academic culture

academic culture

The Kindness of Strangers

On Friday a book arrived from the Magazin, which is what Austrians call the closed stacks or off-site storage of a library. Unlike other things which come from a magazine, it was not packed in an airtight box and covered in oil or grease, but I did have to do something else before it was... Continue reading: The Kindness of Strangers

Ancient History Does Not Have Journal Rankings

Since you are putting up with me getting a bee in my bonnet about academic culture, how about these nice birds on the medieval city wall of Tallinn, Estonia?

Over on Crooked Timber, John Quiggin asks:

As far as economic research is concerned, less is more. More precisely, an academic economist with a small number of publications in top-rated journals is better regarded by other economists than one with an equal (or even somewhat larger) number of ‘good journal’ publications along with more research published in less prestigious outlets. I can vouch for that, though it’s less of a problem in Australia than in less peripheral locations. I have the impression that the same is true in other fields, but would be interested in comments.

Comments there and on his blog are closed, so I will comment here.

Due to my profession, I spend a lot of time talking to people in classics, ancient history, Assyriology, philology, etc. And I have never heard anyone in that field dismiss a work because of where it was published, or suggest that it should be taken seriously because of where it was published. I have not heard that kind of trash from the most nervous young researcher putting others down to hide their own fear, or the grumpiest professor who wishes that he (its usually a he) had picked another trade.

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The UBC PhD Career Outcomes Survey of 2016

A snapshot from a university department website with a field containing the automatically-generated message "There are no opportunities at this time"
From the mouth of algorithms comes truth- maybe a bit too much truth, in this case! A screenshot from the website of a Canadian university.

PhD students like to talk about the fact that there are far more new doctors of philosophy than positions as tenure-track faculty or researchers, so anyone who wants a job like that has to follow a series of very specific and demanding steps, with a high chance of finding themself stuck in a poorly paid, overworked position as a sessional instructor or post-doctoral researcher. Unfortunately, hard numbers are hard to come by, and naturally the people who are very successful or very unhappy have the loudest voices. The people who are most active in complaining about the problem tend to be Americans, and the situation in that country has some special features. Back in 2013, I estimated that about four people got a PhD in history in Canada for every tenured professor who retired, and made some choices accordingly.

Recently, the University of British Columbia published a survey of 3,805 students who graduated UBC with a PhD between 2003 and 2015. Through a combination of mail, email, and online searches, they were able to find some information about 91% of these students. A summary is posted at

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