#AcBookWeek: Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities

In today’s guest post, independent academic publisher Rowman & Littlefield International  reflects on the highlights that the publishing industry celebrated in 2015, and especially #AcBookWeek. 

Rowman and LittlefieldWhen the first Academic Book Week was first announced earlier this year, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to raise awareness what we do every day: publishing interdisciplinary academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Academic publishing is traditionally divided up into strict segments according to what disciplines are taught by universities. As an interdisciplinary publisher, our aim is to bridge gaps between the disciplines and offer new insights based on a more inclusive, innovative approach, and Academic Book Week offered us the ideal opportunity to share these principles with the wider academic community. Our event ‘Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities’ was initiated!

Martina O’Sullivan, our Senior Commissioning Editor in Cultural Studies, secured a fabulous panel of speakers who are published experts in the field of interdisciplinary research and publishing. They were joined by our Editorial Director, Sarah Campbell, to offer a broad range of perspectives on the topic. Our panel covered everything from some tips on how to get interdisciplinary work published, to alternative modes of research and publishing, right through to very practical advice for early career researchers.

The speakers were:

  • Sarah Campbell, Editorial Director, Rowman & Littlefield International
  • Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University
  • Laurence Hemming, Professor, Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University
  • Danielle Sands, Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Culture, Royal Holloway
  • David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster

All we needed was an event location, and thanks to Peter Garner, Library Liaison Manager, and the excellent team at the Maughan Library, King’s College, we had the opportunity to secure the prestigious Weston Room, a magnificent Grade II listed edifice which is part of King’s College.

Although our event was free, we asked attendees to register their interest via the AcBookWeek website. We were sold out of tickets the day before the event and so a crowd of interested current and future academic researchers and authors entered the gates of the Maughan Library on Tuesday, 10 November. After a brief introduction from Martina O’Sullivan, Sarah Campbell opened the panel session with her talk on getting interdisciplinary work published.

See the video recording of Sarah Campbell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRY0deRkdHE


“What is required is an opening towards non-knowledge”―Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts

Gary Hall, presenting on Alternative Modes of Academic Research and Publishing, focused his talk on the three keywords audience, book and interdisciplinarity, maintaining that the task of every writer should be to challenge pre-existing definitions in academic disciplines.

See the video recording of Gary Hall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Y551Es1Lk


“What is Interdisciplinary Research?”―Laurence Hemming

Laurence Hemming followed by asking: ‘What is Interdisciplinary Research?’ and pointed out that many publishers nowadays publish books in increasingly more narrow categories, likening the current situation of interdisciplinary research to a house without a heating system, thereby also stressing the importance of letting traditional phenomena speak for themselves, based on traditional knowledge of a discipline.

See the video recording of Laurence Hemming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY7szuOGhYU


“Tips for Early Career Researchers”―Danielle Sands

But how to go about it and where to start as an early career researcher? Danielle Sands’ engaging and useful lecture contained tips and advice for interdisciplinary researchers, including how to navigate one’s way through academic conferences and job adverts as an academic with an interdisciplinary approach.

See the video recording of Danielle Sands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wqJ5G_FChg


“The problems of the world call for interdisciplinarity”―David Chandler, Professor of International Relations

David Chandler rounded up the session with his lively panel about how interdisciplinary projects are perceived, and how they act in today’s academic world.

See the video recording of David Chandler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O89z-cn4x4


In the Q&A session that followed, our panellists answered a range of detailed questions from the audience, and the lively discussion continued until late into the evening with drinks and canapés. For us, it was a brilliant event which not only provided us with a chance to meet upcoming interdisciplinary scholars, but also an opportunity to listen to first-hand experiences of top academics who do interdisciplinary work; inspiring us to bring the ever-evolving academic book publishing process into its next age. A round-up of the event can be viewed alongside all other videos here.

We from Rowman & Littlefield International are sure that Academic Book Week will prove to be another highlight for us in 2016, and indeed become a regular highlight in the diary of every academic. For now, I would very much like to thank the organisers of Academic Book Week for providing us with a platform to create an event like this; our panellists and the Maughan Library again for making this stimulating event happen; and everyone who contributed with their attendance and questions. I hope to see you again next year!



Building a career: ECRs in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Brigitte_ShullUsing Greg Semenza and Garret Sullivan, Jr.’s recent blog post on life-building in the Humanities as her point of departure, in this post Brigitte Shull (Head of Editorial and Author Services & Publisher, Literature at Palgrave Macmillan), switches to the other side of the coin: how to build a career in the Humanities and Social Sciences: starting with publishing your research.

Early career researchers (ECRs) are under tremendous pressure to find a tenure-track job despite scarce resources, and they’re expected to publish, give papers, and teach a full course load (among many other things), right off the bat.

As reinforced by the recent findings of a survey of over 200 ECRs after the Research Excellence Framework (REF), conducted by Charlotte Mathieson of the University of Warwick, the increasingly competitive job market is “focused solely on ‘REFable’ publications”. To quote Benjamin Bowman, a final-year PhD student at the University of Bath, in a recent article in the Times Higher Education Supplement: “When you are an early career researcher, one of the things you really have to do is get a publication or an understanding of the publishing process.” The importance of publishing for an academic career is undeniable in the rest of the world too. So where does this leave the ECR? How are they supported on the path to publication?

Organisations and universities tend to favour grants, research support, and awards over true career development. Many of the bigger initiatives, such as the European Research Council, tend to be oriented towards scientific research. While beneficial for the ECR, no doubt, there still is a lacuna between the support of research and the jump to getting that research published.

Resources about publishing exist, but very few of them come from publishers themselves. At conferences, I often find myself having conversations with ECRs who refer to advice they’ve received that is full of misinformation about the publishing process. A quick Google search looking for ECR information on publishers’ websites pulls up Elsevier’s robust site but very little comes up from humanities and social science publishers. Most academic conferences have publishing panels but the fact that these are so well attended further points to a real gap in practical and personal advice for junior scholars.

I recently attended the Society for Scholarly Publishers’ annual meeting. In the panel “The Researcher’s New Big Picture,” one of the takeaways was that publishers need to be doing more to make researchers’ lives easier. At Palgrave Macmillan, we embrace transparency as the best approach for our authors and have set out to demystify the submission, peer review, revision, and publishing process as much as possible. To that end, we have created advice and content around the usual pain points including proposal writing dos and don’ts, a glossary of publishing terms, advice on revising their thesis to monograph, among other things. For the ECRs reading this, I hope that our new hub will be a valuable resource. I also hope that the hub will be a jumping off point and something we can continue to add tools to and fill gaps through collaboration. When we think about the academic book of the future or the author/researcher of the future, it’s important that publishers don’t forget that postdocs make up a rising percentage of academic researchers (a postdocalypse, as some call it!). If we’re really serious about making our authors’ lives easier, we should keep in mind what impact shifting demographics will have on the tools and services we offer.

There is so much potential for publishers to support researchers in every stage of their career—from fostering interdisciplinary connections to demonstrating impact to helping new sub-fields get off the ground. I encourage everyone to keep the conversation going by commenting on this post, emailing me directly, or chatting with one of our editors at a conference. We look forward to collaborating!