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.

Ubuntu 17.10 external monitors not recognized after upgrade from kernel 4.13.0.21: nvidia-381 dpkg error

Problem

External monitors not supported following kernel upgrade from 4.13.0.21 in Ubuntu 17.10 with Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics card and nvidia-381 package installed

Solution

Install nvidia-384 instead of nvidia-381

Background

Ubuntu 17.10 has been working quite well for me except for a scim login error after upgrading, but sometime in January I did a kernel upgrade that broke my external monitor support.

I got a graphics card error following the upgrade mentioning a problem with nvidia-381, but was in my usual hurry and didn’t have time to write it down. However, after restarting the computer I quickly realized the only way to get external monitor support was by using the deprecated kernel.

I assumed it was a kernel bug and so waited for the next kernel upgrade cycle, but that didn’t fix it, so I set aside a morning to look into the problem.

It appears to be that nvidia-381 is not compatible with kernels after 4.13.0.21. Installing nvidia-384 fixed the problem.

Do you have questions, suggestions, or would like a bit more information? Feel free to get in touch.

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.

Tips for getting started in academics: Presenting at a language teachers’ conference

I’m hosting the English Scholars Beyond Borders 2018 conference at the University of Toyama in March 2018, and as part of promoting the event, I emailed a short announcement to the mailing list for one of the MA programs I work on part-time as a tutor. One of my former students wrote back almost immediately saying he didn’t know where to get started and was confused by some of the terminology in my message. Rather than reply to just one person, I realized this may be an issue for more than one person, and so I decided to put up a post with information about applying to give an academic presentation so it hopefully helps more than just this one student.

Keep in mind that what I write below is generally specific to my field, language teaching and applied linguistics. It likely applies generally to presenting within the social sciences, but different fields have different expectations, so you may want to double check some of what I say. I’ve also tried to keep the discussion pretty general; if you have a specific question, I would recommend asking someone you know who is versed in your particular circumstances.

First things first, I want to start with the question of why present at all?

Why do an academic presentation?

Excellent question. I’m glad I asked it. I’m based in Japan, so most of my information is Japan-centric, but I think that the general principles apply in a variety of different higher education teaching contexts worldwide.

The uplifting, glass is half full answer, is that giving a presentation improves your abilities as a researcher and helps to connect you to colleagues who are potentially interested in similar themes, developing your professional network and helping you to access additional opportunities. For example, in my PhD research I’ve analyzed the text histories of six published papers. All six include a conference presentation at some point in their history. Some are conference proceedings papers, and so in order to be published in a proceedings, they needed to be presented. But even the high prestige international journal publications include presentations in their trajectories. Not only do those manuscripts include publication, but the authors feel as if presenting their work was key to ultimately successfully publishing it in the prestigious publication of their choice.

Authors also benefited in ways that went beyond publishing the specific manuscripts I analyzed; they were able to learn about and take advantage of book chapter and book review publishing opportunities outside of the specific manuscripts whose trajectories I analyzed.

Presenting your work can also help you to improve it. Because you are able to share your ideas and get feedback in a (hopefully) supportive environment. It can also help to drive research forward; knowing you have to present your research could give you the impetus you need to complete a particularly difficult data analysis. That was the case for one of the papers’ trajectories I analyzed; one author shared that, had he not had to present his results, he didn’t think he would have completed analyzing  the data.

The glass is half empty answer is that if you are going to be looking for teaching work in the higher education sector in Japan, there is an expectation that even part timers, and especially full timers, are active in their academic fields. In the case of language teaching or applied linguistics, this means attending and presenting at conferences, in addition to writing for publication. So if you are looking to work in the sector, this is going to be something you’re expected to do, particularly to qualify for teaching positions.

A debate can be had about how ‘academic’ such positions are; many tend to be primarily teaching, with a bit of research expected on the side, but the reality is that hiring committees will be looking for evidence of some academic participation in conferences and publishing. What does this look like in hiring documents? Here’s the requirements for one such part-time listing:

(2 publications minimum are required)

I’ve purposely not included the name of the university because it’s not particularly important; this is a general expectation across the board at many institutions. Does this mean you can’t get a university teaching job without such qualifications? Certainly not, but having academic presentations and publications will help to open more doors than not having such achievements on your record.

Presenting can open the door to publishing in conference proceedings, and can also help to link you to people aware of other potential publishing opportunities.

How do I get started doing an academic presentation?

I’m going to write specifically about presenting for a conference here. This is not the only option for presenting; many language teaching societies have local chapters that hold regular meetings. They are often eager to find interested, interesting presenters for their local events. These presentations tend to be invited, though, and so may be difficult for someone just getting started to gain access to.

In contrast to invitation-only local society presentations, conferences tend to hold open calls for papers. These invite people interested in presenting at the conference to submit a proposal in the form of an abstract that is then generally evaluated in some way by the conference committee and a decision is made whether to accept the proposal and invite the speaker to present at the conference.

One such call for proposals, from the ESBB 2018 conference I’m organizing for March 2018, has been included below:

Call for Presentation Proposals

While the conference theme is English Beyond Borders, our intention is always to embrace the global along with the local, including supporting teachers grappling with local EFL/ESL issues. We are keen to hear from presenters wishing to discuss a very local issue. You can also download our call for papers as a PDF.

Our conferences explore the diverse kinds of borders and boundaries that English teachers and scholars must negotiate to achieve success and benefit learners.

We invite papers on the following themes:

  • Research related to English language teaching and learning at the college or university level
  • General research related to English language teaching and learning, TEFL/TESL, and TESOL
  • English for research publication purposes
  • Studies which critically investigate academic publishing from the perspectives of authors, reviewers/editors, and Open Access;
  • Multilingual scholars in study and publication
  • Non-blind dialogic review
  • Multi/bilingual issues in language learning and linguistics
  • EAP/ESP across borders
  • English literature across borders
  • CLIL (Content and Language Integrated learning)/EMI (English Medium Instruction)
  • Study abroad and International exchange
  • Interdisciplinary issues in TESOL
  • Encouraging (cultural) diversity in voice and agency
  • New directions in critical thinking and reasoning
  • Using technology to cross borders
  • Corpora in language teaching and research
  • Migrants and refugees in language learning

Papers are invited on any aspect of the above themes. English is the working language of our conferences, although we are eager to incorporate as broad a range of speakers as possible, so if you are interested in using a language other than English to present, please contact the local conference organizers.

Proposals should include brief biodata, a 50-75 word abstract and a one page summary of approximately 300 words. Please submit your manuscripts through our online conference management system.

The call above is a bit long because ESBB is a general circle of academics, not really organized around one particular specialty. However, the general gist should be similar across conferences. There is a statement of the academic interests and themes that are being solicited, along with specific instructions for what should be submitted, in this case “brief biodata, a 50-75 word abstract and a one page summary of approximately 300 words”. A presentation title is also expected, but this is not stated explicitly in the call.

Unpacking the request, the one page summary of 300 words is likely to be evaluated by the conference committee to make a decision about whether to accept the proposal for inclusion in the conference. In the case of ESBB, we’re more interested in inclusiveness than exclusivity, so if there’s some problem with a proposal, we’re more likely to request revisions than we are to reject it outright. Not all conferences function this way, though; particularly prestigious conferences can reject as many as 80 to 90 percent of the proposals they receive.

The shorter summary is likely to be printed in the conference handbook (it’s cheaper than printing the full abstract). Bio data means some information about the presenter’s academic biography and research experience and/or interests. This may be included along with the presentation abstract information in the conference program. I’ve included mine as an example below:

Theron Muller is an Associate Professor at the University of Toyama, Japan. He is lead editor on two book projects, Innovating EFL Teaching in Asia (2012) and Exploring EFL Fluency in Asia (2014), both published with Palgrave Macmillan. He is active with JALT Publications and the Asian ESP Journal. He is a member of English Scholars Beyond Borders.

That may not help someone relatively new to academic presenting, so as a bonus, here’s my biodata from 2005 (I’m a digital pack rat):

Theron Muller, an American, is co-owner of Noah Learning Center, a small English school in Nagano, Japan. He teaches students of all ages and levels, including various college classes. His email is theron@theronmuller.com.

Hopefully if you’ve read this far into my post, you’re familiar with what an abstract is and while you may not have a lot of experience writing one, I trust you are generally familiar with their basic form. One thing to keep in mind is that for the kind of conference above, you can write a ‘prospective’ abstract; you may not have finished all of the research and have clear findings to share at the time you submit your proposal. An abstract like this could begin:

This presentation will describe an investigation into …

What kind of presentations are there?

The cookie cutter academic presentation is a 20 minute short presentation followed by some question and answer time. This is the kind you typically apply to give at a conference.

Conferences may also invite poster presentations. These are generally printed on A1 or A0 paper, and the presenter is asked to stand at their poster for a certain amount of time during the conference. Conference attendees circulate and talk to presenters in small groups or one on one. These are generally less competitive than a short presentation in terms of the review process, and are an excellent way to ‘break into’ academic presenting or to share data from a project that you feel isn’t quite ready for a longer presentation slot. Please don’t conclude, though, that these are exclusively given by people new to presenting; many experienced presenters may prefer to give a poster presentation at a given conference for any number of reasons. Also, sometimes conferences that are overbooked with short presentations offer presenters a poster presentation slot rather than rejecting the proposal outright.

Keep in mind the information above is field specific; in medicine, generally the kind of presentation is determined by the quality of the abstract. I’ve had doctors whose abstracts I’ve edited request that I make their abstract good enough to get accepted for a poster presentation, but not so good that they have to give a short presentation about their topic!

How much does it cost?

Generally you will be expected to pay a registration fee to attend and present at a conference. These are typically the same fees that someone who wants to attend but not present at the conference would pay. This is the case with the ESBB 2018 conference above. Some academic societies charge presenters more than regular attendees, so you may want to double check this in advance.

Costs can vary wildly. 30,000 JPY or $300 US for a weekend conference is not out of the question, although generally conferences in Japan are cheaper than that. Some conferences may include meals in their fees and others, such as ESBB 2018, may charge separately for conference attendance and meal options.

If cost is an issue, I would recommend looking out for scholarship and conference fee waiver opportunities. Many societies offer these, and they give you two merits on your academic record; you can claim having won some award if you get one, and you can also list the presentation you give as an academic achievement.

Are all academic conferences the same?

This is an important point; no. Some conferences expect you to submit your full paper before the conference. Others, like the ESBB conference cited above, allow you to present your research first, then they have a call for conference proceedings papers following the conference. Usually if a conference is going to ask for your paper before the event, it’s clearly stated in their call. My experience is that in language teaching the majority of conferences follow the ESBB conference pattern above; I have yet to present at a conference where I have to submit my presentation paper ahead of time, although I have friends who have done so.

Sometimes conferences may refer to their call for presentation proposals as ‘paper proposals’. While I have been to conferences where a presenter literally reads their paper to the audience, I would encourage you to develop a presentation that engages your audience and worry about the actual academic paper later. Reading an actual paper really is as boring as it sounds, no matter how interesting the topic being discussed.

Another point that I should raise here is that, surprise surprise, academia has its unscrupulous actors as well. If you see a conference advertising that you can spend a week in Vegas as part of an event, it’s very likely a money making scheme for the organizer and will have very little in the way of academic value. I wouldn’t go so far as to call all of these conferences scams, because they usually are held and there are presentations given, but their academic quality is generally very low, and the presenters pay a small fortune to attend and present. My recommendation is to stick to conferences put on by academic societies such as JALT, JACET, JASELE, KOTESOL, and KATE, to name a few. ESBB is another conference I would recommend.

Finally, after you present a paper, you’re likely to get emails saying some journal has heard of your interesting research and would like to invite you to submit a paper to their publication. These are academic spam at best and academic scams at worst. I would recommend publishing in the conference’s Proceedings if there is one, or asking colleagues about what publications they may recommend. I’ve been writing for academic publication since 2004 and I’ve only published one paper in that time where I had to pay publication fees. That was for a Japanese language teaching society’s conference proceedings journal, and was definitely less than about 20,000 JPY, or $200 US. Be wary of any journal that reviews a paper you send them within a week, saying it’s excellent and ready for publication. Paying exorbitant fees to publish a paper that is reviewed within a matter of days as ‘excellent’ and not requiring any changes is likely to not help your academic career in the end.

That’s all, folks

I hope the information I’ve included here helps. If you think I missed something, please let me know. Also, if you have an unanswered question, you’re welcome to ask.

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

English language learning motivation symposium at the University of Toyama February 2017

The University of Toyama is going to have a free to attend English language learning motivation seminar Sunday February 19. There are two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. While it’s free to attend, RSVPs are requested. Details follow.

Download English flyer for University of Toyama English language learning motivation seminar February 2017

Download Japanese flyer for University of Toyama English language learning motivation seminar February 2017

There is also information on the University of Toyama’s Center for International Education and Research’s websites, in both English and Japanese.

Call for papers for ESP Across Cultures

This just in:

Proposals for papers would be most welcome for volume 14 (2017) of ESP Across Cultures (http://www.unifg.it/ricerca/attivita-di-ricerca-di-ateneo/esp-across-cultures).

The deadline for submitting an abstract of 250-300 words is 31 October 2016, with delivery of the completed paper by 28 February 2017.

Abstracts, papers and enquiries regarding the volume should be sent by e-mail to the editor Christopher Williams: christopher.williams@unifg.it

In February 2014 Italy’s National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research (ANVUR) awarded ESP Across Cultures with a CLASS A rating, the highest ranking available.

ESP Across Cultures is now freely accessible online at http://edipuglia.it/esp/. Free accessibility of the journal online considerably enhances its visibility and impact factor.

Since there is no charge for online access, the costs of running the journal will be borne by the contributors themselves. Contributors will be asked to pay a small fee for their contribution to be published only if it is deemed worthy of publication by the referees following the double-blind reviewing process.

Payment will range between a minimum of 210 euros and a maximum 300 euros, on the basis of the GDP ranking of the country of affiliation according to the Global Finance website (http://www.gfmag.com/tools/global-database/economic-data/11934-richest-poorest-countries.html#axzz2I9z7Qhwt) as follows:

– Country ranking 1st to 50th: 300 euros
– Country ranking 51st to 100th: 270 euros
– Country ranking 101st to 150th: 240 euros
– Country ranking from 151st onwards: 210 euros.

In the case of a paper written by two or more contributors coming from different affiliations, only the ranking of the country with the lower GDP will be taken into consideration. Payment is to be made per contribution irrespective of the number of contributors. In other words, a single-authored contribution and a co-authored contribution have the same cost. Naturally, no charge will be made for any contribution that is not considered worthy of publication.

For guidelines concerning formatting etc. please go to http://edipuglia.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Instructions.pdf.

To purchase a copy of volumes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 of ESP Across Cultures please go to http://www.edipuglia.it/ESP/index.php

Volume 12 (2015) is freely available online at http://edipuglia.it/esp/esp2015/