Publishing as a Nobody.
This week I published the 12th peer-reviewed article of my 4 years at MECMC. Three papers a year feels like reasonable productivity for someone who is not required to publish at all and has little to no incentive to do so other than vanity. It is arguably a little bit harder for me to get papers into high profile journals because I don’t have an academic title. On the other hand, my discipline is esoteric enough in the medical field as to warrant little attention from such periodicals anyway.
And so I’ve done what I’ve always done in my career. Aim low. Of the 12 papers I’ve published (counting a book chapter), zero are in top tier journals. Three are in highly-regarded specialty journals, and the rest are in workhorse journals – they get read and cited, but you can’t make a storied academic career by publishing in those. They don’t get your name remembered.
My name will not be remembered. But I may have, quietly, helped improve hospital care at institutions that have never employed me, and that’s good. And I may have created jobs for practitioners of the kind of engineering I do, and that’s good. And I may have created a CV that will be well-received when I want to move on from where I am now. Papers can, at least, serve as tangible evidence that the projects I did worked. It makes me less reliant on recommendations.
But what’s satisfying about it for me is that I’m able to do things I think are important, and disseminate the lessons from them, without having had to compete constantly in the world of titled academics. I was able to create a space for myself that relieves me of the constant pressure of grant-writing while still being able to make a contribution. In the past 4 years, I’ve written about 70 pages of academic prose, and they’ve all been published (except for four grant applications totaling 9 pages – two funded for a gobsmacking total of $15,000). The average professor has written hundreds, and most in rejected grant applications.
While doing all that, I’ve succeeded in arranging for several student and first-time authors (including three of my bosses) to become authors. I’ve helped place one undergraduate mentee in medical school and another in a biomed PhD program. I’m very proud of all the academic work I’ve managed to do while it’s entirely outside of my job description.
And I’m also incredibly vain. And I feel the need to keep up with all my academic friends who are out there actually discovering things and making real scientific improvements. My field is using computer simulation to understand how hospitals (and some other systems) work, and how to improve them. How to design them better in the first place. It’s a useful field, but it’s by no means glamorous. I lunge at productivity so that I have a sense of belonging with people I mostly don’t really know, and who wouldn’t care if I didn’t. People who are better academics, smarter, and more diligent than I am.
I’ve always been a climber.