28 August 2017

A sense of community

Last week, Stephen Heard wrote a post about being paid for peer review that generated a lot of discussion on Twitter. A fair number of people were quite emphatic that they were not being paid, and a few seemed very grumpy about that.

Earlier in my career, I remember people complaining about the individual reviews they got, or how long reviews took. But I don’t remember people grumbling over doing reviews, or not being compensated for them. And I never heard complaints from editors about how many people were refusing to do reviews.

Now, I suspect part of this is just a shift in perspective. I hear more voices via social media than I did before, and hear more perspectives. I know people who are on editorial board on Twitter, which I didn’t before. Still, from my perspective, it feels like grumpiness over having to do peer review is a relatively recent thing.

It seemed to me that annoyance about doing reviews might be symptomatic of researchers having a degraded sense of community.

When you feel like you belong to a community, you just pitch in. You help. Not because you are paid to do so, but because it’s friends and neighbours and it’s just what you do to make your community a nice place to be.

I think people are refusing to do reviews in part because they don’t feel connected to the academic community. And I get why that would be: it’s a rough, competitive market for ideas now. The shortages in funds and jobs and everything else feels like it’s forcing people into a “me first, me only” mindset to try to survive.

People will complain about journals more when they don’t feel they those journals are part of their scientific community. Maybe this is why many academics have continued to support society journals, even as more and more of them get run by one of the big main “for profit” publishers.

I have been thinking a lot about community, too, because of things like university administration. This tweet went out last week, reading in part:

@utrgv President Bailey looks to create PhD in Cellular, Molecular & Biomedical Sciences.

Yeah, neither faculty nor students asked for that program. It certainly doesn’t make me feel part of a community in my own institution.

Same with graduate programs. I’ve seen some research that one of the biggest predictors of successful programs is that graduate students feel a sense of belonging. That is, of community. And while I tried to create that feeling in our graduate program, I have come to the conclusion I have failed.

This is one reason why science Twitter and the science online community has been important to me: because it truly does seem like a community. People offer ideas and support, for no reason, just because. Someone came up with the term “pocket friends,” which I think is a good phrasing. I’ve said to a lot of people that online conversations are real conversations. And online friends are real friends.

Update, 29 August 2017: This post was featured in today’s Daily Briefing in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thanks to them!

Update, 30 August 2017
: Mike Taylor has a response.

External links

Can we stop saying reviewers are unpaid?

Picture from here.

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