Publish and prosper: a strategy guide for students and researchers

If you are a graduate student just starting your academic career or a relatively new assistant professor, I highly recommend Nathaniel Lambert’s Publish and prosper: A strategy guide for students and researchers. This is a highly readable – I read it in a single day, and I am a slow reader – accessible, and engaging book in which Lambert offers valuable strategies for enhancing your research productivity. Of course, the title is a play on “publish or perish,” the mantra that causes anxiety for countless young academics. Lambert suggests that if you follow his principles, you will not only alleviate your own anxieties about not being academically successful, but also become prosperous through a successful graduate student career, a tenure-track job, raises and promotions, respect from colleagues, and a well-balanced, meaningful life to boot. This is a tall order and of course no single book can address all these goals in great depth, but Lambert certainly offers many simple and constructive strategies with which anyone can increase the number of research articles they produce, submit, and eventually get published.      

                The structure of the book is simple. Lambert offers a three-pronged approach to increasing research productivity, encapsulated in the memorable PEP (priorities, efficiency, prevention of pitfalls) model. First, he argues that anyone who wants to increase their research productivity must first make research a priority. While this sounds simple, anyone who has spent any time in academia knows that time that could be spent doing research is often sucked up by less important but more urgent matters. To make research a priority, he suggests among other things setting aside a specific time and place for daily research endeavors, removing distractions, setting specific deadlines, and choosing a topic about which you are passionate. Second, once priorities are aligned with getting research done, it is important to do your research as efficiently as possible. To this end, Lambert suggests keeping your introduction sections succinct, have several projects going on at the same time, having a quick turnaround time for to-be-revised and rejected manuscripts, and forming relationships with collaborators. Third, Lambert describes several pitfalls that reduce productivity and offers several concrete steps to combat them. One is procrastination, which he counters with among other things having a routine for writing and being excited about your topic. Another pitfall is perfectionism, for which he suggests reminding ourselves that very few people will actually ever read our papers from cover to cover. When you think about it that way, you realize that perfectionism is actually a big waste of time! The final section of the book has sections tailored to people at different stages of their academic careers (e.g., graduate students, new tenure-track professors). For example, as a new professor you can get tips on being a more efficient teacher, a good mentor, and a helpful reviewer.        

                I think anyone reading this book will be able to relate to at least some part of it. Certainly, I can see how I have hurt my own research productivity by not following some of Lambert’s advice. In my graduate career, I did not use my courses to further my research agenda as much as I could have. As a new tenure-track professor, I spent too much time on committee work and prepping classes that I could have spent running analyses and writing up manuscripts. Early on, I spent too long writing introduction sections to manuscripts. And yes, I have sometimes taken too long to revise a manuscript for which I received a revise-and-resubmit decision. But rather than feel guilty and defensive about this, I found myself being inspired by this book. And I think that was Lambert’s intent: It is very clear from the tone of the book that he is on our side and wants us to be successful. There is advice here that anyone can use, as long as they are willing to be open and honest with themselves about what they can be doing differently to increase their research productivity.        

                If I may say anything even remotely critical about the book, personally I was a bit put off by some small parts that for my taste have too much of a self-help book feel. For me, the mansion metaphor (where priorities are the foundation, efficiency the walls, and preventing pitfalls the roof to “build your prosperous PEP mansion” [p. 1]) was a little cheesy. But to Lambert’s credit, while this is certainly a helpful book, and one that outlines ways in which we can take control of our research productivity, the book does not have an obnoxious self-help feel overall. Also, the book is obviously geared primarily to an audience that either already works at a large research university or intends to someday work at one. As someone who works at a small liberal arts college, sections such as mentoring graduate students were less relevant for me. This is not a weakness of the book by any means, as the principles Lambert describes apply to anyone, even those for whom research productivity is not the sole determinant of tenure and promotion decisions. Finally, since Lambert is a social psychologist, the advice he gives might be most apt for other social scientists, but this is a limitation he acknowledges from the start. All in all, this book is a must-read for aspiring and new academics in psychology and related disciplines and I recommend it highly.

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