You have to love the delightful paradox with academic publishing, where at the same time that we want to claim ownership of our research, data, and discoveries through a global intellectual property rights regime, our ideas often only gain visibility when we share them as widely as possible.
So, whether we are publishing in newer, open access journals or through traditional, peer-reviewed subscription-model formats, this sharing remains important for our ideas to get noticed.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid response it has required, and the additional personal and professional demands it has placed on us as academics, a new publishing landscape may be emerging.
Expedited Research in Open Access
The COVID-19 pandemic demanded that we turn to new research across multiple disciplines, particularly in the sciences. Unprecedented in its scale and devastating impact on every country in the world, COVID-19-related research production became a race against the clock.
With the emergence of this new wave of academic work, most of us had to consider a sharp turn from existing portfolios of work to reconfigure our collaboration and alliance networks.
For the more experienced among us, and especially those with a track record of publishing, this presents a treasure trove of new opportunities in the form of curated textbooks, special journal editions, and collections of papers drawing on emerging scholarship.
The traditional linear model we have grown used to, namely of a singular manuscript moving slowly from the editorial desk of a top-tier journal, through the hands of carefully selected peer reviewers, and back to the author with comments for reconsideration cannot match the speed at which a research response to the pandemic has required.
Academic publishing in this era has, therefore, become more of a work-in-progress across open access platforms.
It is in these spaces where previously unidentified collaborators who now share this new research interest can comment early on our work and help us make progress on key points.
Some lesser-known, but more nimble journals, are also staking their claim in the emerging COVID-19-related body of research with a sharp focus on this narrower, yet critical, field of enquiry.
For the younger generation of emerging academics still finding their feet in the publishing world, this is a far less intimidating environment within which to start testing your mettle.
The Effect of the New Workplace on Scholarly Output
As universities moved to online learning, the inefficiency of commuting and the drag of office politics has finally shown its petticoat.
We anticipated that we would save time; that is, until we discovered that our new workplace from home came with a lot of other demands.
Without daycare programmes and schools helping to take care of their children, our colleagues with kids now also have to play the role of homeschool teacher. This is on top of their regular university teaching load, class preparation and grading obligations.
As virtual teaching has become more of the norm, we have also learned that delivering a lecture through live video seminars can not only be more time-consuming but also more mentally draining. “Zoom fatigue”, for example, has been cited as a COVID-19-related phenomenon.
At the end of the day, for many academic researchers, time for the uninterrupted and thoughtful pursuit of our research interests has, in fact, radically shrunk. This is perhaps another reason why the open access or preprint environments, which have simultaneously been gaining more respectability, have also become the place to go to publish new work during the pandemic.
These platforms enable the disaggregation of our research agendas into smaller parts, which can be disseminated when we are ready, rather than waiting for the entire body of work to come together. This should allow even the most time-constrained researcher to shape sections of their research into discrete portions to be shared more efficiently.
Changing Role of Librarians in the Publishing Landscape
Traditionally, the librarian and the IT department have held the keys to the maze of knowledge each young researcher needs. Their management of institutional subscriptions and access to important sources help determine the scope of our possible avenues to pursue.
With COVID-19, many publishing houses have relaxed access to their archives and portfolios. This comes at a welcome time when the relationship with librarians has been shifting.
While proactive librarians will always be able to offer support in finding that one difficult source, nowadays they are partnering with researchers to identify early releases of research or locating preprint servers where members of our specific research communities share our preliminary findings for prepublication review.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact on institutional resources that may constrain future library budgets and has spawned a new wave of accelerated research, this changing partnership with the librarian will become increasingly important.
Co-Promotion of Academic Publishing & Social Media
The one area where emerging young scholars have a considerable advantage over the long-tenured generation is the shift towards the active self-promotion of published research in collaboration with publishing houses. Okay, boomers?
Savvy researchers understand that our ideas could gain extra miles by learning strategies from the social media workshops that publishing houses may offer, getting out in virtual space to introduce our work, or even making ourselves available for book tours and workshops that may add to the personal brand and broaden awareness of our research output.
COVID-19 is driving higher screen time and connectivity through social media, and this area is bursting with opportunity for the intrepid researcher to take research findings to the academic publishing community and beyond.
Re-alignment of Resources
Sadly, the economic impact of COVID-19 did not settle equally across the globe. Many countries had to turn to the IMF or other institutions for the first time to make ends meet.
The ripple effect on government budget deficits and long-term loan repayments can only add to the pressure on educational budgets in many parts of the world.
Given that research funding and incentives to publish play a significant role in creating a globally representative pool of diverse research agendas and contributors, we might see publishing increasingly becoming a more one-sided affair, unless open access and preprint servers manage to ameliorate this imbalance.
For both the experienced and well-published academic researcher, as well as the new kids on the academic block, COVID-19 has shaken up or hastened along with existing trends in academic publishing.
This suggests that there may be some wisdom in setting up an early, in-depth consultation with your reliable librarian as well as approaching a trusted publishing house about the shift and growth in opportunities for your future academic publishing.
© Pixabay 2020 / image: Engin_Akyurt