On the perils of counting papers & research rankings to scholarly life.
A student recently asked me: “what I thought was the most damaging paper to the field? The least interesting? That created a path dependency that hurt the field’s progress?”
I suspect they thought I would say TAM and its derivatives. It’s not — at that moment in time — it was brilliant. Fred’s intuition that usability and utility mattered was groundbreaking.
I replied: it was the papers on research productivity and tenure — that appeared in ISR and MISQ — they created anchors that limited aspirations of a generation of assistant professors — and they continue to — they told people that two or so great papers was enough — and while they also commented on ideas — people remember the “n”.
The conversation progressed — with the student commenting — that it was ironic, coming from me, because I write a lot of papers — there was a lot of laughter — esp. when I blushed after the comment.
I was thinking about the conversation today — after talking to a new student — the problem, I think, with rankings, comparisons of productivity, and bold statements about the “n” required to tenure — it detracts from two things: ideas and aspirations.
Publishing “n” number of papers in the “right” journals doesn’t mean that you published anything worth reading. We should be focused on ideas — directing attention to “n” and outlets — detracts from the broader endeavor of developing ideas.
Focusing attention on a “sufficient n” to earn tenure limits aspirations. It directs attention to reaching a threshold of papers, that may or may not be enough to earn tenure, and more importantly, may or may not say anything important.
Saying something important is not a function of an “n” of papers — it’s a function of a body of work — that sometimes requires just one paper to sum up and other times requires many more.
So what to do? Maybe, as a field, and as professors, we need to get back to talking about the ideas — and stop focusing on “n” — so that we get back to teaching young faculty to focus on their ideas and aspirations — because those are what change the world — and professors are supposed to change the world.
Originally published at https://jasonbthatcher.wixsite.com on August 15, 2022.