Feminist glaciology: reflections

A recently published paper has caused quite a stir within academic social media circles. Mark Carey and his colleagues at the University of Oregon published a piece in ‘Progress in Human Geography’ titled: Glaciers, gender and science: a feminist glaciology framework for global environmental research. Presumably the paper has gone through a peer review process where it was assessed by experts in the field, revised accordingly and then published. However in certain academic circles, the work has been slighted, maligned and written off as a hoax. I am not an expert in glaciers (I suspect many who have vomited their epistemological arrogance onto twitter share my level of glacial expertise). However, I am interested in both the paper and the response to it.

I will start off with the paper itself. I have read it (I say this as I question how many of the ‘It’s a hoax!’ crowd, read the title and scoffed) and while I don’t know much about glaciers, I do know a fair amount about feminist theory. It covers the bases and cites the people I would expect to see cited, mostly the feminist theorists who have questioned the so-called objectivity of the sciences.  The paper presents a set of challenges to the reader, and the broader scientific community. It asks us to consider – who are the knowledge producers in glaciology and how might this affect our understanding of how humans interact with, and are affected by, glaciers? This is important as it states from the start a belief that knowledge is produced not revealed – so it represents a departure from the positivism which dominates much of the sciences. While the paper states a feminist framework, it extends beyond this to point out that glaciology, like other sciences, has retained a Eurocentric view which excludes the perspectives and knowledges of other communities such as indigenous women. This is not a particularly controversial point, or an original one. Although it may well be the first time someone has pointed this out within glaciology. Outside of glaciology, fundamental questions are being asked about the extent to which we can separate the knower from the known (see the work of Karen Barad). While much of this work is difficult to engage with (big long words which many say is obscurantist – more on this later), the work of Barad, Haraway and others asks us to consider the supposed objectivity of science and what the implications are for what we know about the world around us. So, while the paper is interesting, well-written and accessible (it does not contain long poststructuralist types of sentences), it isn’t particularly remarkable. This is not a criticism of the paper at all – I welcome the work and any efforts, particularly by men (more on this later too) to engage with feminist theory and bring these discussions to the fore.

Only, the paper hasn’t brought discussions of the ontological and epistemological debates which underpin the sciences (social and natural) – at least not in any meaningful way that I have seen. Academic twitter has taken an affront to the paper, and it has been subject to some mean spirited and not particularly well informed critique. Now, I say ‘the paper’ here quite deliberately. At the end of 2015 I was mildly caught up in a twitter stooshie over a piece of research on masculinity and disability – I made the mistake of asking Richard Dawkins why he persists in subjecting women researchers to his followers (in the twitter and more ‘religious’ sense), because he doesn’t agree with their work. This tweet caught the attention of some of the less thinking areas of twitter – sadly including a number of academics. In this case it was not the paper which was critiqued, so much as the woman who undertook the research.  And me (and other women who engaged). What follows now is a personal reflection on this incident and the reaction to ‘feminist glaciology’. I make no claims that my observations are representative of the broader discussions (but I’m not a positivist, so I’m ok with that).

Twitter is great – it’s an opportunity to learn more about the world than I already know, meet like minded folk and share my own work. I prefer to avoid it around Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead because I don’t want spoilers, but generally I think it’s wonderful. It, to an extent, democratises access to information and who can speak. However, it is also a live action comments section, where anyone with access can share their perspective. After my question to Dawkins, I did receive a lot of replies – or mentions, which went on for a good 6 weeks. Many were supportive, some were genuinely curious while others were foul. Some anonymous, others not. One academic sent me over 30 tweets in a day – none of which I engaged with. Another academic felt it appropriate to draw my genitals into the discussion. Academics. People who are supposed to be among the most highly educated. Critical thinkers, with intellectual curiosity. Who produce knowledge, and engage with students. Talking about my genitals. Feminist hagraven was my personal favourite – I quite like that. All because I asked Dawkins to consider exercising self control in who he targeted. The author of the piece was subjected to far worse. When something which is a source of information and fun in our lives becomes a screen we are wary of opening because of the torrent of personal abuse which may be there, twitter starts to be more than ‘just’ twitter. People recommended I collate all the tweets and contact employers – I could not be bothered – plus it would have meant reading the insults again in order to track down the ‘culprits’. One thing that was clear to me was that while I was subjected to personal attacks, the men who engaged with Dawkins and his followers were engaged with on a less personal level. There was some effort to intellectually engage with the material.


I’m not sure if the authors of feminist glaciology are on twitter – I suspect at least one is. I would be interested to know if they have been similarly targeted (I hope they haven’t). However, I have seen some attempts at critique for example this which has been shared by the great and good on twitter. It’s quite a tedious analysis – and I use the term analysis loosely. It doesn’t engage in any meaningful way with the paper. The main critique seems to be the use of postmodernism – although I have my doubts that the authors cited would call themselves postmodern. There also seems to be some difficulty understanding the language used in the paper. The use of ‘obscurantist’ language was also a critique of the earlier work I mentioned. This is always an argument – science is allowed to use big words which only those in the know can understand, the rest of us must write using Plain English so anyone can get it.  I am not a natural scientist, but if I wanted to read work written in a science journal I would do two things: 1) look up the words I don’t understand, and 2) accept it’s not written for me, but for its own audience and have the good grace to realise that. Actually Carey et al have not written in an obscurantist way. I am starting to just wonder if ‘obscurantist’ means ‘words I don’t understand and can’t be bothered to look up’. But perhaps I am being mean. However, I have yet to see the authors subjected to the kind of personalised attacks that I have seen women researchers subjected to (I’m making what might be a false assumption on the majority of the authors’ gender, based on names – happy to be corrected. Update – I have since been corrected – two of the authors are men, two are women).


What is clear from the critiques of feminist glaciology that I have seen is that they miss the point. Or more precisely, reinforce the point of the paper – that science is often wedded to particularly ontological and epistemological positions – to its own detriment. Fricker (2007) might call this ‘epistemic injustice’, whereby discrimination is caused by the credibility afforded to the knower. Testimonial injustice is where the knowledge shared is dismissed because of characteristics of the knower. Or more simply, that paper is a pile of crap because it’s written by a woman, I didn’t even read it, but I know it will be crap. Fricker also refers to ‘hermeneutic injustice’ where groups lack access to the kinds of resources needed to make sense of their experiences. This is more the kind of epistemic injustice which is suggested in feminist glaciology i.e. the exclusion of non-dominant groups from the discipline and knowledge production. We could also draw on Spivak’s writings to understand epistemic violence, as it is perpetuated by dominant groups on those who are marginalised. Do blog posts and tweets which angrily argue that feminists and indigenous researchers have to conform to the dominant traditions within science and otherwise their perspectives will be dismissed, commit acts of epistemic violence and injustice. I don’t want to overstate the importance of these critiques, but it strikes me as a question worth asking.

The authors of the criticisms I have outlined here seem determined to reinforce their own hegemonic position within the systems of knowledge production, and do so by shouting ‘THAT’S NOT SCIENCE’. Too busy shouting to ask themselves, what is science and who decided that is what science should and can be? If we took a step back and questioned our deeply held assumptions about what is the best way to understand the world, what would we learn?

Useful reading

Carey, M., Jackson, M., Antonello, A. and Rushing, J., 2016. Glaciers, gender, and science A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research. Progress in Human Geography, p.0309132515623368.

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing (p. 7). New York: Oxford.

New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies – Interview with Karen Baradhttp://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/11515701.0001.001/1:4.3/–new-materialism-interviews-cartographies?rgn=div2;view=fulltext

CfP Intersectional approaches to climate change

Extended deadline 15th May 2016

9th Equality, Diversity and Inclusion International Conference (EDI)

22 – 24 June 2016, University of Cyprus, Cyprus

Conference theme:

Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Human Rights in Times of Austerity

Stream title: Intersectional approaches to climate change

Stream convenors: Kate Sang, Christopher Lyon, Susan Sayce, Nisha Onta

The effects of climate change will not be felt equally across national contexts, with poorer countries facing more immediate and stronger effects. However, global efforts to address climate change have also recognised that gender is also a factor in both the effects of climate change and also its mitigation. However, gender still remains peripheral to climate policy making, regardless of the gender composition of policy making teams (Mangusdottir & Kronsell, 2014). Further, there is increasing understanding of the importance of working with indigenous peoples and ontologies/epistemologies. This has been highlighted in terms of policy making, and media representations of climate change (Roosvall and Tegelberg, 2015).

However, social identities cannot be viewed in isolation. Efforts to understand how multiple identities may affect an individual’s experience have moved towards the theory of intersectionality. Developed by Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) this approach does not aim to add together sources of discrimination or oppression, rather how these sources interact to inform experience (Hancock, 2007). Davis (2008:68) defines intersectionality as ‘the interaction between gender, race, and other categories of difference in individual lives, social practices, institutional arrangements, and cultural ideologies and the outcomes of these interactions in terms of power’. Warner (2008:454) provides the following definition of intersectionality: ‘the idea that social identities such as race, gender and class interact to form qualitatively different meanings and experiences’. Analyses of intersectionality are moving towards understanding how privilege and disadvantage may interact (Yuval-Davis, 2006: 201). Early steps have been made to understand, from an intersectional perspective, can inform how communities respond to climate change (Vinyeta et al., 2015). However, there is considerable scope for further studies which can adopt intersectionality in order to provide nuanced and contextualised understandings of how to best respond to the threats posed by climate change.

Empirical and conceptual submissions are not limited to, but may wish to consider:

  •   How gender informs experiences of working within organisations dedicated to mitigating the effects of climate change. Further, how does gender intersect with other social identities, such as ‘race’, ethnicity, sexuality, disability to inform these experiences.
  •   How is gender, and other intersecting social identities, (re)produced within climate change organisations? What are the effects of these (re)productions on efforts to mitigate climate change and its effects?
  •   The dynamics of how gender intersects with other social identities for understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change.
  •   How incorporating methodological approaches which enable temporal and contextual elements may help to reveal the intersectional dynamics of climate change.
  •   How can intersectional understandings be used to inform climate policy, and associated practice?
  •   Given the particular local effects of climate change, to what extent (and in what ways) are global organisations adapting their policies to local concerns. This may include working relationships with indigenous peoples.
  •   To what extent are indigenous, and other non Western perspectives, welcome within academic debates on climate change?
  •   How, and to what extent, do new initiatives such as Green/Sustainable Human Resource Management create opportunities for organisations to challenge existing patterns of privilege/oppression?

The panel welcome queries prior to submission. Please contact Kate Sang (k.sang@hw.ac.uk) in the first instance.


Important dates:

  •      Abstract (250 to 300 words) /Developmental (5 pages max) /full paper submission: May 15 2016 on


(if you do not already have an account with the conference, please register with the site http://www.edi-conference.org/user_details.php?join=join) 


Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford law review, 1241-1299.

Davis, K. (2008). Intersectionality as buzzword A sociology of science perspective on what makes a feminist theory successful. Feminist theory,9(1), 67-85.

Hancock, A. M. (2007). When multiplication doesn’t equal quick addition: Examining intersectionality as a research paradigm. Perspectives on politics,5(01), 63-79.

Magnusdottir, G. L., & Kronsell, A. (2015). The (in) visibility of gender in Scandinavian climate policy-making. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 17(2), 308-326.

Roosvall, A., & Tegelberg, M. (2015). Media and the Geographies of Climate Justice: Indigenous Peoples, Nature and the Geopolitics of Climate Change.tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, 13(1), 39-54.

Vinyeta, K., Whyte, K. P., & Lynn, K. (2015). Climate change through an intersectional lens: gendered vulnerability and resilience in indigenous communities in the United States.

Warner, L. R. (2008). A best practices guide to intersectional approaches in psychological research. Sex roles, 59(5-6), 454-463.

Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Intersectionality and feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), 193-209.


Analysing qualitative data

Today I led a Q&A session with our dissertation students on approaches to analysing qualitative data. What to do with the vast amounts of data which result from qualitative approaches can be daunting. I ran the session less as a lecture, and more on hints and tips. Some ideas below – feel free to add more in the comments!

How many interviews? I can’t answer that – it’s impossible to say beyond – as many as needed to get the data you need to answer the research questions. If you reach the point that you are not finding anything new then you may have reached saturation point (but be wary of making this statement definitively). If your interviews are less than 30 minutes then you are unlikely to be getting anything substantial.

If you are collecting data via interviews or focus groups decide whether you will transcribe the recordings verbatim. If you are undertaking discourse analysis  a particular form of transcription is necessary. Do you need all the ums and ahs, the breaks in speech, the giggles etc? If not, then a standard approach to typing out the words from the recordings can be taken. Not all students were going to transcribe verbatim, rather they were selecting to transcribe only sections of their recordings. Transcription is tedious, and time-consuming. I have yet to find software capable of doing this – sometimes people listen to the recordings and speak them into voice recognition – equally tedious and not very accurate.

Interviews may not have been recorded – there are a number of reasons for this e.g. participants may prefer not to be recorded, or it may not be practical (interviewing in a factory for example). I would suggest you take detailed field notes as you will not be able to remember everything someone says. You may want to consider typing these up as you go – then you have a ready transcript to analyse. If you did not record your interviews you will need to account for this in your methods chapter.

So now the transcripts are ready, or typed field notes, or texts. I would suggest you pick the best text – most detailed interview for example, and then use this for the first attempt at coding. If you are using grounded theory then you won’t have codes ready to go. However, for other approaches, e.g. template analysis, you will have some codes ready. Nigel King’s website on this is the best and I can’t better it, so I suggest you visit. When undertaking this process be open minded. Read the story of this participant and be prepared to identify emerging codes or themes.

Once you have done this you can develop a framework for subsequent transcripts. This framework is adaptable enough to bring in the new themes which emerge from subsequent data.

Take a look at all your codes – and try to arrange them into hierarchies (or trees). What is the top level code e.g. job satisfaction and what the lower level codes (or branches) e.g. opportunity to use skills? This will help to structure your analysis and the writing up of the findings.

One useful aspect of analysis is to consider not just agreement within the texts, but disagreement. Do participants have different experiences? If so, why? Do they contradict themselves? I have experienced women stating they have never been discriminated against on gender grounds, subsequently recounting stark examples of sexism. This is just as interesting (if not more so) than consensus.   You may also want someone else to take a look at your coding to see if they see the same patterns emerging.

Often researchers present their qualitative data as a series of quotes with sub-headings. This leaves the reader to do the analysis, rather than walking the through the argument you want to make. Summarise the data and use a select few quotes as evidence. One useful rule is one good quote, at most two. Read all of your transcripts together – what is the story you can tell across the data set?

I would suggest you consult some strong qualitative papers in your area, or a closely allied area – how have these authors analysed their data and justified that approach? How have they presented the data? Also take a look at the research methods literature:

Qualitative research journal

Qualitative research

International journal of qualitative methods

What are the current best thoughts on how to work with qualitative data? Which ever approach you use, if you can find previous researchers who have published data this way it adds considerable strength to your approach.

Despite some research urban legends, qualitative data analysis isn’t the easy option compared with quantitative. It is exhaustive and time-consuming. However, it is rich and offers an opportunity to really delve into lived experiences.

Remember that no piece of research is perfect and the assessors are not looking for this. We want to know if your methods have addressed your objectives, and to what extent. Have you demonstrated an awareness of the research process and adopted a critical approach to your study? One way to show this is through the limitations and suggestions for future research.

Workload, working weeks – a New Year reflection

I spend (too much?) a lot of time on Twitter reading what other academics have to say about their working lives and working hours. This post on how to work a regular working week has received some attention – my own timeline would suggest much of this attention is negative, with accusations that the author must be neglecting certain academic duties. Specifically is this particular academic collegial – that undefined term which seems to be used to police academics’ behaviour in any number of ways. Of course it’s difficult, or impossible to know, if the suggested neglect/lack of collegiality is the case. A couple of years ago I had a similar accusation levelled at me by someone who I’ve never met. They had seen me tweeting that it is possible to work a Monday to Friday working week as an academic. I can’t remember who the academic was, just that they seemed to quite strongly feel that other colleagues must be covering my work, if I was knocking off at 5.

The Christmas break made me realise how much I had been working the previous semester. A number of friends and colleagues had told me they thought I was working too much and needed to slow down, so I guess it must have been showing more to others than me. This wasn’t helped by working all through my annual leave the previous summer. In effect, I didn’t have a break for 12 months. I didn’t work at all over the Christmas break, apart from accessing webmail to delete superfluous emails. For three weeks I saw friends, travelled, watched (a lot of) Netflix and slept. Although it took me two weeks to start to sleep properly, something colleagues have also echoed. Many of my colleagues are exhausted. Utterly and completely exhausted; emotionally, intellectually and physically. For what?

Working very long hours is a breach of my own imposed rules. My father taught me that I should work to live, not live to work. Taking a proper break did mean that I had to catch up on emails (took me a couple of days, although not all at once), reviews (nearly done – voice recognition software helped here), and general work sent through. Of course if I had taken off 3 weeks not over Christmas there would be more work to do. However, I returned with energy. I’ve been told by two colleagues that I look healthy (which isn’t code for anything else apparently) and seem much happier. So now my challenge is to not work so hard this semester. It will be easier as it’s not my teaching semester, so much of the work I do will be within my own control. Apart from writing this blog (!), I have been knocking off at about 6 – starting at 8am, means I am doing roughly a 10 hour day, x 5 = 50 hour week. This is still way more than the 37 which my workload accounts for, but so far it’s working. It has required alerting colleagues that I am being more strategic with my time. I’ve had conversations with my PhD students about how we can work together to ensure we aren’t overworking – because I am part of a team, and there needs to be an open discussion. I don’t want to model unhealthy and unproductive working patterns for students, whether UG or PhD. I’ve also raised it in my performance appraisal so my workload can be looked and I can work with my institution to find a solution.

I’ve received positive comments from everyone I have raised this with. Still, I feel as if I have raised a taboo subject – my workload (both institutional and other external activities) and its unsustainability. Am I admitting to some form of ‘weakness’? Or perhaps there is the risk that it will be interpreted as un-collegial. I don’t want anyone else to cover my work, and I don’t see that will be the case as long as I am keeping up with my responsibilities. I make time for students, of course. My students know I keep a working week, and consistently  report that I am available as and when needed and get back to them quickly if I am not available. I care deeply about students’ well-being and education, and wouldn’t ever want to not be there if needed. I also care about my research, and communicating it in the various ways which are required. It must be possible however, to maintain an academic career and my own health simultaneously? Twitter is full of academics tweeting how much they are working. I welcome an open discussion of how we can keep high standards of teaching and research (if relevant) and, if we want to, a life outside of academia. I wonder if working together is the key – to support each other, recognising that some may need or benefit from working ‘unusual’ hours, while others for equally important reasons, try to keep to a ‘regular’ working week.

Update – this post on giving up on academic stardom is worth a look and is relevant to some internal debates I’ve had about why I research.

PhD Scholarship 2016

Understanding the everyday lived experiences of deaf employees

Supervisors Professor Jemina Napier and Dr Kate Sang (Heriot-Watt)

Contact Ms Caroline Murray for application information c.a.murray@hw.ac.uk

 Combining expertise in Sign Language Studies (Jemina Napier) and Workplace Equality and Diversity (Kate Sang), this project aims to develop an understanding of the everyday lived experiences of deaf employees in the UK. The limited extant research has relied predominantly on surveys, thus providing evidence of overall trends, but not the everyday experiences of deaf employees. This interdisciplinary project will draw on sociological frameworks and adopt a qualitative approach to understand the everyday experiences of deaf employees in the UK.

 The research will seek to address these primary questions:


·         What do deaf people report as being their typical everyday work experiences?


·         How do deaf people navigate workplace interactions?


·         What do deaf people report as the barriers that they face in the workplace?


·         How are deaf-hearing power dynamics manifested in the workplace?


·         What is the relationship between the presence of sign language interpreters and the lived experience of deaf people in the workplace?

How to apply

Full details of how to apply can be found at http://www.hw.ac.uk/schools/management-languages/about/programmes/phd/james-watt-sml-scholarships-2016.htm


There are two news pieces which have caught my eye today. The first is this piece in the Guardian about PTSD in military dogs and the second was the new legal status in France of dogs as sentient beings (April, 2014). This is part of a broader debate about non-human animals, rights and personhood, see for example The Non Human Rights Project. I have avoided researching non-human animals for a while due to my bias here – specifically my love for our fellow living beings and my distress at the large scale, systematic abuses they are subjected to. I am frequently asked why I went vegetarian (and I’m aware that I should probably be vegan) and I’m reluctant to say. Partly as there was an unpleasant incident with an off chicken and people usually ask me while they are eating. I’m also reluctant to say as I don’t moralise over other people’s meat eating (I’d make an exception for various forms of bush meat and shark fin). The short answer is that I love non-human animals and I don’t want to eat them, particularly when their meat is the product of intensive farming and current slaughtering practices.

Recently though I have begun to dip a toe into the academic world of critical animal studies and their potential to enhance our understanding of work. Or to put it crudely – can we start to recognise non-human animals as workers and organisational actors, rather than tools? For me the route to this is feminist posthumanism, particularly the work of Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway plus also attempting to get my head around Karen Barad‘s work. This body of work encourages us to question the primacy of the human and also what we understand agency to be. Doing so allows us to break down the Cartesian dualism between the human and the animal. This appeals to me as I recognise humans as animals, with differences between us and other species as differences of scale not kind (or quantitative rather than qualitative). Importantly it allows a framework for understanding why some species secure greater rights or emotional attachment because of their supposed closeness to humans. This takes us towards consideration of biopolitics – a complicated concept, but one which can be taken to understand how all aspects of (human) life are managed or governed (From a Foucauldian perspective).

This then brings me back to the use of nonhuman animals in human warfare or police action. The piece on canine PTSD provides a number of avenues for discussion. Initially it feels laudable to consider the effect that exposure to life-threatening situations may have on nonhuman actors. Does doing so recognise that dogs (in this case) have an inner mental life – one which can be harmed or cared for? Perhaps doing so brings us towards a greater consideration of the minds of other species.

The article starts with the following passages:

‘From 2008 to 2009, Gina served a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. She was tasked with going door to door and flushing insurgents out after US marines threw flash-bang grenades in before her.

She became jittery and panicked, and was unable to perform her duties. So she was returned to the United States and a meeting was called to consult experts on the matter. While Gina’s symptoms lined up with those of post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental health condition triggered by traumatic events, she was experiencing something the world wasn’t as familiar with: canine PTSD.’

The use of language is interesting – and deliberate – this could be the description of a human soldier’s response to military service. Gina is referred to as she (not ‘it’), she has operational roles (i.e. performs labour) which her mental health problems preventing her from discharging. Further, she is the object of care and expert medical help. Perhaps this is encouraging, if dog welfare is to become of greater concern?

An alternative reading is possible. As Peggs (2009) pointed out, an articulated concern for nonhuman animal suffering (in this case PTSD) can be used to hide a more fundamental question – namely whether it is appropriate for these non-consenting individuals to be exposed to harmful situations. Within Peggs’ (2009) study with a pro-animal testing organisation, an argument for human good is used to justify the (mis?)treatment of other species. This results in a form of identity politics called primacy identity politics, which is based on the ‘continued inequality and sustained oppression of nonhuman animals’ (p86). Thus maintaining a species hierarchy.

Nonhuman animals are increasingly the focus of interdisciplinary academic study for example, within sociology, geography, organisation studies. However, much of this work retains a focus on the human, in the human-animal nexus. Those animals closest to the human norms/ideals are awarded privileged status. I look forward to seeing more critical research on nonhuman animals, and new ways of exploring their lives which do not reproduce anthropocentric ways of thinking.

Nealon, J. (2015). Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life. Stanford University Press.

Peggs, K. (2009). A hostile world for nonhuman animals: human identification and the oppression of nonhuman animals for human good. Sociology, 43(1), 85-102.

Managing academic rejection

An academic career increasingly involves submitting research ideas which stand little chance of ‘success’, if success is taken to be securing funding or an accepted manuscript. For those on research focussed academic career tracks, the high rates of ‘rejection’ can feel demoralising. In this blog post we share our experiences of publishing in journals, and how ‘rejection’ is key to the process of publication.

Submitting my paper for rejection

In some areas, rejection rates for journal papers can be nearly 90% (if not higher), although data can be hard to locate. The American Psychological Society tracks this information for leading psychology journals. Rejection rates also vary across disciplines. In management, it is not uncommon for the top tier journals to have an acceptance rate of less than 10%. Put this way, ‘rejection’ is the norm – an accepted manuscript is the aberration. This is why I always (half jokingly) say I have submitted a paper for rejection, as this is likely to be the outcome. Some academics will never share their experiences of rejected manuscripts – perhaps they have been lucky and never experienced that dreaded email, but I doubt it.

There are of course a number of steps we can take to minimise the chance of rejection:

  • Make sure the paper fits the journal – if you aren’t able to cite material from that publication, then it’s not the right journal. Citing from the journal helps to locate your work in the current debates within the journal. It also helps the journal’s citations!
  • Format the paper according to the journal requirements – reading the journal carefully can help to ensure your paper is structured in a way the journal likes.
  • For management journals (and this applies across other disciplines), a theoretical framework is essential for the top tier journals.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to do a critical friend peer review before submission.

Submitting a paper is a sign of success in its own right. The next stage is to cross fingers and hope it goes out to peer-review (and have a little celebration).

Stages of rejection

The desk reject

Perhaps one of the most disheartening types of ‘rejection’ is the desk-reject (or perhaps *the* most disheartening) . Here the editor bounces the paper right back to you. Hopefully, this happens quickly, but I have also experienced this taking 6 months or more. This is miserable. There’s no other way to think of it at the time. A good editor will provide a narrative as to why there has been a desk reject. If this is all done within a few days or weeks, I take some comfort. My advice is to rework the paper quickly and send it on somewhere else. Have a look at the other journals you are citing and see where it might fit. Don’t rush this though – as an editor and reviewer it is always clear when a paper has been rejected by another journal and not reworked prior to submission elsewhere. A number of academics have suggested to me that desk rejection is becoming more common. I don’t know if this is true, but finding reviewers is hard work, so if an editor doesn’t feel it will make it through peer review, I can see why it happens.

Post-review reject

Whenever I get an email back from a journal I read it looking closely for the rejection. Rarely will an editor say the paper is ‘rejected’; sometimes, it’s much softer: ‘I will not be inviting a resubmission of this manuscript’. This can be a demoralising experience, and it can be hard not to take it personally. When I was on a temporary contract the experience was worse – will I lose my job if I don’t get these 3* and 4* publications soon? (These feelings also affect those on open-ended contracts.) It is hard not to take the rejection to heart, especially if the work is something we have invested considerable time in and the research is a subject we care about. I’ve learned not to read the comments too closely to begin with. I let the bad news sink in for a day or two and then take a look. Increasingly, I agree with reviewers’ comments, but I suspect that is in part experience and the relative privilege of an open-ended contract. At this stage, I would suggest reading the comments in detail to consider how the paper can be revised to increase an acceptance for another journal.

[Edit: a number of people have said that the time for reviewers’ comments can be so long that a) the data is out of date or b) that they have moved on from the paper and find it difficult to return back to the work. The latter would apply with R&R although both indicate a problem with the peer review process. As an editor of a journal I know how hard it is to find reviewers. Reviewing is hard work, but important (unpaid labour) service work which keeps the whole system going.]

The post-review reject can happen at the 2nd or 3rd round of reviews . This can be upsetting! It’s likely the paper is significantly different to the original paper and you have put a lot of time and effort into trying to address the reviewers’ comments. There’s no other thing to say apart from ‘it sucks’ and, for most of us, there’s not much more to be done. The good news is that this is rare, but it’s worth remembering. There is no guarantee of publication until the paper is actually published.

[Edit: I have been reminded that I forgot to include the post rejection celebratory drink, if that’s your thing]

While all this can sound pretty grim, there is a home for every paper. My first 4* paper went to two top journals. Each time it went out to review and both times the reviewers were split between acceptance and rejection. Both times the editors decided to reject. Finally, I submitted to another journal – one which actually was a better fit for the material. It still went through a few rounds of review, but it was accepted. I think the previous rejections were part of what made the paper a success in the end. I stopped thinking about rejection as rejection, and started to see it as part of the successful publication process. This has allowed me to be increasingly grateful for reviewers and editors who take the time to provide careful and constructive feedback. It’s rare and incredibly helpful. ‘Rejections’ have helped to shape my writing and certainly improve it.

Perhaps if we can take the emotional elements out of the process, ‘rejections’ are actually agents of constructive feedback and potentially learning experiences to improve outputs. I recognise this is much easier to say from my position on an open-ended contract. I imagine it would be even easier to argue if the UK had a tenure track system. This would allow for more time to spend on publications in order to craft them into saying something important. However, while we have a REF system and no tenure, relatively rapid turnaround of an increasing number of papers will make ‘rejection’ more of a norm.

Thoughts welcome in the comments below!

Kate Sang, Rebecca Finkel and Valerie Caven

Aim and Objectives (UG dissertation)

Once you have completed your literature review you will be in a position to write your aim and objectives. These allow your reader (marker!) to understand the purpose of your research and help you to structure the remainder of your thesis. Although the precise marking criteria will differ at each institution, usually the presence of achievable objectives, and evidence of the extent to which they have been met, will be key.

A research aim can be thought of as the overall intellectual endeavour of the dissertation. What is it that your work is aiming to understand or explain? The aim should be brief, and easy for a reader to understand.

Research objectives are the steps you will take to achieve your aim. How many objectives a dissertation should have is debatable. As a general guide I suggest that the final objective should be related to theory (for a Ph.D this is likely to be the theoretical development). Objectives should be ‘doable’, rather than abstract. Each objective needs to be distinct – i.e. not just rewording a previous objective.

Some examples of aim and objectives

Objectives are useful for structuring the remainder of your thesis. In your methods chapter you may want to consider a table which maps the objectives to the research design. This helps the reader to clearly understand how the objectives will be met and the relationship between the literature/theory and the data collection tools.

Consider framing your sub-headings of the findings and discussion chapters around the objectives. This helps to develop a clear thread through the dissertation. Finally, in your conclusions chapter you can clearly state how each objective has been met – this could be in a table also.

Give the aim and objectives some careful thought, show them to your friends and family – can they make sense of what you intend to do and understand in your research? Once these have been finalised (although they may shift slightly as the research progresses), you are in a position to write your research questions. These research questions, along with the aim and objectives will dictate how you go about your study. Imagine one of your objectives was to:

‘Understand what women academics perceive to be the criteria for promotion to professor’

Here, we are not talking about measuring how many women achieve chair, or the selection criteria are for promotion panels. The objective is about understanding perceptions, which requires a research design sensitive to this, likely a qualitative approach.

Remember that the aim and objectives have to be achievable, ‘doable’ (i.e. concrete rather than abstract) and clearly linked to the preceding literature, subsequent research design, findings and analysis.

Hurricane Patricia: ways to help

Hurricane Patricia is likely to cause considerable damage to life (human and nonhuman) and property. Below are some links to ways to help.

To register yourself safe and well or search for others the Red Cross have a helpline

To make donations various news sites are compiling lists of charitable organisations engaged in relief efforts (likely overlap on the lists):

NBC New york list

CNN’s list


Humane Society International 

A local SPCA has been evacuated and may need help

I will try and add anything which emerges over the next day or two.

Doing a literature review (UG dissertation)

For many students, approaching their literature review can be somewhat daunting. There is likely to be a large amount of information available which can inform your dissertation. The key is to think of the literature review as forming a strong foundation on which to build your empirical work.

What is the purpose of your literature review? A good literature review will cover the main literature in a field (it will never be exhaustive) to identify what is already known about your topic. This will help you to identify the gaps in knowledge. The literature review will also help you to develop focused research aim, objectives and research questions.

Importantly, you will need to consider a theoretical underpinning for your work. This enables your research to engage analytically with the problem identified. Simply, it allows you to move from describing a problem, to considering an explanation.

There are different approaches to structuring a literature review. I usually suggest a funnel approach which takes the reader from a general perspective of the topic (including setting out the problem) towards a narrower focus – i.e. the particular focus of your work. Remember that you need to take the reader by the hand and carefully walk them towards your research aim and objectives. A good structure will help to reveal the logic of your chosen topic.


When you approach the literature, the volume of information can be overwhelming. You may find it helpful to think of this stage in terms of a form of analysis – read through the various sources of literature and identify emerging themes. Some researchers even code their literature using a qualitative software package such as NVivo. Once you have your overarching themes you can decide how you want to arrange your literature review. There are no hard or fast rules, but it must work for your topic. Draft a structure and be open to changing it. Often it’s only once we start to write that we realise our predetermined ideas don’t work.

Types of literature (not exhaustive)

Peer-reviewed: these are often journal articles/papers. They have been through a rigorous period of review by experts in the field. This can include rounds of revisions which are designed to strengthen the paper. Some books may be also be peer-reviewed. Conference papers often go through some form of peer-review, but often not to the same degree as journal papers.

Grey literature: literature published outside of traditional academic or commercial publishers – this may be produced by academics, researchers outside of academia, government, industry reports. These are generally not peer-reviewed, but can offer some useful background material for example, statistics, details of policy and legislative interventions

Media: you may wish to consider media reports e.g. newspaper articles, industry magazines. These can provide some useful context material.

Often you will find this material online through various databases (see HWU database guide), although you may still need to locate hard copies of useful material.

Make sure that you keep a record of everything you read/cite – there are software packages to help with this, for example Endnote. You should also take written or typed notes of your reading. It can be frustrating to forget who wrote something important and you don’t want to risk plagiarism. Find out which referencing system is preferred for your department/school.

This is a creative process and there is a degree of trial and error involved. If you’re interested in your topic, this will be a much more enjoyable process. If there are pieces of work which are difficult to understand, don’t assume that the problem rests with you. It’s likely that the research is hard to understand! It can help to find work which has cited the difficult study, see what they have to say about it, and then return to the original work.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor questions!