Research intelligence: women rewrite the publication ‘rules’

Oxford professor’s response to male scholar’s guide to publication considers gendered nature of research career advice

September 10, 2019
women on raft
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With a research career that began as a 22-year-old engineer on the Apollo 11 project 50 years ago, Denny Gioia decided it was time to pass on some of his wisdom on getting published.

But the US scholar, who is now Robert and Judith Auritt Klein professor of management at Penn State University, did not foresee that his Journal of Management Inquiry paper, titled “Gioia’s Rules of the Game”, would catch the attention of Twitter users earlier this year.

The paper’s recommendations – such as “two good publications per year keep the wolf from the door” and “more shots on goal means more goals” – were criticised by female academics as characterising an essentially male outlook on the publishing world, in which a lone scholar struggles manfully against colleagues, reviewers and editors.

Professor Gioia’s own maxim that the “academic world can be divided into knowledge generators and knowledge disseminators” provoked particular dismay from many scholars, as did the belief that authors should “not take no for an answer” from reviewers or editors.

“It was a paper written by a man, quoting only men, which invoked the idea of a lone author essentially elbowing their way to the top,” Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care services at the University of Oxford, told Times Higher Education. Her response to “Gioia’s Rules of the Game’, drawing on social media contributions from 46 female academics – and featuring an introduction from Professor Gioia – was published in the Journal of Management Inquiry in July.

In her paper, titled “Twitter Women’s Tips on Academic Writing”, Professor Greenhalgh suggests alternative rules that highlight how collegiality and cooperation are more important than edging ahead of rivals. She urges scholars to “learn and grow in groups and networks”, ”collaborate on papers” and “build capacity in the next generation”.

“If you want to publish really top level research, you cannot do it on your own,” she reflects, adding in her paper that Professor Gioia’s rules relied on “gendered assumptions and stereotypes” of the “lone wolf” male academic competing with colleagues for a slot in a prestigious journal.

“I sit on the 2021 research excellence framework panel, and did so in 2014, so I can see that multi-authored papers are the thing,” she added. “Single-authored papers are very rare now, even in management, particularly as research is increasingly interdisciplinary.”

Professor Greenhalgh also takes a very different line to “Gioia’s Rules” on the writing process. While he claims that the “academic world can be divided into readers and writers” and it is “better to be a writer”, she calls on researchers to “read others’ writing” to improve their own style.

Nor should scholars feel pressured to publish work that has gone awry. While Professor Gioia urges people to “never give up on a paper”, Professor Greenhalgh advises academics to “know when to give up”. “If your data has become obsolete, or you realise you don’t have a strong message, don’t waste any more time,” she writes, adding that: “Even when one paper doesn’t work out, you can still learn from all that work.”

Since publishing her new rules, Professor Greenhalgh said that she had been contacted by several female academics who described how they struggled to relate to career advice informed by this type of masculine perspective. “So many people have emailed me to say they did not know you could succeed by doing things like that,” she added.

Her rules should not be viewed solely in gendered terms, she continued. “This is not a ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ thing, as this advice is equally relevant to men as women, to arts and humanities as science.”

For his part, Professor Gioia admits, in his preface to Professor Greenhalgh’s paper, that his “well-intended little essay” perhaps did reveal his “hidden biases”.

“Apparently my presumed universalist rules carry the heavy hand of guyness,” he writes, adding that he understood why some had objected to what they saw as a “guy-construction of a publishing world that is ostensibly adversarial and competitive”.

“I am, of course, inclined to be defensive, but I’m more interested in the idea that men were taking different things from my paper than women,” he told THE, adding that, “because the institutional situation [of publishing] has been largely designed by men, it is important to listen to such criticisms.”

Many of Professor Greenhalgh’s rules were, however, not that different from his own, Professor Gioia believed.

“Of course, we should be collaborative – and most of my papers are, so I wasn’t advising anyone to squirrel themselves away in a corner to write,” he said.

“That said, it is foolish not to think publishing is not inherently competitive. There is competition for scarce journal space, so people do need to think how they engage in this game – and all games are competitions.”

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Women rewrite the ‘rules’ of publishing

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