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President's Message: The Good Citizen and the Glue of the Academe II

Posted By Peng Hwa Ang, ICA President, Nanyang Technological U, Thursday, February 2, 2017
Two issues ago, I began the first of a two-part column on academic citizenship. I had written about how it was impossible in our line of work to get ahead in our career going it alone. We do not publish our own journal or organise our own conferences. We do not write our own reference letters. Getting a paper accepted into a journal or a conference, getting promoted—all these now require some people (more than one) to give us a lift through starting up the journal, organising the conference and then reviewing our work.

It is this voluntary and sometimes little-recognised service that is the glue of the academy. The November column contains a surprisingly long list of the activities that are part of that glue. The list includes organising conferences, serving in academic associations, and mentoring. Among the most visible acts of service is the review of papers.

The double-blind peer review is now the standard way for assessing the quality of academic work and is increasingly being adopted by universities across the globe. On the one hand, such use of the double-blind review is good for scientific research and for our scientific community. It makes our output just that much more trustworthy. On the other hand, the increased need for peer reviews also puts a strain on reviewers.

As often happens, technology becomes a recourse. In the last few years, a handful of resources have emerged to improve the reviewer acceptance rate (that is, reviewers agreeing to do the reviews) and expedite the review process. One such site, Publons.com, launched in 2012, claims the support of several leading academic publishers and 50,000 researchers. The site recognizes reviewers and awards the top ones.

I have wondered about the possibility of incentives. At our most recent annual conference in Fukuoka, Japan, I organized a breakfast meeting of a few deans to explore ways to better recognize for reviews. All the deans readily agreed to meet, observing that it was getting increasingly difficult to get review letters for promotion and tenure.

One conclusion from the meeting was that citizenship is indeed recognized at the year-end appraisal as service. The slight catch is that all the “works of citizenship” are considered in a single line-item under “Service.” One suggestion was to break out key areas into individual line items. That is, there could be a line for “reviews” so that the question at the year-end appraisal will not be “What did you do for service?” but “What did you do for reviews?”

I’m still concerned as to whether such monetary rewards work, as behavioural research has shown that offering monetary incentives in an altruistic setting may backfire. I plan to follow up with the deans at our upcoming conference.

At our recent Midyear Board Meeting in January, some suggestions included making it compulsory for all paper submitters to do at least one review. However, one can see the reservations here – a reluctant reviewer will not do a good job.

Good citizenship cannot be compelled. But it can be modelled. The ICA has been fortunate in having established a culture of collegiality in which many senior professors have been willing to help with such acts of service as reviewing papers and mentoring junior faculty.

If you have been such acts of service continue doing them. If you have not, consider starting. You can literally make an impact in someone’s life.

The coin of our realm is influence. Being a good academic citizen gives you the opportunity to exercise such influence.

So go forth, and be a good academic citizen.

Tags:  January-February 2017 

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