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Whether it’s a peer-reviewed article, a funding proposal, or a syllabus, no one reads academic writing for the fun of it. Researchers and other faculty members tend to write for each other, which is to say, for people who get paid to read each other’s stuff. And for students, who, sadly, pay dearly for the privilege.
But just because most or all of your audience is under some degree of obligation to read what you write, that doesn’t give you license to be obscure, muddy and uninspiring. If there’s anything that can beat the life out of academic writing, it’s the overuse of nominalizations. If that’s a new word to you, don’t feel bad. Great numbers of people probably came across it for the first time when reading The New York Times website this morning:
“Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them ‘zombie nouns’ because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings. …
“At their best, nominalizations help us express complex ideas: perception, intelligence, epistemology. At their worst, they impede clear communication. I have seen academic colleagues become so enchanted by zombie nouns like heteronormativity and interpellation that they forget how ordinary people speak. Their students, in turn, absorb the dangerous message that people who use big words are smarter – or at least appear to be – than those who don’t.“
Isn’t it great to be lumped together with lawyers, bureaucrats and zombies? By the way, I added the emphasis at the end, partly because it’s a good point and partly because some of us probably picked up the same idea the same way when we were students.
Writing is hard, and not just for you — it’s hard for everyone who cares about doing it well. We can all use as much good advice as we can get. And this Times column qualifies.
Stephanie Luster-Teasley puts her experience in the tenure process together with her research on professional development for women and people of color, and the result is four suggestions about how the process can be made more transparent and beneficial. Her article appears in the Spring issue of the online publication On Campus with Women, published by the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
“I recently completed the tenure process, and like many junior faculty members, I found that tenure was a moving target at the end of an obstacle course marked by uncertainty and politics. Junior faculty know that in order to qualify for tenure, we must balance teaching, service, and research. But we often find it unnerving to gauge how well we have performed in these areas in our colleagues’ eyes. …
“[I]nstitutions and faculty members can work together to make the tenure and promotion process easier to track and gauge, allowing more opportunities for faculty to self-correct their progress. By making tenure more transparent, institutions can not only support the careers of women and people of color, but can also equalize the process for all junior faculty.”
A survey of 240 administrators and faculty from 51 HBCUs with journalism programs reveals a number of challenges as they prepare students for careers in the 21st century news industry.
It’s the first published study to look at how journalism programs at HBCUs are coping with swift changes in the news business as a result of mobile technology and the Internet. The study was conducted by Kim Smith, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at North Carolina A&T.
Out of the nearly 100 who completed the survey, the most striking result was that nearly all faculty members, chairs and program directors agreed that they must change their journalism education curricula to meet the new demands of 21st century journalism. But they disagreed over who should lead the process. They pointed fingers at each other.
Update: The number researchers boycotting Elsevier is now over 5,000. There’s also a graphic representation of Dr. Gowers’s position.
Researchers across many disciplines and around the world are taking action against the business practices of academic publishing giant Elsevier, and the movement’s momentum may be carrying it toward a critical mass. Some 4,900 scientists around the world have signed a statement refusing to publish in, edit for and/or referee for the company’s 2,000 journals.
It’s old news that its critics find Elsevier’s high subscription costs and expensive bundling policies unethical. But today there’s a political issue as well, as detailed in an op-ed column in The Boston Globe:
“Now Elsevier is supporting an odious bit of legislation known as the Research Works Act. Currently, the National Institutes of Health has a rule: If the American people pay for research, then they should be able to see the results without paying again. This is simple fairness. Yet the legislation would end that policy, further boosting Elsevier’s profits by locking important biomedical research, the stuff of life and death, behind paywalls.”
The movement’s current surge appears to have been generated by the high-profile British mathematician Timothy Gowers. His original blog post last month has generated at least 315 responses and inspired the creation of The Cost of Knowledge website.
Worth noting: Elsevier is the contractor/developer for the Reach NC faculty database.
Dr. Alan Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science:
“Will the model of science magazines be the same 10 years from now? I highly doubt it. I believe in evolution. When a better system comes into being that has quality and trustability, it will happen. That’s how science progresses, by doing scientific experiments. We should be doing that with scientific publishing as well.”
The New York Times offers a look at where scientific and research publishing is going — interesting stuff for researchers who plan to publish in the future. A relatively local angle:
On Thursday, 450 bloggers, journalists, students, scientists, librarians and programmers will converge on North Carolina State University (and thousands more will join in online) for the sixth annual ScienceOnline conference. Science is moving to a collaborative model, said Bora Zivkovic, a chronobiology blogger who is a founder of the conference, “because it works better in the current ecosystem, in the Web-connected world.”
If you’re interested, check out the conference online. The Aggie Research blog and Twitter feed will post updates from the McKimmon Center.
We’ve reported previously on these two journal articles from the past year. They’re worth thinking about again on Martin Luther King Day.
“Mathematics Self-Efficacy and African American Male Students: An Examination of Two Models of Success,” Journal of African American Males in Education (Summer 2011, Volume 2, Issue 2). Dr. Richard Noble, N.C. A&T Department of Mathematics.
Noble observes that there’s no shortage of documentation of the academic failures of young African American men, but far less on those who have success in academic settings (although the literature on that point is growing). His article explores the personal stories of African American men who excelled in mathematics to understand the impact of their self-efficacy beliefs on their motivation and later academic achievement in math at the postsecondary level.
“General analyses of autobiographies and interviews revealed that enactive attainment and vicarious experience were influential sources for these African American men’s self-efficacy beliefs and were supported by family, friends, and peers.”
“Recruiting Intergenerational African American Males for Biomedical Research Studies: A Major Research Challenge,” Journal of the National Medical Association, June 2011 (Volume 103, Number 6), Drs. Goldie S. Byrd (lead author), Vinaya A. Kelkar and Ruth G. Phillips of the N.C. A&T Department of Biology along with co-authors including A&T students and colleagues from Duke University and the University of Miami.
African American males continue to have the highest age-adjusted mortality rate of any race-sex group in the United States. But research that could lower that death rate is often of limited reliability because of a shortage of African American men willing to participate in biomedical research studies. African American males cite a lack of trust as a primary reason. That distrust is rooted in the men’s awareness of historical cases of research misconduct in which minorities were abused or exposed to racial discrimination or racist provocation. The authors’ solution is to look to the basics of relationship-building: communicate better and back those words with action.
“There is an ongoing need to continue to seek advice, improve communication, and design research studies that garner trust and improve participation among African American males as a targeted underrepresented population. Such communication and dialogues should occur at all age levels of research development to assess current attitudes and behaviors of African American males around participation.”
Dr. Justin Zhan of the Department of Computer Science is the editor of the new International Journal of Information Privacy, Security and Integrity. The first issue is now available online here.
The journal says it “presents research results in the theory, application, implementation, analysis, design and evaluation of information privacy and security. IJIPSI also aims to bring together researchers in the various relevant disciplines to explore issues and problems in information integrity defined as information accuracy, consistency and reliability.”
The Division of Research and Economic Development (DORED) has published a new brochure, “Research Moving Forward: An Overview of Research at North Carolina A&T State University.” (PDF) It provides a high-level view of major research projects, research clusters and centers, commercialization and tech transfer, and undergraduate and graduate research. Printed copies are available from DORED.
“The social realities of African American men are far from ordinary and difficulties are abundant. Consequently, their impediments, failures, adversities, setbacks, frustrations, and inequities are exaggerated when compared to women or men of another race or ethnicity. For a group that arguably faces the greatest challenges in education, research should be conducted, and made readily available, that offers practical and comprehensive solutions to defuse the negative perceptions of, what seems, a majority of this group’s members.”
Dr. Richard Noble of the Department of Mathematics is saying those words and taking his own advice in “Mathematics Self-Efficacy and African American Male Students: An Examination of Two Models of Success,” published in the Journal of African American Males in Education (Summer 2011, Volume 2, Issue 2).
Noble notes that there’s no shortage of documentation of the failures of young African American men, but far less on those who have success in academic settings (although the literature on that point is growing). His article explores the personal stories of African American men who excelled in mathematics to understand the impact of their self-efficacy beliefs on their motivation and later academic achievement in math at the postsecondary level.
Conclusion: “General analyses of autobiographies and interviews revealed that enactive attainment and vicarious experience were influential sources for these African American men’s self-efficacy beliefs and were supported by family, friends, and peers.”
Going beyond that overall finding, Noble’s work finds vicarious experience appeared to be a stronger force with the men he studied, which supports some previous findings and may differ from others.