Slow and Small Victories: Getting an Academic Paper Published

Academia is not a place for fast turnarounds. Last week, I reached a milestone which was the result of intense efforts starting 13 years ago when I first decided to apply for a Ph.D. position in migration studies at the University of Ghana. Now, this milestone quietly appeared as an automated email among many in my inbox. The communication indicated that the first paper out of my thesis had been published in a peer-reviewed journal!

Find the paper in full (open access) here: Student migration aspirations and mobility in the global knowledge society: The case of Ghana

The journal is called the Journal of International Mobility and is a French journal – I just love how abstract and bio is also available in another language. It is also an open-access journal meaning researchers and others can read it for free and download /télécharcher it as it is not behind a paywall. I found it as they were publishing work on academic mobility, international student migration and I thought it could be a good fit.

What does it mean to publish a paper?

This means a section of my research is now available for easy consumption and critique. That means I am part of a global conversation about my topic, much more than if I only left results in my 300+ page dissertation (PDF). In this paper, I chose to focus on my quantitative data (two more papers out of my thesis yet to be published have a more qualitative focus drawing on focus groups and interviews) on student migration aspirations.

Morover, I contextualize the situation for student migrants out of the global south – unequal access to higher education, under- and unemployment after graduation, hardship acquiring visas to further studies abroad, the global knowledge society where student migrants provide 3% of trade in services in the OECD. I explain how Ghana is a good case study with outmigration among highly skilled close to Africa’s average and high levels of graduate unemployment. I review the international student migration (ISM) literature and suggest students from the global south are understudied. I ask: “Do students from the global south aspire to be mobile? Are they mobile? How do they experience the global knowledge society?” With survey data from 467 Ghanaian students I respond to these questions and find that (quoting from the abstract, or summary):

…the students aspire to migrate, mostly for educational reasons. However, many of these students also aspire to return, others to live transnational lives, and one in twelve students surveyed are not interested in migrating—that is, in leaving Ghana for more than one year. These results show that university students in Ghana often imagine their future at home, but their life strategies include graduate school and gaining work experience abroad. Hence, mobility, but perhaps not necessarily migration, is a central feature of their life aspirations.

What does it really mean to me to publish a paper?

Emotionally, the email and publication shook me to the core. It has been such a long ride and now this seems…small?

Late nights transcribing interviews, tabulating survey data. Versions of this paper dating back to 2017. Having a colleague critique and then rewriting the paper. Getting it rejected once. Getting many comments on what is now the published paper, but pressing through. It was hard until the end, too… The final edited version I had to correct twice (a misunderstanding meant the copyeditor needed the changes in a different format). The emails sent to ask for an update on the process.

Now, I had the email blinking a URL at me on the screen with a “published” in a sentence next to it.

Was this it?

Cheers to a published paper! Photo: Eliza K.

After a drink with my husband to celebrate, and this email to tell you all, I am pressing on with other slow, thoughtful, and important scholarly work. But after taking a few weeks of vacation!

Read more about my Ph.D. project on its website StudentMigrationAspirations.com

My story up on the PhD Career Stories Podcast

Kajsa is holding a mic.
Photo: OP studios

Do you want to know…. what a morning in my home office sounds like?

What I did when I wanted to quit the PhD program?

How activism and teaching are very good companions to research?

…and what I did after completing my dissertation and finally sleeping properly again?

Yes? Then what are you waiting for? Tune into my story on the PhD Career Stories Podcast.

Sabbatical or Time to Think, Read, and Write

I am lucky enough to work in a sector where there is a tradition to allow a block of time every 6-7-8 years of employment to focus on research. The time has come to me and this spring, Jan-May, I will be 100% focused on thinking, reading, and writing.

It is exhilarating – so much potential! – and scary. I am worried I will somehow squander the time, get derailed by emails, or just get less productive when the walls of structure that I am used to are gone.

Three weeks into the sabbatical, I am still a bit worried, although have read much more research already than I did all of last semester, and asked senior colleagues for help and guidance. I am also walking more, both to lessen the anxiety and to think better. But should I continue to work from my house with all distractions that come with it or should I find an office space away from home? For now, I am taking up colleagues on their offers of co-writing sessions and paying a short-term visit to a research environment in Sweden for focus and inspiration.

Potential Outputs

  • I hope to finish four papers that are almost (some just halfway) done and send them off to academic journals (and attend fewer conferences and workshops). 
  • I also want to publish shorter texts with more popular outlets (and write fewer emails and blog posts). 
  • I also hope to read more, especially classic texts like Nkrumah and Mamdani but also new ones, especially on decolonial theory and higher education, as well as monographs by researchers I know and aspire to write like (and do fewer lists of books and articles I should read). 
  • I want to do two-three sets of interviews to deepen projects already started (and not only rely on previous data I have collected)
  • I want to apply for research funding (and not think too much about what I am teaching next). 
  • Finally, I want to relax my body which has patiently supported a four-hour daily commute for years!

What would you do if you had five months of work time to plan yourself?

Sunday Reads Jan 21, #KajsaHASundayReads

sundayreadsThis week I read:

Video I watched: I got a little addicted to the entertaining Crash Course series on YouTube where John Green and his brother teaches you all kinds of stuff!

 

Tell me below what you are reading!

 This post is part of my #KajsaHASundayReads series. Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman,  I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. 

Meeting My Idol: Prof. Jorgen Carling

This weekend I had the unmitigated pleasure of meeting one of my foremost academic idols: Professor Jorgen Carling. I have followed his work on migration aspirations and his work informed much of the theoretical frame for my dissertation.

His research is thoughtful, pedagogic, built on extensive research in Cape Verde, and communicated in simple and straightforward prose in the top migration journals. But also, and this, of course, impresses me, on social media (@jorgencarling) as well as on his amazing blog, see this very useful post about academic publishing for instance.

 

While we have been connected over the internet, we have never met. He lives in Norway (and in Netherlands for a bit) and I am in Ghana, of course. Over the years, I have tried to get into workshops he has led, conference panels he has organized, but without luck. I have continued to keep him posted on my progress via email and sent him my dissertation once it was completed and passed the examination.

 

Then a few weeks ago I get an email with the subject: “Jorgen to Ghana”. I shriek with joy and can’t believe my luck when my academic idol of the last five years is coming to visit Tema. Finally on Saturday evening he lands. On Sunday, I pick him up from his hotel just minutes away from my house, show him around the center of the world (Tema), and invite him to eat a hearty Sunday lunch of boiled plantain and kontomire stew in my garden with my family.

 

Here is a photo from the happy occasion.

 

How was it meeting my idol in real life? He was cool.

 

Just as I had imagined he was calm and kind in a very Norwegian way. His comments on my work – I was very excited to realize he had actually read it – and careful advise on publishing helped me over some mind-hurdles. I was, however, a little nervous, kind of extatic and…wordy. So now,  I have resolved to work on going from a far-away-fan to a useful and levelheaded colleague. 

When did you meet an idol and what happened?

Sunday Reads Sep 17, #KajsaHASundayReads

sundayreadsThis week I read:

      1. Female entrepreneurship rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are the highest in the world, according to a new report that says women’s entrepreneurial activity is increasing globally. 
      2. Africa doesn’t need white tech entrepreneurs – it needs a level playing field by Eliza Anyangwe.
      3. Over Certified & Under Educated a harsh but well-argued piece about Ghana’s higher education sector by Esther Armah.
      4. Young people and their plants by Lavanya Ramanathan
      5. A bit of context to the protests in Togo by Benjamin N. Lawrance.

Video I watched: No video! It was the first week of the fall semester for my daughters and myself! I just survived!

 

Tell me below what you are reading!

 This post is part of my #KajsaHASundayReads series. Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman,  I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. 

Sunday Reads Feb 5, #KajsaHASundayReads

sundayreadsThis week I read:

  1. This Interesting article on the academic core task and the next generation academics by Andrew J. Hoffman on The Conversation.
  2. Incredible look into the future: Global digital identity – goodbye national passports? by Margie Cheeseman.
  3. The Neuroscience of Singing by Cassandra Shepard. I knew from experience singing is good for me, but not exactly how come…

Video I watched: The addictive The American People vs O J Simpson. The entire mini series. From beginning to end.

What I would have loved to read, but did not come across:

An article on corporal punishment in Ghanaian schools and what to do about it.

Tell me below what you are reading!

 This post is part of my #KajsaHASundayReads series. Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman,  I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. 

Sunday Reads Nov 15

sundayreads

  1. How Ghanaian food changed my life.  “I loved the fresh grilled prawns and fish. Given my familiarity with San Francisco sourdough, I quickly grew fond of the steamed fermented corn dough known as kenkey, eaten with the fiery sambal “shito” (“black pepper”) made from pounded dried shrimp, dried fish, and dried chilis. The mangos were to die for. African yams?—?boiled, mashed or fried?—?easily supplanted potatoes, and don’t even get me started on the versatile plantain. The one-pot soups and stews comforted me, and I discovered the joys of colorful chili peppers hot enough to make my nose run.”
  2. It’s not the religion that creates terrorists, it’s the politics. “We buy into the radicalisation hypothesis because we want evil to be mysterious and other; something that has nothing to do with us.”
  3. On data poverty and New York Big Data. ” The release of open data, to him, is a powerful way to give New York City residents a sense of who they are, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, as well as the strengths of their neighborhood so that they can work together to address quality of life issues. “Neighborhoods that don’t have data, that don’t understand data about themselves as a neighborhood, then they can’t begin to suggest to their representatives on city council, state and otherwise, the things that they need to make themselves better,” Ra Mashariki said.”
  4. When H&M came to South Africa and insulted every one. “When fashion blogger Tlalane Letlhaku commented on Twitter saying that “most, if not all your posters in store have no black models” and to “please work on that to appeal to everyone,” the response was “H&M’s marketing has a major impact and it is essential for us to convey a positive image”.”
  5. For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University. “Our concern involves the ever-increasing demands of academic life: the acceleration of time in which we are expected to do more and more. The “more” includes big tasks, such as teaching larger classes, competing for dwindling publicly funded grants that also bring operating money to our universities, or sitting on innumerable university administrative committees. It also includes the constant stream of smaller requests demanding timely responses, such as quarterly updates to funding agencies, annual institutional review exercises, and pressure on us as knowledge workers to stay on constant alert through the demands of social media.

Inspired by personal role models, Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Chris Blattman, I want to share articles I read with my followers on a somehow regular basis. I hope to make Sunday Reads a weekly feature to be shared here and on Twitter!