Category Archives: Me

Tractor beams, wineries, and flat tires

This past weekend the summer weather cooled enough to justify getting on the bike again. I did some exploring of the Fuchu Furusato Nature Park (that’s where I took the photo above). There’s a golf course at the top of the hill there, and it’s a relatively convenient place to get over Kureha Mountain (It’s called a mountain but it’s more of a long hill) to the cycling on the other side. However, because of the golf course you have a moderate amount of traffic on the road up, and I was curious about whether there was a road that would allow me to avoid having to cycle together with that traffic (there is).

There’s also a ‘pond’ (Furudo Pond) and according to Google, a road going around the pond, and I wanted to see how cycle-friendly that road was (it wasn’t):

I should have taken a picture, but after the road turned to gravel, it pretty quickly turned into churned forest floor. On a hybrid bike without suspension, with my feet locked into spd pedals, I decided it best to turn around before I had the drama of some spectacular accident. The beware of bears and wild boar signs didn’t help the case for continuing forward instead of turning around. Neither did having listened to an NPR story that morning about an emergency room physician paralyzed in a mountain biking accident. I should have gotten a picture of the trail, but didn’t think to take one until I was back on paved road. I should also offer my apologies to the half dozen spiders I picked up in the forest. I’m sure they worked very hard to create their webs only to have a foreigner come and rip them from their homes.

After that, I pretty much stuck to roads I know. I passed the entrance to the Toyama Astronomical Observatory and headed up to a fork where National Roads 237 and 432 meet. Going left would have taken me up a hill, through a short tunnel, then basically back to where I had started. Going right could eventually take me to Horaisan, a local winery:

The ensuing conflict in my decision making process is captured pretty well in my texts with Jerry Talandis:

As the texts above summarize, I made it to the winery, unlocking the Buy a Bottle of Wine and Drunken Party at my Place Tonight achievement badges, but about two kilometers from Jerry’s place my tire went flat and that was the end of the cycling adventure for the day.

I called Yuki to rescue me, walked the rest of the way to Jerry’s place, and we drank coffee and had Panda Panda bread until the cavalry arrived.

Could I carry a spare tube and/or a patch kit? Yes. But I would much rather fix a flat in my parking lot than on the side of the road with additional hours of cycling to get home after I’m done with my repairs. And once the bicycle is on the back of the car, it’s much faster and easier to simply drop it off at the bike shop. That’s what I elected to do. I picked it back up on Sunday.

And the rain clouds were closing in. Yes, that’s right. I’ll blame it on the rain

Here’s the day’s course according to Google. This time I only made it about 34 km (21 miles) before the flat (Google didn’t register the flat and switching to walking). My sister, on the other hand, ‘only’ went on a 50 mile cycle ride over the weekend, so don’t worry; she’s still way ahead of where I am.

Coming to the end of the journey: Findings from my PhD research

With my 2nd version of my full PhD thesis manuscript with my supervisors and with a tentative viva date set, I’m starting to realize that I’m likely coming to the end of my time as a PhD student. As such, I’ve entered myself into three contests that the Open University has for postgraduate students, thinking this is probably my last chance to enter as a student. Entering the competitions also helps to serve a dual purpose, as I can use my entries in those competitions, which are intended for a general audience, to communicate what I’ve found through my research more widely.

One of the competitions is to write a 150 word research summary. Here’s what I came up with:

Exploring the Experiences of Japan-Based English Language Teachers Writing for Academic Publication

An important aspect of academics’ careers is writing for publication. Publishing increases access to resources and opportunities. However, with the globalization of higher education, there is considerable movement of people within and between countries and institutions. How such mobility influences writing for publication remains underexplored. This research investigates the writing for publication practices of Japan-based English language teachers working in higher education, exploring the pressures to publish they experience, how they respond to those pressures, and how they navigate expectations to publish. There were three key findings: that the paths manuscripts take toward publication are quite complex; a lot of work goes into writing, reviewing, and revising manuscripts; and the authors tended to want to write about their teaching while reviewers wanted them to write about research. This research can inform both writing for academic publication research generally and authors seeking to publish their academic work more specifically.

Another competition is to produce a poster for a general audience outlining my research and findings. That’s embedded below.

I should thank my colleague, Jerry Talandis, Jr., for his help with the research summary and the poster. For the poster in particular I leaned pretty heavily on his expertise with professional layout software.

The final competition I enrolled in was a ‘multimedia’ competition. I decided to create a video presentation explaining  the basics of my research:

I was hoping for about a 5-minute video presentation, but it ended up being closer to 10 minutes in the end.

In this post I wanted to expand a bit on the findings I’ve outlined above and hopefully respond to some feedback and (constructive) criticisms I’ve received from the people I’ve discussed my findings with (besides my supervisors). In this respect, I should acknowledge Colin Skeates’ constructive feedback on my video summary of my research above.

Finding 1: The paths manuscripts take to publication are quite complex

An easy response to this conclusion is that it’s not news. However, by complex I mean that there are multiple rounds of evaluation and revision both within the official evaluation systems of journals and also outside those systems involving ‘unofficial brokers’. The news value of this finding is that much of the research to date has tended to concentrate on ‘official brokering’; that done by editors and reviewers, but in fact unofficial brokering was also important to publishing many of the texts I analysed. Some manuscripts were also submitted to multiple journals before they were published, suggesting that the correspondence editors tend to analyze; manuscripts submitted to their journals, may be incomplete in terms of representing how manuscripts change during the process of submission, review, and revision. It was also the case that the manuscripts changed considerably throughout their trajectories. Stages labeled as ‘copyediting’ tended to include revisions to aspects of the manuscripts that dealt with issues of what knowledge claims were being made in the texts, not just ‘simple’ corrections of errors.

Finding 2: A lot of work goes into writing, reviewing, and revising manuscripts

This is perhaps another ‘so what’ finding, but the contribution my thesis makes is to empirically evidence this work across a variety of manuscript types. The conclusion that publishing takes a lot of work on the authoring side and on the journal side holds true across international indexed journals and also Japan-based conference proceedings. Quantifying the amount of work can help to advance arguments for ‘counting’ such labor. For example, some of the authors I spoke with mentioned certain publication types ‘not counting’ in institutional measures of publication ‘output’. However, I charted considerable work going into papers published in Japan-based proceedings and Japan-based journals, as much or more than ‘counted’ publications. Another issue is that while review and editing labor is often unpaid, it is essential to the process of academic publication. Quantifying the importance of editing and reviewing to writing for publication can help to advance arguments for institutions to ‘count’ that labor in official evaluations. For example, my university cares very much about annual publication numbers for its faculty, but not at all (as far as I can tell) about the extent to which their facility contribute to the processes required to publish, including reviewing for journals. Showing the amount of work required to publish a manuscript can help to make a case for offering some kind of ‘credit’ for doing that work. The issue of multi-year publication trajectories balanced against yearly publication quotas and expectations is another issue I raise in my thesis.

Finding 3: Teachers want to write about teaching but journals want ‘research’

This to me is personally one of the most important findings from my study. So why is it listed number 3? Well, it’s not one that fits into the research literature on writing for publication particularly well. The teachers I spoke with tended to want to write and publish about their teaching practice, but journal editors and reviewers tended to push them to emphasize the research aspects of their work. There is discussion of the divide between teaching and research in the literature, and I feel this tendency identified in my thesis to emphasize ‘research’ over ‘teaching’ is one manifestation of that divide. Charting the changes in authors’ manuscripts can help to address this divide by pointing out the influence it has on what is and can be published.

In conclusion

There’s a lot more in my 400+ page thesis than I can write about here, so if you’re interested in following up on something I’ve shared, please get in touch.

Another day, another ride…

While the heat of summer feels like it’s here now, this past weekend we were still enjoying relatively cool weather, and so with Sunday taken up with church activities, I set aside Saturday to get in a ride. This time I visited a friend’s place and we did a bit of cycling together then I headed back home. We went by a popular tofu shop where I picked up a small snack, visited a temple the day before it held a 140th memorial celebration of some sort, and I finished with lunch at a popular bread shop before heading home.

Here’s the route, hopefully complete with some pictures:

Don’t worry; my sister Angela is still well ahead of me. Saturday’s ride was a total of just under 50 km (31 miles), and I felt myself losing steam on the last of the leg home, so I’m not going to be up to topping her anytime soon.

One of the more spectacular features of the temple was its bell tower, an photo of which I’ve embedded below:

You can hopefully see in the photo a small placard to the right of the bell tower. Here’s a close-up shot of that:

According to Yuki, the story is that the dragon carving just above the placard, on the right side of the bell tower in the image above, was so realistic that the townspeople feared it came alive at midnight and raided their food stores and crops. In order to ensure the dragon didn’t continue to terrorize the nearby residents, in 1631 the Head Priest of the temple drove two iron nails through the dragon’s eyes to pin it to the bell tower. According to her, you should be able to make out the nails in the eyes of the dragon, so I’m going to have to make a trip back there to check.

A time I helped someone

My English language teaching background goes back to 50 minute lessons at a private language school, and still to this day I find it easier to plan and implement two 45 minute classes than one longer 90 minute class. As the lessons I teach at my university are all 90 minutes long, this means I tend to plan for two different kinds of activities, one for the first 45 minutes and the other for the second 45 minutes.

As I’m teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes), the activities that come in the last half of my classes are generally specialty-oriented, whether around medical, nursing, or pharmaceutical themes. For the first half of my lessons I usually have students engage in conversation-themed activities. I started years ago by announcing a conversation topic at the beginning of the lesson then having students write about what they talked about for homework, but several student comments on my courses said they didn’t feel they were able to spontaneously come up with something to say about a topic announced on the spot during class, and so I’ve since reversed the order of homework and conversation so students are asked to write 100 words for homework about the topic we’ll be using in class for the coming week’s conversation time.

These used to be rather inane topics, at least in my opinion, such as animals, sports, and movies, and it was OK as an activity, but I didn’t feel particularly interested in or engaged with what my students were writing and talking about. Then I was introduced to positive psychology, perhaps through Tim Murphey, and I started thinking about how I could transform these discussion activities into something that helped my students be more conscious of their lives, their roles in the world, and their personal stories. This led me to try to add some elements of positive psychology to the topics I had my students write about.

I wish I could remember all of the sources I’ve drawn on from over the years, but the shift has been more gradual than sudden, and by now I’ve used some of these topics for years, and so their source is obscured in my memory. One important realization I’ve had is that at least some of my students are as interested in hearing my stories as they are those of their classmates, and so I’ve taken to giving my answer to each of these writing prompts orally in class. However, no one’s listening is perfect, and it’s also good to provide the same message across multiple modes of communication, and so I’ve taken to writing some of my answers to these prompts down here. My original intention was to have a link to a written story for every one of my prompts before the end of the semester three or four years ago, but as with many good intentions, life has made it difficult to meet those goals. So instead I’ve meted out my writing of these in fits and starts. I think I’m up to about six by now. I usually write them normally then create a simplified version for students.

So, without further ado, here is the story of the time I helped someone that I usually share with my students in class in response to the prompt:

Write about a time you helped someone. What did you do? How did you feel about it?

In the middle of junior high school I moved from Maryland to Kansas, and one result of that move was that I was put two grade levels back in Math. That is, I had been studying one grade level ahead of most of my peers and ended up instead one grade level behind most of my peers. While this made math classswork exceedingly easy for me (I had already done what we were studying twice over and had a pretty good grasp of what that math served as a foundation for going forward), it also meant that I stood out in my classes. It didn’t really matter how many algebra problems you assigned for homework; it took me a tenth of the time to finish them that it took my classmates. It wasn’t really fair, either; they were seeing the ideas and concepts for the first time. I was basically spinning my well-worn arithmetic wheels when working through them.

That I was behind where I likely should have been became an issue in high school, because my teachers noticed I didn’t really belong where I was and recommended me for the gifted program. When that recommendation came through, the counselor wanted to know why I was behind in math. I explained that back in junior high school, when I moved to Kansas, I was told what math class to take. At the time I tried to explain that I didn’t think they put me in the right level of class, and a testy administrator told me that was where kids my age and grade level belonged. In a new school in a new state, I wasn’t really in a position of authority to question that determination of my place in the school curriculum, and so I went with it.

The response I got was that I was actually a year behind and needed to finish high school a year ahead, more if possible, and so I ended up doubling up on math classes in my second year of high school, taking Algebra and Geometry, normally taken in separate years, at the same time.

I enjoyed math, and so didn’t mind at all. It was fun to work through the problems, and getting the work done still didn’t take up too much of my time. My experience of Algebra is a different story for a different time. This story centers around my Geometry class, which was particularly fascinating for me because the equations translated directly into shapes and vice versa, and so I could visualize the problems as I worked through them.

As usual, I would normally finish the homework during class and not need to worry too much about taking extra work home. Our teacher would also give us time to study and prepare for tests in class, which I didn’t really need, because I had an almost intuitive level of understanding of the problems.

In the same class was a senior who (I at least thought) was repeating his last year at school, so a fifth year high school student. He fell into the category of cool kids in my estimation. He drove an old sports car, wore leather jackets, and looked like he would know his way around in a brawl. These impressions were likely all incorrect, but they led me to give him a wide berth in class, and we interacted only in passing throughout most of the semester. Thinking back on it, he was perhaps as intimidated of me as I was of him, as what he found the most difficult to understand in class I was able to do with barely any effort, generally intuitively. If I forgot a formula during a test, I understood how that formula had been derived, and could reproduce it through manipulation of equations that I did remember. For me it was less of a challenge and more of a game. It seemed he had only limited understanding of the principles underlying the equations, and remembering which to use when was a constant struggle for him throughout the class. While I was disappointed if my test scores weren’t a perfect 100%, he barely passed or barely failed the tests throughout the semester. I was the smart ass who corrected the teacher when she made a mistake working through sample problems on the board, which I think she had mixed feelings about at best.

He finally broke the barrier of silence one tense class the last month of the term. Our teacher had explained what was going to be on the final test and had said we had the next class or two to study for it. I was wondering what I was going to do with the time. She didn’t like it when I read books in class, but at the same time going over what I already more or less knew as well as I was going to know it felt to me like a waste of time.

The senior student had gone up to the front of the class like the rest of us to get his score in the class and to find out what he needed on the final to pass. I think I needed something like a 40% to pass, and perhaps a 60% to get an A in the class. I wish I was paying attention to my surroundings when he went up to hear what his grades were, but attentiveness to those around me has never been my strong suit.

I was snapped out of my daydream by a nudge on my shoulder and a whisper, “Hey, you. You’re smart. Help me pass this test.”

This was supposed to be silent study time, so I looked up from my doodles on my paper, back at him, then up to the front of the room. The teacher was looking in our direction and seemed a bit upset, but gave a nod, which I took as permission to turn around and respond.

The details of the actual conversation aren’t important, but what is important is his story. He was working part-time at a local garage, doing maintenance on cars, and the head of the shop told him they had a full-time job for him, but he needed to graduate from high school first. If he didn’t, then he would lose his part-time job and be out of luck. That was the only reason he was still in school. The one thing he lacked to graduate was the math credit for this geometry class, and our teacher had heard his hard luck story and said if he passed the final test, he could pass the class.

This took a couple backs and forths, a few likely rude questions on my part, but eventually the story clarified before me, and I said something like, “You mean, you need to get 60% or higher on this test to pass this class?” and he replied, “That’s right.” I think I repeated the question, just to be sure; the gears were turning in my mind, thinking about just how much information you could not know and still pass the test. Eventually I said, “OK. I’ll try to help you pass the test.”

The key to the whole exercise was deciding what exactly was required to get an answer on the test right. Not the underlying principles; he didn’t have the patience for those. My explanations were more like diagnosing a car’s braking system that was acting up. Something like, “If it’s a circle, then use this equation. If it’s a square, then use this one.”

At one point we got to Pythagoras’ theorem, and I said, if it’s a triangle, use this. Remember this. He replied, “All I have to do is use this when I see a triangle? That will get me to pass the test?” and I answered, “If you use this for all of the triangles, you should be able to get at least 60%.” We worked through the the problems he didn’t understand from our different past tests, and I think that was the most engaged either of us were in the class since the start of the semester.

The whole time I think our teacher was watching us, with an uncomfortable expression on her face.

The day of the final test came and went, and the last class of the semester I got my test results back, somewhere in the 90% range, although I don’t remember the exact number.

The student I had been helping, who had become downright friendly, came back from the front of the room with his test and hit me on the shoulder happily. It hurt. He showed me his test: 72%. We both smiled at each other. That was the highest grade he had gotten on any of the tests that semester. I wondered what he could have gotten if we had been working together for the whole semester, rather than just the last week of term.

He told me the day of his graduation to stop by his garage and he would change my oil for free. I think I may have even eventually taken him up on that offer.

Usually my students ask me after the story what became of him, and I wish I knew. We moved in different orbits; he was very much my senior, and left school after that semester. I went on to university and then moved to Japan in 2000. Wherever he is, I hope he’s found his happiness, and that geometry hasn’t caused him any more stress in his life.

Thinking back on it, this was probably my first taste of the appeal teaching can have; helping someone to understand something they hadn’t previously known. The joy of trying to figure out how someone else understands something, and what strategies may help them to understand it better. I’ve certainly run with it. I hope the young man I helped ran with his opportunities as well.

An afternoon of joy

This past February we traveled to Sapporo for the Snow Festival, and perhaps one of our best destinations during our time there was the Historical Village of Hokkaido, which includes in one place a variety of styles of architecture in Hokkaido, encapsulated in historical buildings that have been moved to the site to be preserved and put on display for the general public.

While we were there, we visited the old sake brewery building, where they were serving hot amazake and daikon pickles around an irori. Wikipedia describes amazake as:

a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol (depending on recipes) Japanese drink made from fermented rice.

Wikipedia describes an irori as:

a traditional Japanese sunken hearth

The gentleman hosting the amazake and pickle tasting was older, in his 80s, and when he found out we were from Toyama, he shared that his family was originally from Takaoka, our neighboring city. He went on to explain that his family was a family of carpenters, and that his great-grandfather, several times removed, had helped to build a temple near Takaoka. When I asked him for the name, he told me it was Gokokuhachimangu. I pulled out my phone, found it on Google Maps, and added a ‘want to go’ label to the location, thinking that in warmer weather I could cycle there and remember my cold February Sapporo experience.

Well, I submitted my PhD thesis for a final check to my supervisors last Friday, and this weekend found I didn’t feel an overwhelming pressure to write anything. The weather was also nice, cool but not too windy and not rainy, and so the seeds of a cycle ride started to be planted in my mind.

Yuki convinced me to go to church Sunday morning, but after church she stayed there and I came home. Without intervening adult supervision, after finishing my lunch I found myself on my bicycle and without a particular destination in mind. My original thought was to head up into the mountains, but I misread a sign that I thought would take me on a new road to where I wanted to go, and eventually found myself off track for my original destination.

As this was my first ride of consequence for the year, I decided that pedaling back up a big hill was probably asking too much of my legs, and so found myself inputting ‘great-grandfather’s temple’ into my navigation. The roads weren’t perhaps as pleasant as they could have been — there was a 14km run along a pretty busy national road — but in the end I made it.

What I had thought would be a tiny little structure in an obscure corner of an equally tiny town ended up being an important historical and cultural building; originally built in the 1600s (so add a few more greats onto grandfather’s title), it remains part of a walking pilgrimage tradition to this day, and has an important annual harvest festival associated with it.

Here’s the summary board from the temple itself:

And here’s the Google Timeline Map of my ride:

Unfortunately, I didn’t save anything for the return ride home, so once I started to cough, I called Yuki to rescue me, but in total I made it 51.6 km (32 miles) on the bike, which isn’t bad for a first ride of the year, especially considering that my main physical activity for the last six months has been pecking away at my PhD thesis.

I thought of my sister Angela on my ride, and how it would have been nice to share it with her. She of course went on a 77 mile (124 km) ride on her side of the world; she definitely can’t be outdone by her bigger brother.

Publishing an academic manuscript in a journal

Getting started

I had a former dissertation supervisee contact me about publishing part of his masters dissertation research, and he asked the question about how to get started. Rather than spend this time writing an email reply to one person, I thought it better to make a blog post that answered the question generally in the hope that more than one person would benefit from the information.

There are all kinds of articles and books available about how to do this, and most policies and practices are field specific, so it is necessary to ground the discussion in this post in a particular field and geographic setting. For this post the field is English applied linguistics and the geographic setting is Japan.

What are the options?

Not all academic publications are considered equal when it comes to evaluating a person’s scholarly output. A general rule of thumb is that the faster and easier it is to publish in a particular publication, the less credit you are likely to receive for it, and vice versa. If you’re a contract lecturer applying for a part-time position that requires, “three academic publications”, then the expectation is not likely to be that these are publications in top-tier journals. If, on the other hand, you are applying for a tenured academic position with responsibility for supervising postgraduate students, it’s likely that the hiring committee is going to expect you to have prestigious publications in the specialty they are hiring for.

My advice here is geared toward readers nearer the beginning of the writing for publication experience spectrum, although while I’ll mention other publication types , I’ll concentrate the majority of this blog post on publishing articles in journals.

Edited books

My first academic publication was as a chapter in a book, Teachers Exploring Tasks in English Language Teaching. I’ve since gone on to co-edit on two book projects, Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia and Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia. Depending on where you are located, book chapter publication can be considered a relatively prestigious type of publication. It can also be rewarding to work on a project that has a common goal to explore a particular area of interest to the different authors contributing to the project.

If you’re interested in this publication type, I would recommend keeping your eyes out for calls for papers for chapter proposals. Generally the way these projects are expected to work, at least in my experience, is that the book editors collect a variety of chapter proposals, they vet these and assemble them into a proposal brief for a publisher (Palgrave Macmillan published all three of the books linked to above), the publisher solicits reviews of the brief, and pending a favorable evaluation, the book editors then ask the authors to complete their chapters. The book editors then solicit the full chapters which are submitted for another round of review, and pending a favorable evaluation, the book can move into the publication production process. The reviewers can also recommend further changes to the submitted chapters, or the project can be rejected by that publisher, in which case the book editors may choose to submit their proposal to another publishing house (all of the three books above were initially rejected by the first publisher they were submitted to).

One place I’ve seen calls for book proposals circulated is The Linguist List. That’s a good resource to keep abreast of generally, although receiving their emails can be a bit overwhelming.

The editors of an academic book are generally university affiliated academics; they do not work directly for the publisher. The person at the publisher responsible for receiving and vetting book proposals is generally title the Acquisitions Editor in my experience, and is normally not responsible for the academic content of the book, but rather for soliciting reviews and managing the proposal evaluation and production process. That’s why I’ve used ‘book editor’ above; to hopefully disambiguate the different roles.

 

Proceedings, Regional Journals

Another popular way to publish is through conference proceedings. Following a conference presentation, many academic societies offer the chance to contribute to a proceedings, or a summary of the presentations delivered at the society’s meeting. Publishing papers in a proceedings is generally not considered particularly prestigious, but it’s one way to secure a publication credit, and can be used to share preliminary data or analysis that would be unlikely to make it into a full journal article.

There are also a number of local chapters of national societies throughout Japan, such as the Chubu branch of JACELE. Some of these groups publish their own regional newsletters or journals, and they are often eager for contributors to them. This is another potential way to secure a publication credit. All of the JALT SIGs and some of its chapters produce semi-regular publications that solicit content on different schedules.

Scholarly journal publication

The academic standard of publishing is generally considered to be a paper published in an academic journal, and so the bulk of this post will be devoted to a discussion of this kind of publishing. Please keep in mind, though, that not all journals are considered equal. Some will be easier to get published in than others. For example, when I was Co-Editor, The Language Teacher had about a 30% acceptance rate for Feature Article submissions, while I’m told the acceptance rate for JALT Journal is closer to 10%.

One standard used as a kind of shorthand to evaluate the relative prestige of a journal is the Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson) journal indexing measures. Using these as a measure of quality has been pretty roundly criticized (I’ve done it, too), but the appeal of a number to busy administrators being asked to decide between three plausible candidates for a position can’t be overstated.

There are also a number of disreputable journals that, for an exorbitant fee, will basically publish anything. To make it more confusing for those living in Japan, many legitimate academic societies here do charge modest publication fees. A rule of thumb is that if you know the academic society, then it’s probably legitimate. If you get an email saying a journal would love to publish a paper based on your recent presentation, then it’s likely predatory.

Scholarly journal publication: The process

This entire blog post is predicated on my former supervisee asking if he should contact editors to see if they may be interested in his research. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble and writing time; the answer is no. Journals generally publish unsolicited manuscripts which, following submission, are put through a peer review process. The general standard in applied linguistics is blind, anonymous peer review, where the reviewers don’t know who the author(s) is/are and the author(s) don’t know who the reviewers are. There are generally, but not always, two reviews solicited.

That said, you can ask an editor if they may be interested in reviewing a paper on a particular topic, but they aren’t going to be able to say much more than maybe until they receive your full manuscript and make a determination about whether to send it to review or not. Following review, the editor should let you know the results of the reviewers’ assessment of your manuscript. This is generally described as following three assessment patterns: accept without changes (very, very rare), accept with minor changes (another review isn’t necessary, but some changes need to be made in consultation with the editor—hopefully), revisions required (the manuscript will need to go through another round of review following the authors revising it—this is the most common assessment in my experience), or reject (unfortunately all too common—I would recommend that after receiving a rejection authors consider what other journals they may be able to submit their manuscript to, although also consider the reviewers’ comments and make changes first).

How do I find a journal to submit my manuscript to?

If you haven’t started writing, then I would recommend you consider which type of journal you would like to publish in. Select one that may be a good fit then carefully read their guidelines, read a few papers that have been published in the journal on or around the topic you are researching, and tailor your manuscript to that journal. If you are like my student and have a completed dissertation or assignment and want to try to publish it, then I would recommend seeing which journals you cite in your references and do some legwork to find out what those journals’ submission guidelines are. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, I would recommend doing the same as if you were writing from scratch; read a few papers published in that journal related to your research, consider whether what you’re doing can fit into that conversation and how, then start preparing a manuscript intended for submission to that specific journal.

Most journals have a for authors or submissions page that outline the kinds of papers they publish, what the word count requirements are, and the formatting system they prefer for authors to use. The submission guidelines for The Language Teacher are here. I would recommend sticking to any maximum word counts listed; that was the number one reason for desk rejections when I was a Co-Editor at The Language Teacher.

Also consider writing for a journal’s shorter article formats. Many journals have a long backlog for full article submissions, but their shorter pieces, such as a Forum section, tend to not have as long of a wait time for publication. The shorter articles may not carry as much institutional clout for hiring, but they are certainly a good place to try to get started with academic writing.

How long does publishing take?

Depending on a variety of factors, including the relative prestige of the journal, the process can take from months to years. The longest text trajectory in my PhD research was four years, and the shortest was about a year. While some authors shared stories of manuscripts being published in weeks or months, I didn’t analyze any manuscripts that had such a short publication trajectory.

Once you submit your manuscript to a journal for review, you should receive some confirmation that it’s going to go through the review process or has been ‘desk rejected’ (the editor isn’t going to send it out for review). The consensus seems to be that most desk rejections are attributed to the paper not fitting the remit of the journal (see my comments on word limits above, too).

Assuming your manuscript is sent out for review, I would recommend planning on the review process taking up to six weeks. The journal will hopefully let you know by when you should expect a review, but if they don’t, don’t be shy about following up, but I would recommend waiting until six weeks have passed before you do; soliciting reviewers and getting someone to agree to review the manuscript, then doing the actual review takes time (I have one I’m sitting on as I write this blog post that I’m hoping to get to today).

How long it takes to publish your manuscript following the initial review, assuming your manuscript isn’t rejected, depends on the evaluation it receives and the instructions from the journal. My experience is that most journals have a time limit for resubmitting for a second review. Assuming you can make that time limit, your text trajectory will be a bit shorter. If you can’t, then you may have to start over as if you were submitting your manuscript to the journal for the first time.

Final advice

I would recommend viewing writing for academic publication as a process rather than a destination. Assume you are going to face rejection, and make plans to accommodate that by selecting more than one journal to aim for at the outset, ranking them in terms of first choice, second choice, etc. If you disagree with a reviewer’s assessment, remember that they are also human, despite any evidence to the contrary, so either push back on suggestions you don’t agree with when you are given the opportunity to revise your manuscript, or don’t take those suggestions on board if your manuscript is rejected and you need to send it to another journal for a new round of review. Talk with others about your experiences, and solicit advice and guidance where you can. Not just about the text of your manuscript, but also about where to submit your work, and what the relative standings of different journals are according to different people at different institutions. Don’t assume that there is one standard by which all publications are ranked and assessed; it’s far more complex than that.

Postscript

The text above really is aimed at people in applied linguistics, and is pretty specific to my experience of and research into publishing practices in Japan in this field. If your field is different, you may have access to other options. For example, in the biological sciences there is sometimes the option to formally appeal a rejection decision by a journal, and there is at least is one published case of such an appeal process being successful and the manuscript in question ultimately being published. Also, publication fees tend to be more common in the physical sciences than they are in the social sciences. I’m not an expert on assessing the veracity of such fees and whether they represent predatory practice or a legitimate scholarly journal. I would recommend you ask someone knowledgeable in your field if you have a question about a particular journal or fee.

A time I said no

 

Picture of a 5 Deutche Mark Coin

This is a sometimes and ongoing series of 100-word writing and conversation prompts I give as weekly homework to my students. I try to share my own answers to the prompts during class, and to write at least some of them here.

The prompt for one class last week was to write and talk about a time you said no, which was a new topic for me; when I was putting together my syllabuses in February, there was a new requirement that I list the activities for each week of classes, and so I finally decided it was time to get organized and create 30 distinct prompts, 15 for the spring semester and 15 for the fall semester. However, I had one outlier class, a 2nd year class that has the potential for students I taught in their 1st year to enroll in it, and a criticism I’ve received from those second comers in the past was that the writing prompts were the same as what they had done in their first year. The class is primarily for transfer students, who won’t have seen my 1st year writing prompts, but ‘traditional’ students particularly interested in English or who are low on credits can also enroll. I decided to take into account that student feedback and created a 3rd set of 15 writing and conversation themes, hence this new prompt that I myself hadn’t tackled before: A time you said no.

This story came drifting back to me through the fogs of time as I was going through my students’ writing, as they were telling their stories to one another.

It comes from Germany, back in the early 1980s, when we were living there, my father an army dentist stationed at Germersheim. I attended German kindergarten in town where we lived and then first and part of second grade on the army base where my father worked. It comes from an age where in my own mind fact and fiction were still intermixed, where a morning’s imagination could feel more real than an afternoon of schoolwork, not unlike the kind of world that Calvin and Hobbes depicts, and so I can’t account for the veracity of the memory, although the core of the story definitely did happen in some form.

We were visiting a castle town, and like many of the towns in Germany, there was a river running through it, not a particularly wide or deep one, but wide enough and deep enough to justify corralling it in stone and building a fence on each side of it to stop children, like me at the time, from falling in. It was built so that the fence was up on the sidewalk, where we were, then there was a short drop of a few feet or inches, a slight ledge, and then the plummet to the water below. In my mind’s eye it was quite a fall to the bottom, but I can’t imagine it really was all that far. Perhaps ten feet, while in my memory it looms at 20 feet or more.

My father has spent his life looking at the pavement in front of him, searching for coins dropped on the street, and a dutiful son, I had taken up a similar past-time. So imagine my excitement when I spotted a 5 Deutche Mark coin on the small ledge just on the other side of the fence, a short distance down. Thinking about it, it may have been my dad that pointed it out to me, but in my memory I found it and told him about it. 5 Deutche Marks was around $10, a small fortune to five or six year-old Theron.

But when I tried to grab it, it was well out of reach, and when my dad tried to get it, it was just out of reach. Then he had his Idea. It was that he would hold me upside-down on the other side of the fence so that I could grab the coin. But what if he dropped me? I protested. He got that disappointed I said something I shouldn’t have look on his face and replied he wouldn’t drop me. I retorted with but what if. He said the clock was ticking and I had to decide. I said no, and he looked disgusted and started to walk away. I felt bad I had let him down and shouted that OK, I would do it. He replied that it was too late, it was time to go. At that point I almost definitely cried, running after my father in that German castle town.

While the conversation may have been different, longer perhaps, that’s the end of the memory. Thinking about it now, he probably realized it wasn’t a very good Idea in the first place. If his wife, my mother, saw him doing that, he would be in all kinds of trouble, no matter how successful we ultimately were in getting the coin, and their relationship was rocky at the best of times.

Having a son myself puts the interaction in a new light for me. I see in my son the child I once was when he decides he wants to make breakfast for his parents and we end up with sliced ham, carrots, and cabbage on a plate, lightly pan-seared, with a dollop of mayonnaise on top. I can see in his eyes the same desire for approval that mine must have once held, the hope that I’ll say it’s the best breakfast ever. And I watch myself reacting to the actual breakfast in front of me, thinking about the indigestion that will follow if I really do eat what he’s put in front of me.

That’s another time I said no.

I’ve read Iron John. I know it’s not possible to raise a child without at some point letting them down, but knowing that and feeling the disappointment, from both ends, as the child and also as the adult father, carries with it a pain that can’t be reasoned away.

The Global Cafe and talking about ‘My Country’

Yours truly presenting at the University of Toyama‘s Global Cafe

My turn finally came to give a presentation for the University of Toyama‘s Global Cafe on Friday, May 19. The instructions were relatively simple, “to talk about yourself and your country” for about 30 minutes, but of course I had to complicate things.

First things first, I should probably explain what the Global Cafe is. It’s an initiative started by a few faculty at the University of Toyama to try to provide students with opportunities to experience communicating in English. There is usually a Japanese guest speaker from the university faculty invited to talk about their experience of using English professionally and their career and a foreign resident of Japan from the university faculty to talk about their country.

I’m largely supportive of the motivations underlying the Global Cafe and impressed by the organizing efforts of the faculty who have put their time and energy into coordinating it. That said, with the four of five events to date that I’ve attended, I’ve felt there was an imbalance between the guest presenters. My impression has been that the Japanese presenters have been able to put themselves forward as professionals who have used their language skills to further their interests and careers, which I feel casts them in a very positive light. I hate to say on the other hand, but perhaps in contrast the foreign residents of Japan faculty have presented on the theme of ‘My Country’ which in my opinion has limited the range and depth of the presentations they have been able to give; they don’t seem to have been as successful at sharing their stories as professionals furthering their interests and careers. Their presentations have tended to be more along the lines of my country is here, these are its geographical and linguistic features, and these are some of its cultural features. The presentations on people’s countries have generally all been done well, but that was simply not the kind of talk I wanted to give, nor the kind of presentation that I feel I could do particularly well or successfully. And therefore I made things complicated.

Just in case you want to dive into my talk without further explanation, the slides I used are included below. If you want to read an explanation of what I presented on, I’ve included that below.

Being too clever for my own good, and knowing that the kind of presentation I was expected to give was one covering my country, the USA, I had a bit of a brainstorm about how to approach the issue. I concluded that the pivot point from the kind of presentation I was being asked to give to the kind of presentation I wanted to give revolved around the definition of country. Being an English teacher, I did what I’m always telling my students to do; I checked the dictionary to see exactly how country is defined. Here is the definition, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Country, a definition     Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/country

I noted the first definition as an indefinite expanse of land as a good place to add some humor, but not something I could build a 30 minute talk around. The second definition includes, “land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship”, and I thought that gave me something to work with. I decided to chart just where I’ve lived over the years, which was an instructive exercise. I decided to make two charts, one tracking the countries I’ve lived in, and one tracking localities within those countries. I’ve included them below for reference. I think the first, detailing the different places within countries that I’ve lived over the years, makes the better case for the direction my presentation ended up going in:

Places I’ve lived, along with the (approximate) years of my residence in each location
Countries I’ve lived, along with the approximate number of years of residence

My opinion was and is that the first of the two graphs give me a good reason to question just where I should talk about when discussing ‘my country’, especially in light of the definition of country being the land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship. I started by noting that I really have very few memories of Iowa; it’s where my parents are from, but I haven’t spent a substantial portion of my life there, and while I still have family there, including my mom, my formative memories aren’t really anchored there, and so I could only talk about it as a place I’m not all that familiar with.

Kansas is a good candidate; that’s where I went to high school and university, although the last time I spent any substantial amount of time there was more than 17 years ago, and so my memory is of a place that I very much doubt exists any more, at least not in the form I remember it. I made my case by asking if Toyama is the same now as it was 20 years ago, and was answered with a resounding no. I also explained that the house I spent my high school years in has since been sold, and so if I let myself in the door and sat down in the living room, the police would be called on me for trespassing, and I would end up in jail needing to explain myself. If I’m lucky. I didn’t talk about the proliferation of guns in the US generally and Kansas more specifically; I didn’t want to get too deep into those kinds of issues during my talk. I preferred to try to keep things light.

That said, I couldn’t resist the “indefinite usually extended expanse of land” part of the definition having lived in Kansas, and so I shared with my students my favorite geography paper of all time: the Kansas is flatter than a pancake article. Here the two most relevant graphics are as evidence.

First, the photos:

Figure 1. (a) A well-cooked pancake; and (b) Kansas.

And second, a surface topography:

Figure 4. Surface topography of Kansas and of a pancake.

They conclude that on a measurement of 1 being perfectly flat and 0 being perfectly round, a pancake comes in at 0.957 and Kansas at 0.9997.

I then included an image of what this can look like in real life:

Going back to the topic of ‘my country’, I noted that I live in Toyama now, but that most of the people in the audience do, too, and I didn’t think that was why I was invited to present at the Global Cafe.

After this, I explained that the place I’ve lived the longest, and where I have my one and only house is Nagano. Then I just talked about Nagano, which is what I wanted to do all along anyway.

I explained that one thing I quickly discovered is that, particularly in Japan, where people are expected to visit seems to be largely predetermined, and that if you take the time to step off of the beaten path, you can find all kinds of amazing and interesting wonders. I noted how one of my past times was finding agricultural roads through the mountains, and that I would tend to cycle those, although I’ve walked many of them as well. I noted how those roads lead to hidden gems such as the Jindaizakura, a 1,200 year-old cherry tree, and that there are all kinds of other interesting treasures out there to find.

The Jindai Zakura                                                        Photo Credit: http://pawasupo.net/1094

I then went through a series of photos of my life in Nagano, which you can see in the slideshow itself.

I was pretty happy with my presentation overall and it was quite well received. The only person I feel a bit bad for is the coordinator whose email I quoted, and who kept apologizing for the wording of her message. I feel bad that she felt bad, but I didn’t think there was anything specific wrong with what she wrote; she was writing from a common perception of people’s identity, particularly in Japan, and I was more interested in challenging those assumptions than going along with them. I felt that yielded a better presentation overall, and that challenging my audience’s assumptions about place and identity would be an excellent overall goal for my presentation that night. Also, in her defense, the Japanese definition of country seems more based on translating from Japanese into English than it does the other way around; it seems to only deal with the ‘country’ side of the definition, including concepts such as place of birth and citizenship, but not residence, in contrast to the Webster definition. Also, the Japanese lists country as first, rather than the open expanse definition Webster uses. I could be wrong, though; my Japanese isn’t far enough along to understand all the nuances of the kanji in the definition:

Country, a translation into Japanese                                                                                                                                                                       Source: http://eow.alc.co.jp/search?q=country&ref=sa

What treasure have you found near where you live? Please let me know in the comments.

Coming to grips with epistemology

Long time no blog. I’ve been mostly working on my PhD manuscript, but decided to take some time away from it today to reflect a bit on one aspect of it that’s been eluding me for most of the time I’ve been doing it, the issue of epistemology, or the stance toward knowledge I take in my thesis. This is mostly me thinking out loud, but getting it down helps to cement the knowledge a bit better in my mind, and if it leads to an interesting conversation, then all the better; there a very few people in Toyama that I can discuss these kinds of things with.

I was reworking my PhD’s Research Methods chapter for most of April, and one of the (many) issues I’ve been struggling with is the stance taken in my thesis toward what is knowledge, or epistemology, which my supervisors have said wasn’t well formed enough in my initial version of the chapter, and which they felt was still too focused on methods rather than methodology in the subsequent writing I tried to do on it.

The advice, as usual, was to do more reading, and I was skeptical that reading even more on the topic would help me to break through the coded language that seems to surround the topic. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I was wrong.

The paper that finally helped me to get a glimpse of what the discussion of epistemology concerns, even if figuring out how to write about it myself remains a challenge I haven’t come to terms with yet, was Agger’s 1991 paper on critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism:

Agger, B. (1991). Critical theory, poststructuralism, postmodernism: Their sociological relevance. Annual Review of Sociology, 17, 105–131.

I think what made the manuscript more approachable was partly that Agger is based in the US, and so the vocabulary he uses is easier for me to wrap my head around; he also appears interested in introducing the schools of thought and some of their historical developments to people who aren’t already familiar with them, rather than some of the other work I’ve read, which assumes familiarity with these different ways of thinking and uses that as a jumping off point for discussion and argumentation.

Specifically, the term ‘method’ and the related terms ‘method’ and ‘methodology’ appear 61 times in the paper (I love Mendeley Desktop‘s ability to annotate and quickly search PDFs). Throughout the manuscript, Agger is constantly saying that one of the assumptions of social science to date is that the ‘problem’ of research and researchers was to identify and implement the best possible ‘methods’ for their research, i.e., the research tools used for the circumstances of their investigations, to answer the research questions asked. He points out that critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism are tools that allow for questioning more than the methods used; they allow researchers to query the assumptions that lie behind their research methodology, or the research questions they are asking, assumptions that are (generally invisibly) guiding their research.

As I was reading, I kept running across the term methods and wondering what Agger was trying to get at by constantly problematizing the methods of research, and a some point in my reading of the manuscript, I finally saw that he was trying to say that setting up a research project to explore some phenomenon inevitably results in making assumptions about how the world is organized, and that not questioning those assumptions results in an implicit agreement with said social organization. Deep into the paper, on page 113, he gives a concrete example of this:

Where the status-attainment researchers of the Blau-Duncan (Blau & Duncan 1978) tradition defined mobility with respect to the occupational status of one’s father, a deconstructive reading would reveal the profound assumptions about the gendered nature of work as well as about male supremacy that underlie this methodological choice. More recent feminist scholars (e.g. Bose 1985) challenge the operationalization of occupational status in terms of father’s occupation because, they argue, this represents a powerfully ideologizing subtext that (a) leads people to think that only men work, or should work, and (b) misrepresents reality where, in fact, women work outside the home for wages.

As an example, this helped me better understand what he was getting at. There are further insights that can be read into the assumptions made in the example above, such as that status is merely a measure of one’s ‘occupational status’, that unpaid work, such as child reading, is left out of the research equation, and that there are merits to measuring the accomplishments of children against the career status of their parents. It isn’t that making any of those assumptions is necessarily the wrong thing to do in research, but to not make what assumptions were made in the research explicit is what Agger (and the theorists in the different schools of thought he reviews) point to as problematic.

Well, OK, some of the theorists would go farther and say the way of thinking in positivist research is fundamentally problematic, but while acknowledging some of the more radical interpretations of the research traditions he discusses, Agger appears more interested in taking a middle road of explaining that opening up research to critique of the assumptions underlying that research (critique of its epistemology)  is a net positive for the research field overall, as it allows for questioning how society is organized, rather than exclusively perpetuating the current social organizational order.

As he puts it on pages 114-115:

Methodology can be read as rhetoric, encoding certain assumptions and values about the social world. Deconstruction refuses to view methodology simply as a set of technical procedures with which to manipulate data. Rather, methodology can be opened up to readers intrigued by its deep assumptions and its empirical findings but otherwise daunted by its densely technical and figural nature. To put this generically, deconstruction can help reveal the values and interests suppressed far beneath the surface of science. This politicizes and democratizes science by opening its text to outsiders, allowing them to engage with science’s surface rhetoric more capably as well as to contest science’s deep assumptions where necessary…

I would agree that, particularly in an investigation of authors writing for academic publication, the topic of my thesis, it is important to try to bring the assumptions underlying the research to light, and to address issues of methodology (epistemology, or the assumptions underlying the research questions asked) in addition to the issues of the methods of the research (the decisions I made with respect to how I conducted my investigation to answer the research questions asked). So well done to my supervisors for telling me to keep reading.

What was it about this particular paper that finally opened my eyes to what the debate is about? I think part of it is that Agger, in 1991, was writing for a US audience that (he seems to assume) isn’t that familiar with the different schools of thinking that he discusses. His paper is fundamentally trying to tip an established order, but it reads like that order is already tipping, and he’s offering researchers tools to upset it further, tools that he’s imported from European schools of thought and which he feels could find fresh purchase in US sociological circles.

He also deals with some of the history of the ideas; who wrote about them, and what the relationship is between some of the main characters. That’s the kind of story I can relate to, rather than a more abstract discussion of the ideas disembodied from the people who came up with them, which is how much of the research I’ve read seems to treat the material. That he explains who is with and against who, and some of how the different schools have fractured and intermixed, helps me to understand the story of how some of the thinking on this matter has evolved, which makes it easier for me to wrap my head around what these schools of thought appear to be seeking to accomplish in terms of questioning dominant paradigms of academic research.

Finally, his language is approachable, at least in my opinion. He uses methods and methodology a lot, but he picks those words and sticks to them, rather than slipping into the jargon of philosophy. He uses epistemology only three times, and ontology not once. That may make what he has to say sound simplistic to those authors I’ve read that strew their texts with these more sophisticated terms, but it also makes it possible for me to parse what he has to say without my eyes glazing over at particularly complex stretches of prose.

Do you have another reading on this topic that you would recommend? Do you think I got some detail wrong here? Let me know; I would be happy to have a conversation that deepened my understanding of this topic even further, as long as it doesn’t take too much time away from my thesis writing.

CUE ESP Symposium 2017 – Call for Posters: Deadline June 30 for September 16 symposium

John Adamson and I gave a plenary talk for the JALT CUE ESP Symposium back in 2013, I think. The symposium has continued to be help annually since then, and this year will be at Keio University in September.

One of the organizers of the symposium just sent me the advertisement materials for it. I wish I could make it myself, but I thought someone may be interested.

They are currently accepting proposals for people to give poster presentations. Key dates are listed below, along with contact information for the symposium organizers.

The JALT CUE SIG ESP Symposium welcomes submissions of posters in English or Japanese on various aspects of ESP, including needs analysis, materials development, methodology, data-driven learning, corpus linguistics, summaries of ESP research, or other topics of interest to those teaching in an ESP context. Submission deadline is June 30, 2017. 

Submissions are to include the following information:

  1. Contact information: Poster presenter’s full name, affiliation, and email address
  2. Poster title: No word limit
  3. Poster summary: Maximum 75 words – for use on the website only
  4. Extended abstract: Maximum 200 words – will be included in the symposium handout
  5. Presenter biography: Maximum 50 words 

Poster boards measuring 160cm tall by 113cm wide will be available, and can accommodate A0 landscape or A1 portrait poster sizes. Presenters are discouraged from using multiple A4 size sheets in lieu of a poster at the symposium.

 Successful presenters should submit their poster as a PDF on or before September 10, 2017.

Poster presenters are also encouraged to provide a 1000-word description of their poster for the conference proceedings by September 24, 2017.

In the case of both poster pdf. and submissions proceedings, early submission is welcome. Posters and articles will be available on the CUE ESP Symposium web page following the event.

Please submit all documents to: espsymposium@gmail.com

For more details on the event: http://jaltcue.org/content/cue-esp-symposium-2017