The monograph should be the passport to mobile research success

There is no escaping it: mobility has become the buzzword of research today. Academics everywhere are facing increasing incentives to join a new generation of ‘mobile researchers’ – or ‘passport professors’ as they are also known.

To become mobile, researchers must move out of traditional ‘spaces’ of scholarship to work across borders, disciplines or sectors.

The European Union, in particular, has earmarked mobile researchers as the key to securing its future competitiveness and is currently making considerable efforts to establish a fully functioning ‘open labour market’ for researchers.

As a result, there has been a rapid rise in support mechanisms for mobile researchers, intended to help them make the cultural transition to their new, cross-cutting research environments.

Yet, as debates roll on in the humanities and the social sciences about the upshots of publishing in different scholarly formats, it is surprising that guidance on academic publishing for mobile researchers is still missing from the equation.

To talk about academic publishing and open access is no new thing. But what happens when we redefine what we mean by the term open access and change the rhetoric to put the focus back on the people behind the ideas, rather than on the ideas themselves?

We may think of open access as the free global exchange of knowledge for societal benefit, but for it to work effectively researchers, too, must be free to move and work across different research systems.

Open access – A threat to the monograph?

To date, the open access movement has given rise to pressure to disseminate research openly with no added cost to the wider scholarly community.

In the humanities and social sciences in particular, such trends have been branded a threat to the monograph’s status as the hallmark of academic communication. With falling sales and rising costs, one would be forgiven for believing the monograph to have a major fight on its hands for survival.

The future of the monograph need not be so bleak, however, if we start to look at its capacity to provide open access to researchers, instead of only to their research.

Despite fears surrounding its decline, the monograph remains the global benchmark of academic success in the humanities and social sciences and is, more often than not, the key to a fruitful scholarly career in many of the world’s most significant research economies.

The United Kingdom is a clear exception to the norm in this instance. Largely due to the impact of the Research Excellence Framework on the way academic careers are determined, it is technically possible to secure tenure in British institutions with only a good collection of articles published in top-tier academic journals – even in the humanities and social sciences.

In Germany, by contrast, the monograph remains the gold standard for any research career. Here, early career researchers are encouraged, if not obliged, to turn their PhD thesis into a book as part and parcel of the academic process.

Further afield, monographs also remain an essential criterion for career progression at the major Ivy League universities in the United States, and any junior academic seeking tenure is obliged to put forward an impressive publications record, including at least one or two monographs.

Ticket to success

For academics to embrace mobility, then, the monograph needs to be appreciated and promoted for what it really is – not simply a means of dissemination, but also a ticket to professional success in today’s mobile world.

After all, monographs not only provide an audience for an author’s work but, perhaps most importantly for researchers themselves, they provide a way of experiencing other countries’ research systems, which would otherwise remain off-limits.

An acknowledgement of the monograph as a passport to full international mobility for humanities and social sciences researchers appears, however, to have passed many policy-makers and agenda-setters by.

Increasingly, research funding is becoming contingent on international mobility, as exemplified, for one, by the EU’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions. The applicant guidelines clearly state that “mobility across borders is a must” and it is taken as a given that researchers will be granted this mobility on the basis of their academic excellence – usually judged on qualifications and publications.

In principle, the selection procedure seems reasonable enough. Yet, in practice, in countries in which the monograph prevails, scholars with a book to their name can find themselves fast-tracked to the shortlist, while those with only journal articles – regardless of their quantity, quality or citation levels – can be left struggling to make the cut.

The reality is that the ability to communicate research effectively is just not enough for today’s academics.

To succeed, scholars must showcase their findings in such a way that also gives them international credit; and, in this respect, monographs win out with their promise of academic fame.

Although journal articles allow researchers to reach specialist audiences, when it comes to what is actually going to get researchers moving, monographs can promise a brighter, international future.

Nobody would expect to fly without a passport. So, if we really are to inspire researchers to fly in their career, we should be encouraging them to obtain the necessary scholarly document to allow them to do so.

If mobility is the destination, then the monograph is, at least for now, the best way they have of getting there.

* Dr Diana Beech is a consultant at the Research Information Network in London, chiefly responsible for the management of the final year of the OAPEN – Open Access Publishing in European Networks – UK project. Beech is also a research associate at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge, where she currently manages a project exploring the role and relevance of values to contemporary European research policy. In addition, she is an active member of the EURAXESS ‘Voice of the Researchers’ network, providing researchers with a channel through which to influence policy in the European Research Area.