A Grad’s Thoughts on Working for JASIST

A Grad’s Thoughts on Working for JASIST

Ruth Xing

Before accepting the role of “Graduate Assistant,” I had never formally explored the world of academic journalism or information science. I certainly had no clue what DORA Principles were, or that the UK Research Council existed, or that academic journalism was even more competitive than I had imagined.

I write this article now, just over three years after first embarking on my journalism-research journey with Dr. Steve Sawyer, the Editor-in-Chief of JASIST—or, as I know him, Steve. Working with Steve has been eye-opening in a way that reading about academic publishing could never be. I continue to work with Steve as a volunteer for JASIST, and I am still learning new things every day.

—I write this article now, just over three years after first embarking on my journalism-research journey—

The first time I met Steve was over Zoom, in which he pitched to me what the role of “Graduate Assistant,” or GA, would entail. I was eager for this proposed foray into assisting with journal research and publications, which came as part of my offer to study Library and Information Science at Syracuse University. I sealed the deal with my prompt enrollment at Syracuse. 

My first weeks as GA were a lesson in the breadth of the Internet. I began by researching my fair share about journal ranking factors and metrics, as well as the wonders of Scimago. A lot of my and my fellow GA’s work on JASIST had never been conducted before, let alone documented, so the “startup costs” were relatively high: we initially filled spreadsheet after spreadsheet with information about our competing journals’ metrics and statistics, open access agreements and initiatives, and more.

From the surface, it can be difficult to recognize just how high-stakes academic journalism is, a field heavily governed by politics, strategic moves, and luck. Many researchers in the industry would agree that their primary goal is to advance information science and contribute cutting-edge knowledge to an expanding field; however, with such great competition, and with no shortage of passion on any side, there are many obstacles to overcome.

Right away, I noticed that information science publishing is governed heavily by metrics and rank, as well as curated reputations, which could be manipulated or affected by even seemingly small factors. For instance, a research article could be very well-written, interesting, and impactful, yet hardly receive any downloads or views; perhaps this could be due to the stipulations of the author’s publication agreement, a lack of advertising on the article’s behalf, the author’s status as a new researcher, and more. Meanwhile, a mediocre article written by a well-known researcher could be highly cited and published in a prestigious journal despite its mediocrity, further entrenching established reputations and industry names over the advancement of knowledge.  

At one point, I encountered the phenomenon of “citation rings,” in which groups of authors would purposefully cross-cite each other, inflating everyone’s citation counts.  Such is the downside of widespread bibliometrics like impact factor and citation count. Although altmetrics may sometimes serve as an alternative, their relative paucity in the academic landscape indicates they have never taken off; academic journalism in information science thrives so much on concrete numbers. It is hard to say how or whether the field will change to accommodate altmetrics. 

Ultimately, the reason for all such conflict stems from every researcher’s desire to impact the field with highly visible research, which often equates to a prestigious journal publication. Such an article will inevitably boost one’s rank within information science, since ultimately, higher visibility can lead to more citations and a more significant impact. Many might agree that one of an author’s significant end goals should be to contribute to a growing canon of human knowledge, but the competitive need for tenure or prestige has changed the publishing landscape.

I write all this as someone divorced from the research side of publishing, so my own role and goals have been somewhat distanced from these complications. Yet one consistency in my role, despite its varied tasks, has been that the JASIST team is constantly driving toward the advancement of knowledge, with more accessibility to all.  More consistent than that is our inevitable encounter with unanswerable questions, many of which require time, a change in scale, and/or cooperative practices to yield an answer. One of the biggest looming questions is how to sustain a reasonable open access model for the Journal and academic journalism more generally. All of our brainstorming thus far has returned zero ideal results, with many ideas becoming less feasible as we trace a trail of issues to the usual culprits: funding or money issues.

The Joys & Victories

Of course, academic journalism is not just one big competition—it is also a field filled with joy and team victories. When our JASIST team sees how our journal metrics have improved, we rejoice. When we see more and more quality submissions during each period, we rejoice. When we make small changes that improve our journal—even minutia like correcting a spelling error on our web page—we rejoice.  Little victories and big victories are both victories, nonetheless.

None of these joyous experiences would be possible without the efforts of JASIST’s hardworking volunteers, who devotedly contribute to the Journal and broader field of information science despite their busy schedules. To this end, it has been exciting for me to interact with our Editorial Board, Reviewers, and Review Editors while simultaneously learning how to understand the processes within academic journalism. This has included how journals make manuscript decisions and collaborate with their publisher’s representatives.  

My learning hasn’t stopped there. Over time, I have discovered quite a bit about the implications of new principles and practices in research journalism, often delineated by interesting new acronyms. I have also witnessed how journals reach out to engage graduate students and up-and-coming researchers in the field. I’ve discovered my fair share about researchers’ behaviors on Twitter and social media, as well as how to reach out to these researchers via engaging Twitter posts to promote our newest publications. And I’ve definitely learned how to make the most of Google Sheets, with its many formulas and statistics (a wonderful revisitation of my old AP Statistics skills).

Through all this, I’ve been able to conduct nearly all of my duties from a laptop!  It’s amazing  that information science journals can be directly accessed from your phone in the comfort of your own home. Speaking of which, whatever was the world of print journals like?

Signing off (from my laptop),
Ruth, JASIST Volunteer & former Graduate Assistant

Cite this article in APA as: Xing, R. A grad’s thoughts on working for JASIST. (2024, May 7). Information Matters, Vol. 4, Issue 5. https://informationmatters.org/2024/05/a-grads-thoughts-on-working-for-jasist/