The Professional Academic

Something occurred to me recently. Professions share common characteristics (Elliott 1972):

  • Body of knowledge
  • Barriers to entry
  • Public service
  • Mutual recognition

Thinking about being a professional architect, QS, engineer or whatever, it is straightforward to identify how these things work. But does this work for the profession of being an academic?

  • Body of knowledge: This does not refer to the knowledge that you use in your construction profession. That is already dealt with there. The knowledge we need as academics are not simply the knowledge of construction activities. What do professional academics have in common? Writing, arguing, researching, analysing, concluding, making claims, testing ideas, introducing doubt and scepticism where there is apparent certainty.
  • Barriers to entry: Just as you need a BSc to gain entry into a construction profession, you also need one to get into an academic profession. Indeed, one useful way to view a PhD is as an essential prerequisite for an academic career. It is not the only purpose, but it is an interesting way of thinking about what a PhD is for.
  • Public service: Just as surveyors and engineers have ethical codes of conduct to put public interest above private profit, so academics are (generally) not focused on commercial returns.
  • Mutual recognition: Being a member of a specific academic community through your research and writing brings acceptance into that sub-set. Being an academic in the wider sense involves recognising that other academic fields include people who share the same body of knowledge, barriers to entry and ethical conduct.

These ideas may help you to deal with some of the demands that are placed on you as a doctoral student, which are common to all doctoral students, from any discipline. In case you are interested in reading more about the professions, please see Hughes and Hughes (2013).


Elliott, P (1972) The sociology of the professions. Macmillan, London.

Hughes, W P and Hughes, C (2013) Professionalism and professional institutions in times of change. Building Research & Information, 41(01), 28-38.


Posted in Academic practice, Guidance | 4 Comments

Termination of editorship

This is my 25th year at the helm of the journal, Construction Management and Economics. I have enjoyed being at the centre of this and especially enjoyed interacting with so many people in our academic community; authors, referees, editorial board and publishers. There is a huge amount of support among the construction management community for this journal. Long may it continue!

However, nothing is forever. My contract as Editor-in-Chief has come to an end. Taylor & Francis, the publishers of Construction Management and Economics, have started the search for a new Editor-in-Chief. We are hoping that the new person will soon be identified and that the transition can be effected soon. Whatever happens, this is my last year in the post.

I look forward to new challenges and opportunities!

Posted in CM&E forum, Editorial policies | 6 Comments

Pie charts: graphical bling?

I find pie charts so tiresome. In an exchange with an author who thought they were a good idea, I was looking at the multi-coloured, three-dimensional, textured shading of a few segments of his pie chart, and thinking that this is such a waste of space. As I long ago learned from reading Edward Tufte’s work on the art of visualizing quantitative information, if a graphic takes up more space than a text explanation, it is probably not needed.

My students sometimes say, in defence of a pie chart, that pictures are good; “a picture can paint a thousand words”, they say. “Ha!”, I scoff. There are many pictures that are more eloquent than a thousand words. But a pie chart paints about 6-12 words. It tells me that most things were in one category and the remainder were not. Or another pie chart tells me that things were roughly evenly distributed. But it tells me nothing interesting and with no accuracy, unless it is annotated with information that I would have preferred to read as text.

I was wondering why pie charts are so popular and suddenly realized that they were the graphical equivalent of bling. Maybe there is a role for them somewhere, but I do not think they are a part of serious communication.

Here are a couple of more detailed critiques of pie charts:

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Publication rights and sharing your work

We often get enquiries from authors who have posted a pre-publication draft of their work in an institutional repository, or some other on-line repository of work-in-progress, such as SSRN or REPEC. These services invite authors to place working papers and drafts on-line in order to attract comment and discussion so that they may develop their work before journal submission. For the avoidance of doubt, we would like to emphasize that our publishers, Taylor & Francis, are happy with the idea of publishing a paper that has been in the public domain as a working draft.

Authors are permitted to deposit their paper pre-publication on a personal or institutional website as part of T&F’s Green Open Access Policy. They can post the Author Original Manuscript (AOM) and/or Author Accepted Manuscript (AAM). Both versions are of the paper before it has undergone any copy editing or typesetting. T&F then request that Authors link from the draft to the “Final Version of Record”, when it has been published. They should credit the published article and provide a link to it. Full details of the publication policy are kept up-to-date here.

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Complete and unambiguous complementarity

In commenting on a paper, I raised a question about the mobilization of the literature in relation to a particular point an author was making. The point made by the author was, she said, an illustration of a phenomenon mentioned in the literature by four different authors. She cited all four at the end of the sentence. I added a note to the paper on the specific question of whether their were any tensions between these four works that she might have helped to resolve; or whether there were tensions between her work and theirs as a whole. In other words, I realized that the phrasing indicated complete and unambiguous complementarity between her work and theirs. And it struck me that this was a general issue in many papers I read. Authors frequently structure their citations to the literature as if there were complete and unambiguous complementarity, even when there is not. I think that, as an academic community, we would do well to be more nuanced in the way that we mobilize the literature in support of what we say. Perhaps we need to articulate the tensions in order to emphasize the precise aspects of complementarity between our work and previous research.

Posted in Guidance, Style, Writing | 3 Comments

How to format papers for journal submission (and for dissertations)

Increasingly, authors have often asked how to format their papers for submission to the journal, Construction Management and Economics.

In submitting a paper to a journal such as this, it may be helpful to note that your submission is, effectively, a draft paper. Therefore, our expectation is that the paper will be presented with the following formatting features:

  • Use a simple font, such as Times New Roman 12 pt.
  • Use double-spaced line spacing.
  • Set 2.5 cm margins all round.
  • Do not add page numbers
  • Do not add headers or footers of any kind.
  • Do not use multi-column layout.
  • Distinguish headings from sub-headings clearly. Although published papers do not use heading numbers, you may use them in the draft to make clear the different levels of heading.
  • Figures and Tables should be all moved to the back or uploaded as separate files (several per file, or one at a time, whichever you find easier). This is not a uniform requirement, so you need to look carefully at whether a specific journal applies this requirement just to Figures, to Figures and Tables, or not at all.
  • If it would help you to have a template, there is one for downloading here: CM&E Paper Template.

It may come as a surprise to many that this is exactly the same format, in general terms, as most requirements for the submission of dissertations and theses, at least in the UK. Has anyone noticed that dissertations are submitted as if they were draft papers ready for taking to a journal?

You may also find the following posts in this forum useful:


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Reed Elsevier to acquire Mendeley, the academic collaboration tool

I hope that this turns out to be good news! I find that Mendeley is a very useful tool.

Mendeley acquired by Reed Elsevier

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Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE): Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers

The Committee on Publication Ethics has launched a really useful guide to ethical conduct in peer review.  I find these generic guidelines very useful.  What do you think?  Does this make sense in our corner of the academic world?

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Invitations from unknown sources to join referee panels and editorial boards

It is with increasing frequency that scam organizations are attempting to set up open access journals with the aim of making money from charging authors for publication. Many of these are springing up around the world and their progenitors are sending messages to email lists trying to elicit academics to submit their papers, join the referee panel and also join the editorial board. One recent one was also asking for random people to become editor and/or editor-in-chief of a non-existent journal. Why anyone would respond to a complete stranger who had no connection with the field is beyond me. Hopefully, no one is naive enough to respond to these random calls for strangers to take part in non-existent journals. But, who knows? Maybe the urge to add things to an academic CV might prompt inexperienced and untrained people to become editors and referees, handling papers written by strangers for publication by an unknown organization for an undisclosed page fee!

Some of these open calls for strangers make a great play that there is some kudos in having an ISSN number, as if that were some kind of badge of quality or acceptance, when it is merely a registration number. All sorts of spurious claims accompany such calls, presumably hoping to confuse and impress folks who know nothing about publishing. We need to check carefully whether such random claims of authoritativeness have any real meaning. Another increasingly common practice is invitations to submit papers to special issues where the Guest Editor is not an authority on the topic of the special issue. Imagine the situation – a call for papers is sent from a guest editor who has never written on the topic to email lists indiscriminately inviting anyone to submit papers. The papers get refereed by people who have never written on the topic, based on random criteria, and the inexperienced guest editor accepts whatever the referees’ majority verdict is. The author pays for publication and paper is made available freely, with the guise of an authoritative international refereed journal! I hope that this is an unlikely scenario. How can we guard against it?

All of this is grist to the mill and a regular part of the daily trudge through unsolicited and junk email. However, it seems to have encouraged editors and publishers with more recognisable names and titles to trawl email lists for random members of editorial boards and everyone or anyone is invited to take part in a journal on any topic they choose. Worse, we are now seeing evidence of fake referee reports, where an author has registered with a journal as a referee, under a different name, with a generic account, such as yahoo or gmail, and then nominated his fake account as a referee for his own paper, so that he can provide a glowing referee report! This aptly demonstrates the dangers associated with blanket invitations to join in the activities of a journal.

My conclusion from these new practices is that authors and editors have to be vigilant in ensuring that they are only dealing with people they know or recognize. For example, there is no substitute for going to international conferences and engaging actively with the international research community. Otherwise, great care is needed in figuring out whether people are who they say they are, checking bona fides and following up on the details of previously unknown people to make sure that they come from bona fide institutions.

The consequence for Construction Management and Economics is that we will not accept submissions from strangers with non-institutional email accounts and we shall not invite referees to review papers unless we know who they are. We certainly will never put out an indiscriminate request on an email list in an attempt to recruit editorial board members. While we are acutely aware of the need to avoid cronyism and exclusivity, we need to steer a careful course between isolationist policies and indiscriminate involvement.

Posted in Editorial policies | 2 Comments

How long do referees need to review a journal paper?

When I was an editor, I often encountered referees who did not usually review papers in my field. I was told that our aspiration of asking referees to complete their tasks in two weeks was unusual. Apparently, in most social science and management journals the time suggested for reviewing a paper is anything between four weeks and three months! This made our two-week deadline look rather odd. Of course, I was aware of other disciplines where the time suggested was 1-7 days, depending on the journal, so clearly there are some very diverse practices. Given that it takes a matter of hours to review a paper, I guess that what typically happens is that a paper for review waits on someone’s desk until they finally get around to carrying out non-urgent tasks. Perhaps I am wrong, and perhaps some people really are spending several weeks composing a review of a paper. What do you think? When you are an author, are your expectations and aspirations different to when you are a referee? What is the shortest time and the longest time that you would expect to wait for the decision on your paper, and what are your experiences, especially in different fields?

(All comments are moderated, so may not appear immediately.)

Posted in CM&E forum, Refereeing | Tagged , | 5 Comments