The Parallel Session Should Be Part of Peer Review

ISSST2013 has several goals that I’ll blog about in great detail shortly.  However, one of the foremost goals is to accelerate the production, publication, archiving and dissemination of new knowledge in the form of scholarly works (mostly journal articles or books).

To do this better, we need to think of the parallel sessions a little differently.  Often, at conferences academics lapse into a passive “lecture” mode.  We tend to present finished works — or at least those that are nearly finished.  We want to speak from authority.  And audiences mostly want to be polite, so they don’t really challenge the presenters in ways that would advance the research.

But if the sessions are to be most useful, we should adopt an attitude that is more interactive.  The audience should feel an obligation to critique the work.  (Note that critique is not just criticism.  It can be positive or negative, but it always comes from a position of expertise).

We should think of the parallel sessions as part of the peer review process.  Presenters should expect a response from their audience,and they should have time themselves to react to the response.  Presenters should be prepared to take notes, or have others take notes, and use the response they get from their audience to hasten their progress to publication.  In this way, we have a specific end in mind — which is a journal article.

There is a lot of advice about how to get published in academia available on the web.  Very recently, this advice has started incorporating digital media strategies — especially in sociology.  But I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone be explicit about advising authors to think of their conference presentations as a part of their journal review process.

I don’t think the idea is very far-fetched at all.  In fact, I think with a few adjustments from the Chairs, we’ll be able to improve the productive of each session for all presenters.

I recently came across a new blog post from Deborah Lupton that lists 30 tips for prospective authors, and I’ve listed my favorites here.  Click thru the link for the full post.  (The emphasis in bold is mine).

30 tips for successful academic research and writing

Next month I am running a workshop on academic publishing for early career academics. As part of preparing for the workshop I jotted down some ideas and tips to share with the group which I thought I would post here. In the process of writing 12 books and over 110 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters over a career which has mostly been part-time because of juggling the demands of motherhood with academic work, I have developed some approaches that seem to work well for me.

These tips are in no particular order, apart from number 1, which I consider to be the most important of all.

  1. Choose something to research/write about that you are passionately interested in. I find that most of my research and writing tends to spring from wanting to find out more or understand more about a particular phenomenon that intrigues me. In explaining it to myself I end up explaining it to others, hopefully in a new and interesting way that is worthy of publication…. .
  2. Make a start. Once you have an idea for a piece of writing, create a file for it on your computer and write down anything, however rough and however brief, even if it is just a provisional title and some notes about possible content. It can always be polished and developed later or even discarded if you decide eventually not to go ahead with the idea.
  3. Organise your writing into different computer files: articles in progress, submitted articles, accepted articles, conference papers, blog posts, book proposals, grant applications etc.
  4. If you are feeling unenthusiastic or have hit a wall – leave that piece of writing for a while and work on another piece of writing.
  5. Use your writing in as many different ways as you can – conference papers, articles/chapters, books, blog posts. Turn the small (unrefereed) pieces into bigger (refereed) pieces whenever you can and vice versa. What starts out as a blog post can be later developed into an article, for example. Conversely some of the main arguments of an article can be used in one or more blog posts.
  6. Never let a conference/seminar paper stay a conference/seminar paper – turn it into an article/book chapter as soon as you can. If there is simply not enough substance for a piece that is the length of a journal article or book chapter, consider polishing and referencing the paper appropriately. Once it is at a standard where you consider it ready to be available to others, publish it on your university’s e-repository as a working paper. That way, anyone will be able to access the paper digitally and reference it.
  7. Decide on an appropriate journal as you are writing an article and tailor the argument/length to the journal’s requirements before you finish it.
  8. Receiving feedback from academic referees on a writing piece or research proposal can sometimes be demoralising. Don’t let negative comments get you down for long. Grit your teeth and revise and resubmit as soon as you can, however tedious it feels. See this as an opportunity to make your piece the very best it can be. If the article has been rejected, take a good hard look at whether the referees’ comments are valid and if necessary, revise and then submit it to another journal. Remember that all successful academic writers have received negative feedback at times: that is simply part-and-parcel of academic writing and publishing.
  9. Make sure that your abstract is well-written and will lead others to your work (see here for guidelines on writing an effective abstract).
  10. Connect, connect, connect. Publicise your research and make connections with other researchers as much as you can. Make contact with others working in areas related to your interests even if they are in different departments or in other universities. Join relevant research networks or start your own.
  11. Strengthen your online presence. Think about using social and other digital media to promote your research, engage with the community and make academic connections. Set up a profile on at the barest minimum. Make sure your university webpage is kept up-to-date with your latest publications and research projects. Write blog posts (if you don’t want to commit to your own blog, do guest posts for others’ blogs or for online discussion forums), sign up to Twitter and relevant Facebook pages, put your PowerPoints on SlideShare, make Pinterest boards (see here for my introduction to social media for academics).
  12. Seek out advice or mentorship (from) more experienced academics whose research you respect.
  13. Take regular walks/runs/bike rides. This will not only keep you physically fit but will also provide a mental space to think through an argument or come up with new ideas. Some of my best ideas have come when I have been in motion and my thoughts are unencumbered.

via 30 tips for successful academic research and writing | This Sociological Life.

Lise Laurin says:

I’ve always considered this conference a space for dialog–not lecture. I enjoy the questions posed (by presenters and audience alike) as much or more than the material presented. The problem we are grappling with is so large that at times it seems overwhelming. The right question allows us to narrow the scope to something more manageable–allowing us to solve a small chuck of the puzzle instead of having to solve the whole enchilada.

I’d like to see the special sessions, in particular, focus on some of these questions. Last year’s session asking if Life Cycle Dialog would expedite our journey was very well received. I think these sessions also enhance dialog between our different types of attendees instead of putting the academics in one room and the rest of us in another.

Dialog is exactly right!

While I posed one objective — speeding peer review for academic publishing — that would be advanced by further dialog, it is true that the interests of the business community place far less emphasis on publication.

We need to understand better what brings people to the conference, and how to structure interactions so that their time spent at ISSST2013 is productive towards their own ends.

Of course that includes the academic goal of publication, but that is only one of many objectives. (And even then, publication is a means to some other end, rather than an end unto itself).

alan says:

One way to think about a conference–of any kind really–is as a space for the reassemblage of knowledge into a more useful (adding to the domain of public understanding) and usable (it can inform practice in a meaningful way) form. If creating a space where we can make knowledge useful and useable, then the job of the conference facilitator/convenor (and the participants too–we don’t escape responsibility) is to steward the development of a conference as a process technology. Thinking about it as a process technology allows us to do a couple of things.
First, it allows us to draw on existing process technology to help create that space for the conference. One of the ways the development of the conference could go is in first providing the space for conference presenters to design an interaction environment for conference participants after their presentation. You could use:
a short form of the unconference format ( ,
use a world cafe form ( ,
or use a fishbowl amongst a group of knowledgable experts (
to throw out a few examples. Every idea-in progress will require a slightly different format to best allow participants to critique and contribute to the development of the idea as a useful and useable one. Part of the goal of the conference over time could be to develop some support to conference presenters in thinking through what form would allow for the best dialogue and feedback.

Another potential strength of thinking about a conference as a process technology is that this can be a point of organization for the conference as a whole. There are some larger struggles, themes, etc, that cannot be identified before the conference happens but can be identified by participants over the course of the conference itself. Process technology can be used to structure the conference in such a way that this knowledge-generation potential can be harnessed in a new way.

The knowledge challenges to sustainability are particular enough that over time, a conference on this could develop a refined particular set of proces technology that are well suited to the challenges at hand. So, participating in a conference can be thought of as participating in the development of one of our key tools for confronting sustainability–a large-scale forum for knowledge-generation.

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