Sunday, 23 February 2014

Publishing an Archaeology PhD part 2

Following my post a couple of days ago I've been thinking about this quite a bit, and thought I would get some other opinions to add to my own. I had a chat with some senior academics I have worked with who have been involved in the hiring process of postdocs and academic staff, 1 from a science-heavy background, 1 who is a straight archaeology/regional specialist and 1 who is a bit of both. I asked a series of questions regarding publications, and the answers were pretty interesting. Largely they reflected my own perceptions, but there were a few noteworthy points that I hadn't considered.

1. What do you look for in terms of a candidate's publication record?
As we know, peer reviewed journals are important, followed by books in the sciences, with the quality of the book publisher being important. Being an editor of conference proceedings was also noteworthy, but the quality of the papers mattered, and also where it was published. However the overall message was that good quality publications were stressed, in terms of their significance to the field, as well as originality and future potential. It was also noted that the candidate needs to show they are working in areas beyond the PhD.

2. To what extent does the number of publications matter?
This one was a little surprising but the actual number of publications did not matter a great deal, though one respondent did give an estimate of 6 papers for a candidate 2 years after finishing their PhD. But even those who said the number didn't matter said that if the number was 'very few' then this might be a concern. I will emphasise here that this is based on expectations in the UK system, where the Research Excellence Framework asks for 2 papers from ECRs, whereas there was an impression that quantity mattered more in the US. Any US readers have comments on that?

3. Quantity or quality? Would you advise the average new PhD to aim for 1 excellent publication or a handful of average-good ones?
Quality is prized over quantity and it is important that the candidate is the first author. One really excellent publication for a new PhD outweighs a handful of average ones. However indications of productivity are also important, which translates to number of publications! As with some of the other questions, this is based on the experiences of the panel and subjective to a degree, but it is judged relative to the candidate's career stage. I suspect this means that if you are have recently graduated, then a single high quality publication is enough, but the further away from graduating you get, the more likely it is that quantity becomes important. So basically, keep up with the high quality, high impact papers, but also do a handful of smaller ones. My opinion on this is that if you write something that could be published, then publish it. You already did the work when you wrote a whole PhD thesis! You should aim to get one major paper from it, but maybe there are smaller papers, e.g. an improvement on an existing methodology, that you could also write up.

4. If a candidate does have for e.g. a Nature or Science paper, do you take this at face value, or do you consider the role the candidate played in the research i.e. if they helped with sample processing rather than conducting the research project.
Now this one was interesting. I always assumed that a paper in these journals is a guarantee of success, but it was pointed out that if the candidate is buried somewhere in the middle, especially as part of a large author list, then it wouldn't really be counted. That makes sense, but another suggestion was made that even in cases of being first author, if the candidate is part of a major lab or research group, the selection panel would be wary of how much of the research was driven by the candidate. The panel wants to know what your contribution to the paper is - it's all about your potential. Can you generate independent research or do you just play a supporting role? My feeling is that, even if it's just a supporting role, having this sort of thing on your CV gets you noticed, and that's only going to help your chances. Just make sure you have a first author paper too and that you have your own ideas rather than just working on someone else's project.
5. How do you judge publications outside your area of expertise? (e.g. the journal the article is in, citations, other metrics, asking opinions of colleagues)
Science folk as suspected do look at number of citations especially for older articles, and where they are published for newer ones. The quality of where they are published seems to have a degree of subjectivity, based on experience, and deferring to the most qualified member of a committee.This is also how I tend to judge journals, but as I said in the previous post, I'll say more on 'which journal' later. I think citations and whatnot are less important at the early career stage where it is all about your potential.

6. How important overall are the publications compared to other factors such as grants, teaching and future research plans (for a new PhD, 1-2 years within obtaining the PhD) 
So we are very focused on publications, but I stuck this question in as a reminder that these are only part of the picture. Candidates are judged as a 'package', and other things that came up as being very important are research grants, as this shows that a candidate is able to structure an argument and convince their peers to give them money.  However, if you don't have any grants yet that's not a problem, just make sure you have clearly defined plans on how you will fund your future research, with specifics. Future research plans were stressed, with teaching being considered but not essential - one respondent said if teaching scores and feedback were good then this would really help a candidate. All the academics I talked to stressed that 'it depends', it's all about the specific mix, but that you shouldn't be really very weak in any of these areas. And when it comes down to it, you could be an absolutely stellar candidate with a great publication and grant record, but you might not fit in with what the department needs, either to strengthen a research group or to cover gaps in teaching. So there really is a big element of luck, or right place right time. I probably should stick to posts on soil and poop, they are much more cheerful!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Publishing an archaeology PhD part 1

I am writing this post in response to this request on Twitter about how to go about publishing an archaeology PhD. As I am now fairly experienced in this area, I felt it would be a good idea to share my knowledge. Please do comment if you have different experiences! How to publish is something that I was never explicitly told about during my PhD, though in hindsight it’s this kind of information that would have been incredibly useful. I think sometimes the more senior we get into the academic hierarchy we can forget that the things that seem so obvious do not come naturally (at least, not without a lot of unnecessarily wasted time and potentially mistakes). So here is my quick guide to publishing a PhD. I will do more on this in a future post as there is a lot to cover.

The first thing to think about is whether your thesis is suitable for a monograph (i.e. book) or whether it would work better as an article or series of articles/papers. This in turn depends on the subject of your thesis. As a general rule, science subjects prefer papers, humanities focus on monographs. Archaeology as usual is a bit of an odd one as it is so interdisciplinary, so it really does depend on the topic of your thesis. You may even do a mix, book and an article or two. I have chosen two different case studies here that I am familiar with that fit both ends of the spectrum, myself (science based) and a colleague, Aleks Pluskowski (medieval archaeology) who provided some useful tips on choosing a book publisher.

Articles. There are two major things to consider – where to publish, and how to present it. You’ll come to realise that although it should be the quality of your work that is judged, where you  publish is important. International peer reviewed journals are where you need to start, and start with the most prestigious that you think your work is suitable for. Nature and Science, followed by PNAS are the sexy, high impact ones. But you’re not going to have a chance unless you have The Earliest Evidence for Something That Sounds Exciting, The Latest Argument for Neanderthal Burials etc. These journals have a very wide audience and cover the sort of archaeology that makes the news.

If your stuff is good then it's more likely you want to aim for something like Antiquity or American Antiquity, which publish papers of wide significance and/or interest to the discipline as a whole. After that there are journals which are international but focused on a specific approach, like Journal of Archaeological Science. There are many that fall into this category, I'll do another post with more details. If you can't decide where to submit, have a think, where are the papers you read published? Is there a similar paper you like, where did they publish? If you are rejected, try again. Rejection sucks but you have to get used to it, and learn from reviewer comments. I am going to expand on this is another post with some insights from my experience as a reviewer and editor.

How to present your work – there is a balance to strike here between quantity and quality. I always say go for the latter, but in reality having a handful of papers rather than just 1 does catch the eye better on a CV (I say this from being on a selection panel where the other members raved about the 30+ papers on a candidate’s CV). However you need to be aware of what is called ‘salami slicing’, where you divide bits of data from the same study into different papers. Now sometimes this works well when you have a lot to say, that is difficult to articulate into one coherent paper. My 3 papers (below) on middens at Çatalhöyük is an example. The work is related but didn’t work as a single paper as there was too much to fit in to one coherent paper. But, if it is possible to combine different data sets into an overall paper, this could be a better option. It is likely to get more citations, have a higher impact, and demonstrates an integrated, high level approach to research rather than bitty incremental work.

So, for books. The rule here is, go for a quality academic publisher with peer review, avoid so-called ‘vanity’publishers. Like journals, aim for the best one you can. ‘Best’ is of course subjective, but ask specialists in your field which publishers are respected and good to work with, and check out other people’s work that you think is comparable to yours – where did they publish?  Think also about presentation and format. Some academic publishers have limited options for figures/colour figures, or produce hardback volumes that are very expensive and aimed at libraries. Fine for text-heavy historical theses, not for archaeology. Find a book you like the look of. Aleks said this was a drawback for his first book which has a (let's face it) kinda dull cover and costs £50, whereas his second book with Routledge has an eye catching cover, plenty of figures and costs £25. It also has the 'look inside' function on Amazon.

 Publishers are also keen to fit things into existing series - so if you can find something that your book can slot into, that will certainly help to convince them. This one may not be possible with a PhD, but if you can it is also advisable to get a grant to lower the price to something affordable, preferably a paperback, and if they can provide digital versions even better.

You want a publisher that is going to make your work accessible, by good/suitable presentation, and a wide distribution. Do they have a stand at the major conferences? If you have a thesis that is good, but might be too niche for a major publisher like OUP or CUP, then try one of the speciality publishers. Oxbow and Archaeopressare great publishers who specialise in archaeology. The latter focus on theses and conference proceedings. They may not have as much prestige as the big names, but they are still highly regarded.

It is worth noting here the difference between a single authored monograph, and an edited volume (including site monographs and conference proceedings). Although edited volumes are used a lot in archaeology, in terms of 'prestige' they are pretty far down the list. If you have a paper you are considering for a chapter in an edited volume, have a think about whether a version of it could go in a journal like Antiquity or American Antiquity. This way you also have control over the timing, instead of having to wait potentially years for an edited volume to come out. My own chapters in the new Catalhoyuk monograph (published end of 2013, the papers came out in 2011) are a good example, and I know this is also the case with other specialists too.

This is a brief guide on where to start if you are planning an academic career  - I am not taking into account here some of the problems with ‘traditional’ publishing, e.g. whether you should go for open access or the questionable ethics of some of the big name journals. I think as a new PhD you  unfortunately can’t afford to take the risk of doing a non-traditional route, academic jobs are still going to be looking for the traditional publications. 

Shillito, L.-M., and Matthews, W. (2013). Geoarchaeological Investigations of Midden-Formation Processes in the Early to Late Ceramic Neolithic Levels at Çatalhöyük, Turkey ca. 8550–8370 cal BP Geoarchaeology: an International Journal 28: 25 – 49

Shillito, L-M., Matthews, W., Almond, M.J. and Bull, I.D. (2011) The microstratigraphy of middens: capturing daily routine in rubbish at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey Antiquity 85(329): 1024 - 1038.

Shillito, L-M. (2011) Simultaneous thin section and phytolith observations of finely stratified deposits from Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey: implications for paleoeconomy and Early Holocene paleoenvironment Journal of Quaternary Science 26(6) 576–588

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Ode to Ice Ages

Ten hundred thousand times the Earth has turned
Around the Sun that brightly burns
In ebbs and flows
Ever spinning, tilting, turning;
The age of glaciers comes and goes.

The ice retreats, the ice expands
It creaks and creeps across the lands
A frozen beast
Slowly grinding, grazing, churning,
Carving out the valleys deep.

An ever-changing climate, piercing cold and dry
With sculpted peaks against the sky
A mountain shorn
A landscape treeless, bare, eroded,
Of all that went before.

Colossal creatures roamed the land in herds
And Homo sapiens emerged
Migrating from afar
The human story has unfolded,
Driven by the motions of stars.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Manganese Micrograph Mystery!

What a treat for you this month, another set of micrographs and it's only the end of the first week of the month! Actually, I am posting this because I need a bit of help - here we have an image of dung deposits in plane (PPL) and cross polarised light (XPL). You can see in the upper image, the layered appearance associated with ruminant dung, but we also have a lot of black 'speckling'. This appears to be concentrated in bands throughout the deposit. When we look at the deposit under XPL it turns out that these speckles are 'stains' on the dung spherulites! The only thing I have seen like this before was called microbial/fungal or manganese staining, but I can't find the reference (or it may have been something that was mentioned to me in passing?). Anyone got any insights/references? It's probably not vital to the interpretation but it could help understand the post-depositional processes going on here, and it is quite fascinating in itself (well, maybe just if you're a micromorphologist...). When I get round to publishing this any help will will fully acknowledged!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Micrograph of the Month: Ferrous phosphate (vivianite)

This month we have a lovely image of a particularly colourful mineral feature called vivianite. Vivianite is an amorphous hydrated ferrous (iron) phosphate, which is blue when oxidised. It has been linked to the decomposition of bone and/or human and animal waste in wet sediments, which fits with what we know about this context. Yes, we are still looking at those waterlogged deposits from medieval Riga! This is just one example of the many occurrences of vivianite in this layer. The small fragment of wood is also interesting. Unlike the waterlogged wood we looked at a couple of months ago, this fragment has been completely mineralised due to the presence of phosphate in the waterlogged sediment - at first glance I thought it was a bit of bone! You can also see that the pores spaces within the wood have been completely filled with fine sediments, which also indicates waterlogged conditions - the infilling of the voids occurs as fine sediments suspended in water are deposited within void spaces. All in all a very convincing set of features showing that these deposits have remained waterlogged sine their deposition. The combination of bone and wood fragments, along with human/animal waste and mineralisation of organic components, suggests we may have some sort of cesspit/midden in this part of the site.