Well it was a thankfully brief and interesting summer. While most of my colleagues wish that their summers were longer (and don’t get me wrong, most years I do), I was so happy for the Summer of 2014 to end. It came after an equally interminable year of riding a mental, emotional, and physical roller coaster. I hit 5 life milestones in one year – something I would never recommend – getting married, buying my first home, buying my first car (without my dad checking it out first to make sure it is safe enough), and the deaths of both my parents (they died exactly 6 months to the day apart). The first three are exciting and certainly the first is a very happy occasion, but all this was marred by the loss of two people I have loved, and who have loved and believed in me through thick and thin, my entire life. But I study resilience. I know what it takes to walk on. And despite the cliche, as my mom would say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So I’ve climbed back up on my horse and I’m charging back in to the battle.
As I take a look around, I see that my students are doing and have done well. Phew! That is a huge relief. Katie Chen is working full time and being paid at University Research Co., LLC where she took a chance on an unpaid summer internship last spring. Raquel Fleskes is thriving as a brand new doctoral student of molecular anthropology at Penn. Maria Sharova is back after a successful summer being paid to analyze environmental protest text at SESYNC. Jordan Tompkins survived not only her crazy supervisor (me), but also killer elephants, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and hoopty transportation in Mozambique’s bush. Rebecca Alberda learned a lot about a new (to her) type of disaster – terrorism – and working for the US government as an anthropologist in her masters internship at START. Her blog post about the experience highlights the many connections in natural and man-made disaster risk, as well as the large group of individuals working to improve communication during catastrophes to protect more lives. Alyssa Nutter received rave reviews for her work with the Peace Program field school in the Gambia, and her supervisor assures me that she remained safe from potential Ebola infection. I have not heard from Amanda Hathaway though. I hope that she is working at a job she really enjoys and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of Colorado. All in all a good group of women going places. Seeing their success boosts my optimism that things are looking up!
In the meantime, I have seven new students, and one doctoral student, working in the Shaffer lab. Each of them brings a new perspective and fresh ideas. This term the undergraduates will be learning how to do text analysis. Jordan is taking the lead on their training (learning and practicing her people management skills), and I am learning how to step back and delegate.
This morning I received news from my postdoc adviser that an article she wrote (with help from the rest of the team) has been published in Environment and Planning A. I have mixed feelings. I’m super happy that the work has been published. Everyone on the ALCCAR team has worked hard and what we’ve discovered about how scenario-building in rural Africa can help folks plan for future climatic uncertainty is important. On the other hand, the peer-reviewed publishing process is frustratingly long.
From how long it sits in an editor’s inbox, to the time it takes for reviewers to do their thing, to the editing and resubmitting, potential re-review, and then all the final typo, image, and type-setting stuff. The time from submission to final publication can be 1-2 years in the social science world. Reviewers don’t get paid, so understandingly reading someone else’s paper is low on the priority list. And don’t get me started on the page fees some journals charge. Again, I understand costs – particularly if they are open access, which I support. What I don’t understand is where they expect the money to come from. At least for anthropologists, you don’t write publication fees into your grant proposals. There is barely enough funding to go around with the government cuts to NSF budgets. Perhaps this is ignorance on my part, but if so I’d like to be enlightened.
You might suggest skipping peer-reviewed publication. As a relatively new, assistant professor on the tenure track I can’t do that. I get no scholarly credit in my tenure portfolio for blogging or writing for a lay public or writing government reports for politicians and land/resource managers. It still is “Publish or Perish” in the academy. Sad, but true. I teach, and certainly some of my students will go out and help others. As a teacher though, there are days I feel like a stormtrooper on the Death Star firing my laser gun in the off chance I might actually hit something.
Environmental change is an ongoing process that people are constantly coping with and adapting to. Given the things that we could potentially learn and share, so that others might reduce their risk and uncertainty, the peer-reviewed publication process seems way too long. Actually, the peer-reviewed publication process – given who is impacted by changes – seems really inappropriate. The farmers and fishers I work with are not going to surf online journals looking for adaptation and coping alternatives. Not all have access to electricity, let alone the internet or the ability to read the dominant language used – English. The aid workers who help them out probably won’t read online journals either. And politicians? That is a big known, unknown for me. Perish or Publish?
How do we get what we’ve learned out to the people who need it most? This is a question that wakes me up at 3am, and keeps me from really relaxing on weekends. In the meantime, I will enjoy the fact that I’ve been published again and hope that someone, somewhere will find our work useful.
2014. Tschakert, P., K. Dietrich, K. Tamminga, E. Prins, J. Shaffer, E. Liwenga, and A. Asiedu. Learning and envisioning under climatic uncertainty: an African experience. Environment and Planning A 46: 1049-1068.
Abstract. Learning about and embracing change and uncertainty are essential for responding to climate change. Creativity, critical reflection, and cogenerative inquiry can enhance adaptive capacity, or the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to adverse future impacts. However, precisely how learning about change and its driving forces occurs and how experiences are combined with envisioned yet indefinite prospects of the future are poorly understood. We present two linked methodological tools—an assessment of drivers of change and participatory scenario building—used in a climate change adaptation project in Ghana and Tanzania (ALCCAR). We discuss opportunities and challenges of such iterative learning. Our findings suggest that joint exploration, diverse storylines, and deliberation help to expand community-based adaptation repertoires and to strike a balance between hopelessness and a tendency to idealize potential future realities.
Keywords: scenario building, drivers of change, coproduction of knowledge, possible futures