Go big or go home

A common misconception is that publishing an article should be in a top tier journal. Go big or go home! Yes if you’re an experienced researcher with access to funding and time and space and anything in between. For commoners like us, with full teaching load and tons of administrative work, if you ask me to go big or go home, thank you, I’m going home.

Cause really, I’d rather publish in a third or fourth tier journal why? First of, let’s be honest I haven’t got the fully-fledged research training and it’s a rough street down here in the dark alley part of the academia. With the mandatory publication of at least once in a year, I’ve decided that I’m not going to make my life any harder. Lower tier it is then. Lower tier or nothing at all.

But honestly, how do we even decide whether a journal falls into a first, second or third tier? Some say it’s according to the impact factor (IF), and some say that a first tier just means broader coverage, while a second tier onwards means that they are flagship journals of each disciplinary society. Broader coverage like systematic reviews prompts more citations, leading up to a higher IF. Some also think it’s all about the unspoken consensus among experts in each discipline. Decisions rely on experienced members in the field, yes but who are these experienced members? And don’t you think that there would be a bit of bias here?

Next thing is, maybe I’m overgeneralizing but I’m guessing that older scholars prefer long standing often-old classical journals despite having lower IF, while younger researchers with no history prefer journals with high IF. So what’s really the deal here? Could we really judge the quality of an article solely based on the IF? It could be the case that a nice article ends up in a third tier journal just because the author prefers to publish in that journal. Not to mention the language and cultural barrier. Could it be the case that some really really nice article cannot pull through because it’s not written by a native speaker of English? Just saying.

Now I sound like resenting top tier journals just because I cannot publish an article in there just yet. I’m not. Or am I? I sound rather bitter here, don’t I? But really, honestly, truthfully, what I’m trying to say is that, if we really want to contribute to the discipline, for the sake of science and the advancement of technology, we probably should ditch this concept of go big or go home. What about just go, just research, just solve problems and benefit the society. Simple. Let’s start there. It doesn’t sound glorious, but it’s meaningful. After all, isn’t that the main thing in the academia? For us to research not for fame but for the sake of science.

You see, here is what I think to be the most common motivation for people to publish in a top tier journal: citation and incentives. The more your work is cited, the more you become a celebrity, and surely, the more increasing the university citation index will be. Then, you get funding and incentives. Don’t get me wrong, I like incentives a lot but deep down I want to be that researcher who seeks truth and extends the body of literature. In an ideal world, I do research and find something new, money will follow, like a byproduct, but in reality, complicated situation often forces us to research whatever brings us money.

Another thing about going big is that we need collaborations, as in real research collaborations. Here goes another problem. What is commonly referred to as collaborations in many halls of academia is one person writes and the other reads and gives feedback. That’s it. The writer benefits form the feedback and the reader gets their name tucked in to the paper’s list of contributors. Mutual right? Yeah. Rest in peace the idea of joined forces to bring about novelty and innovation. Cause it’s all about getting things done, like ticking the list of chores you need to complete as an intellectual labor. But wait bear with me; I’m not pointing my finger at people. It’s more about the situation, isn’t it? We don’t have research hubs; we don’t have the time, and the energy. We don’t have the luxurious sabbatical leave. If we did, we would see a lot more collaborations. Cool stuff being done like rigorous research and things.

At least for the time being, I sort of leave the idea of going big. I’m happy to just start small. I’m not aiming to publish in a top tier journal. Seriously, my aim is not to get rejected that’s all. As a new researcher I already feel overwhelmingly appreciated when receiving feedback because there are actually people who read and think about what I write. And I take all criticisms with open arms ‘cause they make me a better writer.

One thing that I often receive is feedback on the language. The English! Wait hold it. This article you are reading is crafted by the lead editor of this website. I author the message but she’s the one doing the wording. So don’t lash out at me like how can I write this piece effortlessly but being criticized for my English elsewhere. I got help that’s how. Where was I? Oh the English language yes. Reviewers said that my English is hard to understand, that I often repeat myself, that sentences are not effective, that I sound gibberish to put it bluntly. To my defense, English is my third language so how am I expected to write a flawless research article in it. Oh and once I was asked to show my IELTS score for, maybe, checking my English. They probably didn’t mean it but I did attach my IELTS certificate together with the resubmitted manuscript. Later on I came to realize that it was probably just a politeness strategy, you know, like they didn’t want to actually say that my English was problematic. The wording was something like, “you need to brush off your English and show improvement in your IELTS score”. Brush off, you see, very polite! Instead of acknowledging the comment and moved on I sent them my actual IELTS score, quite low in the writing part. Great. My English is not only gibberish but now they think I also speak fluent sarcasm.

Anyway, to return to the discussion, that sort of comment was “just” from third-tier-journal’s reviewers, or in a common tongue Q3 (ki tiga), in regional Asia. So really, go big or go home. Fellow scholars I’m pretty sure I’m going to show myself the door. One day maybe I can live up to this big expectation. When I’m bigger and stronger. But until that day comes, I’ll go home and start small, using resources I have, with like-minded people who truly care and are passionate about making an impact and change. And if you’re new researcher like me I think you should do the same. Keep it real and grounded.