The increasingly cutthroat character of the downsized, outsourced corporate academy means that individual drive and determination are essential for success. Ironically, though, I think that the single strongest factor behind success in publishing is collective organizing.
I say this because of my own experience at an elite university where there was little advice given to graduate students on how to get their work published. Senior faculty members at this school were generally academic stars and as a result had the power to evade their responsibilities as teachers and mentors. Junior faculty, for their part, were desperately struggling to publish their own work in a pretty hostile and very competitive environment. No one at my school had thought to establish an introduction to grad studies to help explain issues such as publishing.
Of course, even such difficult conditions should not stop one from researching faculty members in one’s discipline in order to find out where they are publishing and then approaching them to ask for suggestions for journals to read and publish in. One also needs to be aggressive in asking for help in revising seminar papers to submit to academic journals, and in demanding punctual notification from journal editors. But such individual moves should be only one part of a broader strategy to achieve success in publishing.
Graduate students need to organize on multiple levels in order to demand rights and inclusion as colleagues. The Social Text editorial collective was founded in such a spirit of solidarity in the early 1970s. The importance of collective work has only grown as different forms of academic labor, including publishing, have become more contingent during the subsequent decades of neoliberalism. In my experience, the ST collective remains a vibrant laboratory where individuals of different disciplines, diverse ranks, and varying levels of notoriety meet to exchange ideas, draw on one another’s cultural capital, and publish interdisciplinary work.
Let me give some concrete examples of what such collective student organizing might look like. If your school doesn’t have a seminar or workshop series that covers issues such as conference presentations and publishing, for example, you should petition your department’s executive officer to establish one. This will win you friends among junior faculty since it will mean that their mentoring is constituted as service work rather than as unacknowledged mentoring time, and it will take out the haphazard quality of advice gleaned from various advisors.
Students should also organize themselves into interest/area groups in order to establish writing/reading workshops. Again, there should be faculty involvement with such groups, and this involvement should count as service work. The aim of such workshops should be to disseminate advice on how to produce publishable work rather than simply to keep students writing.
Students should also be proposing panels at regional and national conferences. This may involve organizing with students at one’s home institution or networking with colleagues who have similar interests at other schools. Either way, preparing presentations and attending panels is key to gaining a sense of current debates and getting important feedback as one develops one’s ideas.
Building on this, students should also band together to solicit funds in order to organize conferences at their home institution or across neighboring institutions. Such smaller conferences can offer important platforms for meeting academic movers and shakers in a more intimate setting. These kinds of events consume lots of time and energy, which is which is why they need to be a collective endeavor, but they are tremendously empowering on a psychological level.
Such psychological empowerment is perhaps the most important aspect of collective work. It takes real gumption to make it in academia. Circulating one’s ideas in public has never been easy, but in these days of economic cutbacks and ideological policing I think it is imperative that we all forge a stronger sense of collective solidarity and entitlement.