On Becoming a Scholar: Editing Books as a Doctoral Student
Professional Development Article by Pramod K. Sah, The University of British Columbia, Canada
In the global meritocratic academic structure, it has become absolutely mandatory for doctoral students to publish in peer-reviewed outlets to show their potential as emerging scholars. A line of publications has become one of the key criteria to weigh scholarly potential or success in the increasingly competitive academic job market (Bartkowski, et al., 2015). Given the current pandemic situation leading many universities to freeze new hiring, doctoral students face an even greater challenge: they will not only be competing against their fellow doctoral candidates and new graduates but also against junior faculty members. This makes the market even more competitive than before and may push doctoral students to publish even more intensely. Of course, there is no set rule on how many publications one should have (or in what outlets), but the pressure to publish has certainly increased. In the journey to become competitive, many doctoral students are considering editing books and special issues in academic journals. In this newsletter article, I share my personal experience of editing books, and hope that others may find my experience useful should they choose to pursue a similar path.
As Mizzi (2014) notes, through publishing processes, doctoral students shift their identity from “being a student to becoming a scholar” (p. 54). I am very sure we all have been advised to come out of the student bubble as we become advanced doctoral students and prepare for the job market. Accordingly, in addition to publishing journal articles and book chapters, I decided to edit a book, which I believed to be an opportunity for me (a) to develop my network (although it is a very vague concept, we are also advised to broaden our network as an important strategy to becoming successful in the job market); (b) to have experience in editing and dealing with publishers; and (c) more importantly, to signpost my presence in the field.
After I advanced to candidacy in my doctoral program, I approached Routledge and shared my ideas of editing a book on English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in the context of Asian universities. The publisher instantly agreed with the idea, I believe, mainly because EMI has become a hot topic recently and a much-needed area of research. I then looked for an experienced scholar to serve as a co-editor and to guide me in my new journey of becoming a book editor. I approached Dr. Fan Fang, who I had met at a conference. I was aware of his scholarship in EMI and Global Englishes in the Asian context and his experience in editing books and special issues.
The next step was to seek chapters. We decided to send an open call for chapters as well as to personally invite some established scholars. Some book editors do not choose to make an open call, but we decided to do so because we believed that the open call would bring in some interesting research from new/emerging scholars (including doctoral students) who we were not aware of. In doing so, we received so many excellent proposals. We found it challenging to review and select just a small number of them—the publisher had given us a fixed word limit for the volume. Finally, we decided to go for two volumes: the first, English Medium Instruction and Linguistic Diversity in Asian Universities: Unsettling Critical Edges and the second, Pedagogies of English Medium Instruction Program in Asian Universities. Initially, we had planned a volume to deal with three strands of research: policy, pedagogy, and politics. However, we decided to have a separate volume on “pedagogy” of EMI as we had received a number of excellent proposals dealing with this theme. The other volume then focused on “policies” and “politics” of EMI.
Benefits and Challenges in Editing the Books
This journey of editing two books (coming out in early 2022) has benefited me in so many ways. For me, the key benefit is academic socialization: I have developed my own community of colleagues who share similar research interests. In other words, I have developed a network of EMI scholars from different parts of the world. I have had opportunities to read and learn about the research of those (about 50) scholars and, in turn, they have become familiar with my own scholarship.
Other benefits I have received include some amount of recognition in the field of EMI, invitations to contribute to volumes and special issues, and I was even invited to give a keynote at the ExcitELT conference organized by the EMI Research Group at the University of Oxford and the Teaching English & Teaching in English in Global Contexts network. I have also had opportunities to learn some academic and interpersonal skills, including the skills of reading drafts, commenting/giving feedback, negotiating those comments, and making editorial decisions.
Working as a middle person between reviewers and authors has provided both opportunities and challenges in terms of negotiation and decision-making processes. With these glittering benefits also come challenges both in the editing processes and working towards my own doctoral program. Firstly, editing a book requires lots of time and energy, which a doctoral student needs to subtract from their primary responsibility of producing a dissertation. We need to weigh the cost of accumulating publication capital on the scale of:
how much credibility an edited volume receives in the job application (I have had a suggestion that a journal article is given more credit than an edited volume),
how much emotional struggle we undergo, mainly for minoritized international students who have family and kids and have left behind people who we care about,
how anxious we become in seeking a balance between completing a dissertation, editing volumes, publishing articles/chapters, and navigating the job market, and
how much “emotional labor” (Hochschild, 2012) we put on others and ourselves.
Pointing to these issues should by no means discourage fellow scholars from editing a book. Let us also not forget that we all have our distinct life trajectories that make considering these issues vital.
Moreover, there can be a challenge in negotiating with your co-editor and collaborators. Such negotiations can be made in terms of ideas (conceptual and methodological), the timeline, and other commitments. It is possible that some chapters that we consider to be crucial in terms of geographical and gender inclusivity, for example, may not be turned in; or, although turned in, they do not achieve the desired standard of quality. We then need to look for alternatives, which means another round of labor. This requires another set of negotiations in terms of how much time all co-editors need to commit and how much flexibility a junior scholar can have. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed, and we tend to (voluntarily) take up extra labor.
In sum, the process of editing books has brought about several academic benefits and elevated my confidence in coming out of the student bubble and growing as a scholar. However, editing books alongside publishing articles, chapters, and doing all sorts of professional services has posed a series of challenges and anxieties while I am preparing for the job market. Hence, it is entirely up to you whether you are ready to take up this extra labor. Time will tell if my endeavors have been worthwhile; however, I think they are worth the ride.
Bartkowski, J. Deem, C.S., & Christopher, G. E. (2015). Publishing in academic journals: Strategic advice for doctoral students and academic mentors. The American Sociologist, 46, 99–115.
Hochschild, A. R. (2012). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling (3rd ed.). University of California Press.
Mizzi, R. C. (2014). Writer’s forum—writing realities: An exploration of drawbacks and benefits of publishing while enrolled in a doctoral program. New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development 26(2), 54-59.
Pramod K. Sah is a Ph.D. candidate and Killam Laureate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research interests include English-medium instruction, language planning and policy, translanguaging, language ideology, and teacher education. His research works have appeared in the Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, International Multilingual Research Journal, English Teaching & Learning, and Asian Pacific Journal of Education, among others, including in edited volumes.