Open research and ‘self-promotion’

I just read an interesting (though slightly depressing!) post from Nick Hopwood giving useful advice to PhDs and ECRs. I’m not quibbling with his advice per se and I genuinely enjoy his blog but I took issue with this paragraph:

I had vague ideas that academics, with a few obvious exceptions, get on in their careers by doing good, solid research, teaching effectively, and making quiet contributions to institutional and disciplinary life. The quality of their ideas, discoveries, pedagogy and colleagueship would ensure that their recognition. If that was ever true (which it may not have been) it certainly isn’t now. You get, and get on in, an academic career by actively (perhaps aggressively at times) peddling your ideas, your effectiveness as a teacher, and your value to the uni or your field. You have to push. This comes from having the vision and courage to apply for grants when you’ll probably get rejected, to aim for top journals, to try out new teaching approaches, and to step up in working groups, push new ideas through committees, take on roles in your disciplinary organisation. But it also comes from capitalising on those achievements when you make them. An academic life is pretty much a constant sales pitch (see below). Here, I mean you’re selling your work to others.

I completely see what he’s getting at. But I’d like to make a (potentially naive) argument against it. His case rests on the suggestion that, in the contemporary academy, people won’t receive recognition through the intrinsic virtue of their scholarship. There’s a certain plausibility about this claim. But does it hold for open scholarship? I suspect not but I don’t wish to suggest that ‘openness’ somehow ameliorates all that is wrong with higher education. However I do think that when the development of ideas becomes, via social media, an open process then Nick’s argument largely ceases to be true. This could be construed cynically: perhaps social media is intrinsically self-promotive? Or more positively: genuine openness in academic life would make it much more likely that people receive recognition in virtue of “the quality of their ideas, discoveries, pedagogy and colleagueship”. Thoughts on this  would be much appreciated, as I’m not entirely sure whether I’m convinced by my own argument. I guess the intuition underlying it is that ‘doing work in the open’ cannot be equated to self-promotion even if, in practice, the former leads to the latter.

4 Comments

  1. Being genuinely open and interactive helps sell your ideas, but also strategic self-promotion makes a huge difference. Many of my colleagues are top-notch scholars, but the subset of them that have identified the way to market themselves have more recognition and the booty that comes with it.

  2. I also wonder if Nick’s ideas apply most, at least in the US, to top-tier institutions rather than those focused primarily on teaching at the undergraduate (perhaps also Master’s) level.

  3. You make an interesting agreement here Mark, but I wonder if you’ve fallen into a bit of a media-determinist trap. Perhaps recognition through engaging in social media / open scholarship is just as dependent on the type of ‘aggressive’ activity Nick advocates in traditional academic environments.

    1. I guess I’m proposing a specific mechanism: social media makes it more likely that work will be recognised regardless of whether the individual concerned aggressively markets themselves in the way Nick discusses. There’s still contingent conditions which need to be in place (the blog still has to be promoted, it has to be discoverable etc) but I think the activity is distinguishable from the sort of things which Nick talks about. Or at least my argument falls apart if this distinction isn’t accepted or sustainable.

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