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

I am attending Nordic Geographers’ Meeting #NGM2017

On Sunday, I’ll be in Stockholm for the 7th Nordic Geographers’ Meeting. I am excited to be presenting my work to a completely new audience – geographers, and a wider audience of social scientists – as I usually meet with Africa scholars or Migration scholars. The theme is “geographies of inequalities” which is almost a perfect topic to capture student migration out of the global South.

At the meeting, I hope to:

  • get some new ideas on how to take my work to the next level (Where do I publish?  What are others doing on students and migration?) and
  • pick up some clues on how I continue to do relevant interdisciplinary research. (What methods should I use?  Who can I collaborate with? Who else is interested in my work?)

I’ll be presenting two papers out of my dissertation research for the following two panels:

Session A3: Youth and Inequality: Perceptions, experiences, and aspirations. (PDF details)

Conveners: Prof. Katherine Gough of Loughborough University and Dr. Thilde Langevang of Copenhagen Business School.

Session description
Rising unemployment and sluggish economic growth are widely predicted to further widen income and wealth inequality worldwide. Young people, in particular, are being disproportionately affected with the OECD claiming that youth have replaced the elderly as the group experiencing the greatest risk of income poverty. This has widespread implications for the opportunities and constraints young people face as well as impacting on their aspirations for the future.This session will bring together papers which explore how young people’s lives and aspirations are being influenced by the inequality they experience and imagine both in situ and in faraway places. Papers are welcome from societies across the globe where young people are being affected by real or perceived high levels of inequality. Topics which may be explored in the session include, but are not restricted to, the implications of rising inequality at a range of scales for young people’ perceptions, experiences and aspirations of: Mobility and immobility /Education and skills training/ Work experiences and job prospects/Housing and home

Here my paper “Migration aspirations among university students in Ghana” will discuss my choices to focus on university students and not youth in general as well as aspirations and intentions and not migration per se . I also will share some results from the survey I did with university students in Ghana, in particular looking at social backgrounds of students and their view of migration. (20/6/17 1.15-3.00 pm. Room: William Olsson, House Y)

Session J7: The Politics of Movement. (PDF details)

Conveners: Dr. Nancy Cook & Prof. David Butz, Brock University.

Session description
The politics of movement  entanglements of power, social inequality and mobilities – is an abiding preoccupation in social geography and critical mobilities studies. Both scholarly fields identify mobility as a fundamental structuring dimension of social life. They also demonstrate that the capacity for movement under conditions of one’s choosing is a valuable resource that is unequally distributed in social contexts structured by hierarchies of power. In other words, movement is socially differentiated; it reflects and reinforces structures of power to configure inequitable social hierarchies. Critical geographers and mobility scholars are tracing the ways in which relations of gender, race, class, sexuality and citizenship shape discourses and practices of mobility that produce beneficial movement for some people and too little or too much movement for others.

For this session, I will discuss some thoughts around what a global South student really is in relation to mobility in my paper “Conceptualizing academic mobility and mobility exclusions from a global South student perspective”. Based on the data I collected for my dissertation research I will suggest some trends in the politics of movement from a student point of view. (19/6/17 at 5.15-6.45 pm in Room: U26, House U)

I am also looking forward to keynotes, especially with Dr. Brenda S.A. Yeoh who has a distinct global South perspective in her work and meeting new friends – and at least one old! I want to thank my good friend Michael Boampong who sent me the initial info on this conference, and who is also attending the conference as well as and my department at Ashesi University which made this trip possible.

Hope to meet you at #NGM2017!