Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The "perish" in "polish or perish"

Explaining a joke or a pun is never funny. So, excuse my unfunniness:

The title of this blog, Polish or Perish, should be an obvious reference for those familiar with the academic industry. "Publish or Perish" refers to an aspiring professor's need to publish articles, chapters or books in order to get a job. The smart, go-getter graduate student needs to have her eyes on the prize, the prize being authorship credit on as many quality papers as possible.

This morning, almost completely out of the blue (mmm, blues... I have a great dark blue Lancome polish on right now... but more on that later), I got an email from my Unofficial Advisor from college: she's resurrected an old language acquisition/developmental psych research project that I had worked on five years ago as an undergrad. She spruced a manuscript and sent it to me, the other undergrad RA who worked on the project and a former grad student of hers to provide criticism before she submits it for publication in one of the most competitive journals in the field. (They have an especially quick TAT for rejections so an author doesn't lose much time by aiming high.)

( is weird to talk about "TAT" in terms of academic journals. I'm used to talking about etailers' TAT and when I can expect to receive whatever salt scrubs I've ordered.)

Years ago, when she prepared the working paper for a conference and asked for feedback, I didn't have the confidence to provide useful criticism. Today, I knew I could help (at least, a little bit), even though it's been years since I've done research in this particular subfield. In a way, I know less than I did when I was a senior because I'm no longer familiar with this subfield but somehow, I've gotten better at knowing what's good, what's bad, and what's promising but infused with bullshit. That shouldn't surprise me: it's in my job description as a grad student and I've been at this job for a year now. But during this past year, I was so busy adjusting to graduate school, I kind of forgot the bigger picture of why I was in graduate school.

This paper is the first paper being submitted for publication (since starting graduate school) that will list me as a co-author. This is real. I'm doing this whole thing -- not just because I love it -- because I'm building my career (and by extension, making a couple of lifestyle choices). I'm choosing "publish or perish". And that's why I'm in graduate school.

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