Wednesday 16 February 2011

Rising Standards

Getting a PhD has always rested on the same test ... can you demonstrate that you've made a contribution (see other postings on this theme).  As time passes, and more PhDs pass into the public domain, it could be argued that this are getting tougher in that there is less by way of unexplored "white space" out there.  Two articles from the Academy of Management stable of journals provide some interesting insights on this issue.  The first is from the Academy of Management Review (AMR) which is perhaps the management field's premier theory journal.  The editors offer some examples, drawn from past editions of the journal, of how to build theory by reviewing the literature.  They describe this as "review-centric" research ... as you work toward a final version of your own literature review, I would recommend having a look at what they say.

The second article comes from Academy of Management Learning and Education (AMLE) and it provides sobering evidence of increased competition in the academic world.  Journal editors, just like PhD examiners, make accept/reject decisions based on the contribution offered in a paper.  In the academic world, published papers are the building blocks from which careers and tenure are built (again see earlier posts on academic careers).  Using data from 1988-2008, the authors of this AMLE paper show that there are more more authors competing for the same publication space.  Over that time frame some journals have increased the number of issues published per year, but even controlling for the number of paper slots available in top-tier journals, the evidence is fairly compelling.  The mean time to achieve ten publications has grown from 6 years in 1988 to over 15 years by 2008.  Getting accepted in a top-tier journal is getting tougher.  Against this somewhat depressing backdrop, it is even more important to be clear about two things in the early stages of your academic career.  First, be clear about the contribution that your PhD is going to make ... this will certainly help you pass with minimum trauma.  Second, use every opportunity to learn to think like a reviewer or editor.  Most top-tier journals publish "notes from the editors" periodically and these offer a great chance to see how the editors make sense of their job.  Also, most of the big conferences feature "meet the editors" sessions and of course conferences offer the chance for you to get involved in the review process yourself as a volunteer.  Reviewing the work of others is perhaps the best way to sharpen your own arguments.

  1. Editors' Comments: developing novel theoretical insights from reviews of existing theory and research, AMR, 35(4), 2010, 506-509
  2. Trevis Certo et al (2010) Competition and Scholarly Productivity in Management: investigating changes in scholarship from 1988 to 2008, AMLE 9(4), 591-606