't be competitive in academia.

My strategy of contacting people I'd like to work with hasn't really panned out.

One, who is on my committee and who is well established in my field (a student of the founder of my field), doesn't have time for me outside of reading my dissertation when it's completed. She offered to read and comment on a complete manuscript of my MA research but then when I emailed it to her she wrote back and said that she is about to take over as one of the editors of a journal (the one I would like to publish my research in) and doesn't have time.

The second - who is also in my field, is less well known, and is a student of my advisor, wants to rewrite my MA research and submit it to a less prestigious journal. This seemed like a good idea until I realized that it's possible he may be credited with the idea. A second author on my paper could be perceived as having done 50% of the work when really he did 5% (or less!) So, I'm just skeptical of turning my original idea and work over to someone else who could then get substantially more credit than he deserves. My work really is original; it's not another example of derivative work with a 'new' twist. Maybe I will end up going with this option in order to just get it published. I'm just not there yet because I don't think I've tried hard enough to turn it over to someone else. I have left this door open though, and have asked to be brought in on a project he's working on if I go that route.

My third strategy is to find someone outside of my immediate field who is more mainstream and also recognizable to collaborate with on a line of research that is different from my MA and PhD work. I really need to branch out. I have some ideas for other research - some of which requires equipment I don't have (!) - and could start it up on my own in isolation, but I really need to work with more established people to make sure I don't take wrong turns, screw up the design, or fail in the publication process. I would like someone to walk me through the whole publication process and serve as an advisor in that capacity. My own advisor has not done that. She writes textbooks and is near retirement. Nevertheless, when I asked her to provide comments on my manuscript before I send it out to a journal, she wrote back and said that she is focusing on her textbook and starting new collaborative research with other people and just doesn't have the time. She could have said that she's been as helpful as she can be already and that I should ask someone within my field who has more expertise on the topic to provide comments. I would have understood that but instead I got the blow-off from my advisor who then sent me into a tizzy of thinking she will not be helpful when it comes to my dissertation. So... I had a meeting with my real mentor who pointed out it's in my PhD granting institution's best interests to make sure I get the degree. She told me her dissertation (at the same place) was a total mess and she still passed, so there's always hope. I walked away feeling better about that. I will get those three little letters, but without publications I won't be able to do anything with them.

A while back I wrote to a recognizable researcher in a field that's mine but more mainstream, i.e. social psych rather than EP. After several email exchanges clarifying what our roles in this collaboration would be I ferreted out that he wants me to conceive the idea, conduct the research, analyze it, and write it up. Then he would re-write it and we could publish it together. I could bounce ideas off of him but his role would be minimal. Yet, he'd be second author. Again, I'd do all of the important work, but he'd get substantially more credit than he's earned.

This morning my wonderful husband, who's been with me all along bouncing ideas and troubleshooting and enforcing breaks that I'd otherwise not take, listened to my latest rant and offered that it sounds like this guy "wants to wave his dick over it & slap his name on it."

So now what do I do?

Do I turn over my ideas to someone else who may get me published? Do I start up a new project in which I do all the hard work and hope the guy works with me throughout so I don't screw it up and is still around to get it published in the end? Can I do this at the same time I am working on my dissertation? Do I sya thanks but no thanks to these two guys and look for someone else who is willing to do more of the work? Or is this the best I can hope for? Is this normal in academia?


Psycgirl said...

Its not very common for grad students in psychology to be single author on a paper - I would take your 2 papers where you will be first author with an unhelping second author and try to get them out as fast as possible. Everyone is likely to know you did most of the work anyway, as the graduate student (because if you didn't you'd be the second author). I always figure a publication in grad school is a big deal, and an even bigger deal if you're first author, so you should try and not care who comes after you (and I do have a hard time taking my own advice, its easier said than done). You will be up for better jobs with 2 papers, no matter who is on them with you

Dr. Shellie said...

First of all, don't be too hard on yourself. It is really difficult to finish a PhD remotely. It's even harder when your advisor is not doing the job an advisor should. Ideally, the advisor is there to do all the things you mentioned, including guide you through the research and publication process. Unfortunately, yours does not seem willing. So what do you do? There is another option which you didn't mention-- trying to put more pressure on your own advisor to help you. Can you afford a trip to your PhD University for a week or two, or find a travel grant for this? Do you know people you could stay with there? Tell her you want to come and work with her for a week. An advisor really SHOULD be available to read copies of your dissertation chapters or articles and give comments-- particularly if the advisor is a coauthor (not sure if that's the case for you). And publishing your dissertation work as research articles is usually a lot easier than trying to go and do extra, unrelated work at the same time.
The other route you describe sounds pretty much like finding a surrogate advisor-- a more experienced person who will serve as a sounding board/editor/etc. You ask if it is typical for academia that such a person gets authorship for this role. That seems to depend very much on the field-- in literature, usually not, in some science fields, pretty much all the time. So it depends.
Another thing to keep in mind is the possibility of just writing an article as best you can, and sending it off to a journal. It might, in fact, not be all that good the first time. But provided your article is sent out to review, you will get comments from the reviewers which can help you improve the paper. It is not all that encouraging when people write nasty and unpleasant things about your paper! But if you can manage not to take it too personally and just see it as what you need to do to get your work published, it could be useful. Here's an inspiring post. PhD Mom also has some paper writing tips.

Dr. Shellie said...

Same thing for your committee member who refuses to read the dissertation chapter: why isn't she helping you? Sometimes people don't want to commit to helping because they fear it will turn into a lot of work. What if you try to boil down your MA thesis to a journal article (doing your best at the actual format and including an abstract), and send it to her along with some specific, very targetted questions on the areas you need advice? Or if you can at some point visit the university, can you do this in person in a 1-2 hour appointment? Or could you get one of these people to spend 1/2 an hour a week (or month, or...?) in a phone meeting with you? Pursuing new research and new collaborators is great-- and maybe that has some benefits too. But if you are proud of the research you have already done, maybe it is worth trying to get people to give you the help you want in getting it published.

B said...

In my field I've never encountered a grad student first author paper with no other authors. Usually because you work in a lab and use someone else's equipment, expertise, or just guidance in general writing means they get authorship. It is pretty standard, but if you are 1st then people usually know you came up w/ the ideas, ran the study, collected and analyzed the data and wrote it up. People offering to help always want something for the time they put in, and if 2nd authorship is it, I would take it, if I got a pub out of it.

Anonymous said...

I say go for it. You've got the time and the contacts. Submit the publications after working with the two established researchers, just make sure you are listed as first author. No one gets all the credit all the time, whether they busted their tail to complete the project or not, thats just how life is. And who knows these guys may have some valuable tidbit to contribute that will greatly improve what you have written. After all they have publications and have been through the entire process.

Think of it this way- is it better to have two publications with co-authors or no publications at all??? Two pubs on an application certainly look better than none at all!