What to do when a project stalls

Recently I read a blog entry in which a politically-active person described how they’re responding to current political events. His advice also works well for those of us with stalled projects. First, 

Action is the antidote.


Hope is the consequence of action.

Stalled projects are burdens when we’re frozen. Any action is good, even if that action is to kill the project.  

Thinking about research topics as if they’re investments

Morgan Housel of the Collaborative Fund posted some interesting observations from a lifetime of investing. Here’s a useful exercise: what if we graded each potential research topic – or our entire research life – from the perspective of a professional investor? 

For instance, he notes: 

I’ve learned that having your views confirmed is a powerful and addictive drug.

That one surely tells us something about the frailties inherent in traditional hypothesis testing.

Here’s another:

I’ve learned that telling the difference between patience and stubbornness is incredibly hard.

I have experienced that one with numerous projects that I refused to drop even when past their “sell by” date.

Almost every one of his points has a similar analogue. Comments are closed but let me know if you find any of Morgan’s views helpful over on Twitter at @abwhitford.

Symposia versus regular issues?

Imagine journals publish two types of papers. One appears in a regular issue, loosely connected to other papers that survived peer review at roughly the same point in time. The other type appears in a symposium so it’s connected to the other papers through a thematic focus and is curated by the special editor that convened the event. 

In a world populated by an increasing number of complex, specialized papers, which publication model do you value more? 

There are many arguments to be made on each side. Symposia cut search costs. They increase the potential benefits of cross-paper fertilization. Regular issues are more likely to include niche topics, but are they more likely to include high-risk research? 

Some journals value symposia out of the belief they work better in the chase for impact factors. Others shy away out of the belief that the within-issue quality can be low (though there may be ways to limit that).

I’m undecided, but I do believe the debate will continue with an increasing number of papers submitted to a fixed number of journals. At the individual level, I’ve always worried more about my research portfolio, and so focused on diversification. I suspect there are aggregate effects of symposia that we don’t discuss much.

Did I miss an argument for or against symposia? Comments are closed but you can let me know on Twitter at @abwhitford.

The problem of ephemeral data

You’ve collected data, analyzed/tortured them, written the paper, chosen a journal, and then submitted the paper for consideration. After a while, you hear back that the reviewers didn’t see enough promise to move forward so the editor has rejected it. You change some things, rinse, and repeat. Maybe it happens again. It’s expected in a world where many journals have acceptance rates lower than 10 percent. 

Finally, at some point, you receive an “R&R” – an opportunity to revise and resubmit your paper for further consideration. But the reviewers complain that the data are no longer “fresh” and require “updating.” What should you do?

Of course, most of us do whatever it takes and whatever is possible to close the R&R. The goal is to publish so it’s natural to jump through the hoops.

The problem of ephemeral data, though, is a philosophical one. If the data are truly “stale”, how does freshening them improve inference? 

If the world is changing that quickly, won’t even fresh data be outdated by the time the paper survives review, is accepted, is typeset, is processed, and finally is printed in the journal several years later? 

And won’t the data be stale when people notice the paper several years later when assembling reading lists for their own papers, syllabi, or students?

There’s no natural solution to this problem. Because researchers and practitioners meld together as one studies the other and the other changes behavior based on research, it is inevitable that data are ephemeral. The social “data generating process” is a moving target – and researchers are themselves embedded mechanisms.

Perhaps I have this wrong, though. Comments are closed, but please feel free to correct my thinking on Twitter at @abwhitford. 

Organization theory symposia in public management?

A quick bleg based on a trend I’m noticing these days. I’m seeing CFPs for OB topics in public management on a regular basis. Have any journals hosted symposia for organization theory papers recently? And when I say OT I’m thinking true theory development papers – not statistical models, experiments, etc. 

I’m sure they’re out there. Comments are closed but please feel free to educate me via Twitter at @abwhitford. 

3 reasons dissertations should use mixed methods

  1. Researchers who include interviews or other types of fieldwork in their dissertation projects are more likely to discover hidden or novel quantitative datasets. Researchers with quantitative skills are more likely to be extract useful information from those sorts of datasets.
  2. Getting hired requires satisfying diverse constituencies. It’s good to have many ways to talk with the people you meet during interviews. Some of those constituencies will probably value fieldwork.
  3. The dissertation is like a rehearsal – it’s an opportunity to rehearse, in a large-scale project, all of those methods you learned in class. Why emphasize only a subset?

Are there other, less-particularistic reasons? Comments are closed but feel free to respond to me on Twitter at @abwhitford.

Which conferences will improve the most?

The universe of public administration conferences is changing. More conferences held in new and exciting locations seem to be announced daily. Which conferences will (or could) improve the most?

This is a tough question to answer. PMRA is known entity by now. Internationalization will change the conference; I don’t know by how much or in what ways. ASPA probably won’t change much. There’s too much inertia there. 

I like AOM but the requirement to submit a full and complete paper so far in advance is inconvenient for many faculty. NASPAA, of course, has a limited focus. 

IRSPM has improved but still has a regional focus. Likewise, EGPA has never become a big target, and the timing often conflicts with APSA, which has its own issues. 

Which ones have the greatest prospects? Comments are closed here, but feel free to let me know your thoughts on Twitter at @abwhitford.