Perish or Publish in China: Pressures on Young Chinese Scholars to Publish in Internationally Indexed Journals
- What are young Chinese scholars’ attitudes towards institutional requirements for publication?
- How do these attitudes affect their research behavior and personal lives?
2. Research Background: Chinese Competition in Globalised Higher Education
3. Publish or Perish: Problems behind China’s Rapid Expansion of Publications
4. The Study
4.1. Focus and Research Site
4.3. Data Collection and Analysis
5.1. Perceived Publication Pressure
I am pressed for time. I am so pressed for time. Three years five SCI papers; on average one SCI per six months.(P1)
Pressure is certainly there.(P5)
How do I feel about the new policy? Nothing but pressure… Think about it. It can take two or three months for your paper to be forwarded to reviewers; it can take another two or three months for reviewers to review your papers; and then you may be simply told that your paper is rejected…(P2)
Assistant professors at XX [a Singapore university] are required to have 30 SCI [papers] within six years. They are faced with tremendous pressure. No publication? Then you go away.(P6)
When my PhD supervisor [in the U.S.A] started his job, he used to call students … to push them to do experiments. He said he had to report to the director of research center and to the head of department, and had to submit his progressive reports regularly, so that in the three years’ time he could apply for his tenure. My friends said when the new lecturers [in American universities] started their jobs, they all worked like crazy people. There is no difference.(P2)
This [publish or perish] is the reality. As simple as that. No single person can change it; no single nation can change it.(P7)
How to evaluate scientific research and how to evaluate scientists? We need to explore a better way. But before we find the better way, we should follow the current one. What if there was no evaluation standard? It would take us all back to the 1960s when people in China took food equally from the same big pot [getting an equal share of rewards regardless of the work individuals have done]. If there was no requirement for paper publication, then I wouldn’t need to do research, just show up every day in office, right? If there was no such requirement for SCI-indexed publications, lots of low-quality publications would be produced. …(P7)
I would not feel satisfied if I only reached the university’s lowest requirement. I need to get as many publications as possible. The more publications, the better chance I have for future promotion.(P3)
Apparently our salary is higher… But the university does not pay for us zhufang gongji jin [the Housing Provident Fund7]. The university only pays the housing public accumulation fund for tenured staff. So for us, it is impossible to buy a flat. Buying a flat is too much pressure to us now.(P3)
5.2. Impacts of Pressure for Publication
5.2.1. Quantity vs. Quality
Considering the university’s policy, I feel to some extent we are forced to ‘ji gong jin li’ [i.e., chase quick success and instant benefits]. To have a high-quality research article produced, you need time to accumulate [data]. It may take three years, four years or longer. But once you get it done, your findings will have real impacts…(P7)
If there was no such quantitative evaluation, you could do your own work in your own way at your own pace. Then surely all of us would calm down and work on something that is really meaningful. Certainly we would do that. But the reality is the [quantitative] evaluation and we all have to face it.(P6)
For example I have some good findings and I could have written a good paper. But in fact I have to split the findings so as to produce five or six papers. Only by doing so could I satisfy the university’s requirement. So you get numbers but not quality. It is a problem. It is a very realistic problem.(P1)
What I am doing now is to continue the work I did in the US, to write something out of my PhD study. It is quicker…(P2)
People like me, having no data from the [PhD] studies and having to start all over again, must take the fast track. I usually spend half a year on an experiment to get data and another two months on writing up and then submit and immediately after that start another experiment. I would like to do a big one [i.e., research with greater impact], but it needs one or two years or even longer.(P7)
Considering our university’s evaluation system, we’d better focus on well-recognised, hotly discussed topics. If your research topic is too new and hasn’t aroused mass attention, you will have trouble in publishing. If you cannot have enough publications, you will be eliminated in a few years.(P4)
We call our practices adding water [guan shui, i.e., produce an article with little reading value]. Because usually we just use the same method on different things. We just add water in the pool (laughs).(P6)
My colleagues working in hospitals are under much greater pressure than us. They are so busy treating patients, while they also need SCI papers for promotion. They don’t have that time. So they have to take more “effective” methods to produce [papers] …(P7)
Many of their experiments are done by educational companies. When they get results [from those companies], they ask their students to write papers… How can the quality be assured in this way? You ask companies to do your research, and companies are profit-oriented. Who knows whether the results produced by these companies are real or faked?(P6)
5.2.2. Publication vs. Other Academic Obligations
You not only do your experiments and write papers. You have to teach and have to participate in all kinds of training sessions. We are also supposed to go abroad as visiting scholars for a whole year.(P4)
You have to mark students’ homework, you have to give comments, you have to organise tutorials, you have to help sort out their study problems. And after all these you have to design examination papers and mark the examination papers. All this work is on us.
Pretty often the school invited professors to give a talk. To give face to the professors, we are all required to be present in the seminars, even when the talks were not relevant to us and we could not understand them at all.(P6)
Even the staff union in our school assigns work to us. Like every year before the University’s sports meeting, the staff union comes to us and says young teachers must participate.(P7)
The teacher who is supposed to supervise my observation of class teaching is very nice. He understands our pressure. He says, “If you are busy, you can always take a day off. You don’t need to sit in every time”.(P4)
I did not take the course at the foreign language university… I study English by myself. If you take the course, whole weekends would be occupied…(P7)
I am now simultaneously emailing my research proposal to many professors in different universities, even to those whose research is not in my field… It is just for an invitation letter. I need an invitation letter as soon as possible. As long as I meet the university’s requirement, it will be fine.(P3)
In a recent meeting a senior administrator of the university said, “our target is that within several years all teachers in this university will have at least one-year experience abroad”. I don’t know why. [Is it] to build a world-class university? But why now? I think it is totally unnecessary. We have only three years and so many papers to publish. This [going abroad] will for sure take some of our time and energy.(P1)
It is compulsory now. I feel this is unnecessary… You cannot be so sure that going-abroad will certainly be useful and certainly lead to personal improvement.(P3)
At my university in the United States, they [Chinese visiting scholars] did not have much to do. … In my research field, for example, we must use a lab. If the host professor doesn’t provide with the lab facilities, they [Chinese visiting scholars] have to ask to use others’ labs. They also need to build their own system for experiments. This can take months. Probably when they get everything ready for experiment, it is about time to leave. This is very common. So going abroad for a year is indeed a waste of time.(P2)
5.2.3. Effects on Physical Well-Being
It was exhausting to work for a PhD. When you finally got the degree, you were very very tired. You need a period to recover from it. But our current policy won’t allow you the time to buffer against the stress. To be honest with you, I am as exhausted now as I was during my PhD study.(P7)
Every day he worked in the office until late at night. Often he asked us to go and discuss revision of paper drafts at 10 p.m. He was revising and we sat beside him so he could tell us how to write in a more appropriate way. There were always such discussions and the discussions always lasted until 2 a.m. and until then we went back home…(P4)
We went to hospital together to have a whole body check. It turns out that my stomach has problems, probably because I often did not have meals on time. And my colleagues are physically weak. We all easily catch colds because our immune systems are not strong enough to resist viruses… We decided that the research team must play badminton at least once every week. And now I have three meals on time …(P4)
Every weekend after taking my English classes, I go home, have dinner and go back to office to work. Time is quite limited… My colleagues do the same. We usually didn’t leave the lab until 12 p.m.… We do not feel it is too much. We do not feel it is hard. We get used to it.(P4)
5.2.4. Work-Family Conflict
After dinner if I have an experiment I go to the lab. My wife … can understand it. And she has to understand it. …That [experiment] is the most important thing. Whatever happens, you must go.(P4)
Before [in our PhD study] we [participant and his wife] were able to go out and socialise from time to time. But now we don’t have that time. Because pressure is always there. You have to always keep moving forward, or you will be eliminated.(P1)
My girlfriend … is living with me. Every day when I am back home, dinner is ready. No longer do I eat in the university canteen. I feel pretty warm…(P3)
I feel I am lucky because my wife has always been supporting me. She does all the housework. I don’t need to do anything.(P1)
She [wife] is working in XX [located at another side of the city]. It is pretty far. She wants to support me. But she has to spend more than one hour commuting to her workplace and more than an hour back.(P4)
I told her [wife] I am working hard so she doesn’t need to work that hard. She agrees. Because if both are working hard, who will then look after home and our parents?(P4)
She used to work in the local council in another city. She quit the good job to live with me. She made a great sacrifice.(P3)
My wife and I would like to have baby but we don’t have time.(P7)
This thing [having a baby] has to be postponed. Family issues have to be considered later. My wife is not happy about it, but we don’t have a choice right now.(P4)
When a friend of mine went for job interview in X university, the interviewer said straightforward that “you cannot have a baby in the next several years because the research team just won a project”... If she didn’t promise, she would not get the job. … For females, we don’t have much choice. The world has never been fair.(P2)
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- 1This study, following the “new lecturer” policy of the sample university (see Section 4.1), defines young scholars as scholars who are under 35 years old and who work as full time lecturers upon their completion of PhD degree in the university.
- 2Project 211 is a project initiated in 1995 by Chinese Ministry of Education. 116 universities have been designated as Project 211 institutions. National funding is distributed to these universities to promote their research quality.
- 3Project 985 is a project initiated in May 1998 by Chinese Ministry of Education. 39 universities have been designated as Project 985 institutions, to which funding is allocated to promote research reputation and establish “world-class” status.
- 4The target had already been reached in 2012.
- 5In China, the tenure-track system was first introduced by Peking University and Tsinghua University, the top two Chinese universities, in 2003 . So far most 985-project universities and some of 211-project universities have adopted a tenure-track system. Specific contents (e.g., salary, length and performance indicators) of the tenure-track policies adopted by different universities can be very different (ibid). For example, the leading universities, i.e., Peking University and Tsinghua University, are providing much more generous salaries, and some universities, e.g., Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, are using a 6-year tenure track system (ibid).
- 6In our email communication, participants explained that “the top international journals refer to Nature, Science and Cell, and “the most influential journal” refers to the SCI journal with highest Impact Factor in the contract-holder’s discipline.
- 7Housing Provident Fund, a long-term housing deposit fund, is an employment benefit provided by employers to individual employees. The fund, using monthly mandatory contributions from both employers and employees, helps employees to purchase and maintain flats.
|岗位责任与任务目标||Position Responsibilities, Tasks and Targets [Literal Translation]|
|1. 无海外学习工作经历者...需在聘期内完成连续12个月的海外经历。||1. Anyone who has not studied or worked abroad… should have continuous 12-month working experience abroad during the contract.|
|2. 教学能力要求：具备教学能力；取得授课资格；参加过教学能力培训；通过教学能力考核；至少有一次完整的助教经历。||2. Teaching requirements: [Lecturer] must have teaching competence; successfully obtain a teaching qualification; take part in teaching training; pass evaluation of teaching capacity; work as an teaching assistant in at least one course.|
|3. 科研项目：主持一项国家级项目。||3. Research project: [Lecturer] must be principal investigator of a national level research project.|
|4. 论文数量和标准：以第一作者或通讯作者在国际顶级期刊发表论文1篇；或以第一作者或通讯作者在最具影响力期刊发表论文2篇；或以第一作者或通讯作者发表SCI论文5篇。||4. Number of articles and levels: [Lecturer] must have at least one publication in top international journals as the first author or corresponding author; or at least two publications in the most influential journal as the first author or corresponding author; or at least five publications in other SCI journals as the first author or corresponding author6.|
|Code||Gender||Age Group||Discipline||Overseas Study Experience||Year of Employment||SCI Articles Since Joining X Uni.|
|P2||F||30~35||Food Engineer||USA (PhD)||2015||0|
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Tian, M.; Su, Y.; Ru, X. Perish or Publish in China: Pressures on Young Chinese Scholars to Publish in Internationally Indexed Journals. Publications 2016, 4, 9. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications4020009
Tian M, Su Y, Ru X. Perish or Publish in China: Pressures on Young Chinese Scholars to Publish in Internationally Indexed Journals. Publications. 2016; 4(2):9. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications4020009Chicago/Turabian Style
Tian, Mei, Yan Su, and Xin Ru. 2016. "Perish or Publish in China: Pressures on Young Chinese Scholars to Publish in Internationally Indexed Journals" Publications 4, no. 2: 9. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications4020009