Academic Research and Productivity: A motivational Speech

Something to get us started as the new year begins

This is the first time I have posted content that is not my own (well, except for posts that I have re-blogged from blogs I follow). I tweaked the content and added graphics for aesthetics and convertion from oral delivery to digital/textual format.

The author of this content (Assoc. Professor Joel M. Magogwe) is a colleague in the Communication and Study Skills Unit. He is a researcher of note and you can view some of his publications under his biography here.

This is a speech he gave at a conference for the Faculty of Business, and I find it resonating with someof the experiences we share as colleagues at different fora.

By Assoc. Professor Joel M. Magogwe

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour for me to deliver a keynote speech at this very important conference. Let me congratulate the Faculty of Business and Accounting for organizing this research conference, and thank them for allowing me to speak on productivity, a topic close to my heart. Today, as requested by the organisers, let me share a few thoughts with you about what can be done to improve your research and publication productivity. I assume that all of you here today would like to improve in these areas. Kindly allow me to talk about research and publication together because they go hand in hand.

Image showing components of the research and publication process
Navigating through the research and publication maze

The first objective of my talk is to motivate you as individuals and as an institution to re-examine your research and publication productivity, in terms of the four elements of productivity which are: mission, motivation, communication, and implementation. In his book “The Art of Productivity”, Jim Stovall indicates that these elements constitute the engine of the Art of Productivity and that they must seamlessly fit into an individual’s desire to reach his or her destination. The second objective of this talk is to suggest strategies that can help you to overcome research and publication challenges as individuals and as an institution.

Why should I talk about productivity?

The theme for this conference is “Towards a Diversified and Sustainable Economic Transformation” and the programme covers topics such entrepreneurship, technology and business solution which are all related to productivity. It has been found by scholars that productivity increases economic growth (Eifert, 2009; ILO, 2013). Currently universities in Botswana are being challenged to become torch bearers of the revolution as the country strives to become a knowledge based economy; and to address issues of high unemployment levels, income disparities, poverty and a complex cocktail of other social problems that exist in our society. As academicians in Botswana we are therefore challenged to use our research skills to find solutions to these problems and to educate our society. This inevitably calls for us individually and collectively to commit to increase our research productivity and to advance our own careers too.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this early stage of my talk let me operationalize the term productivity. Google defines productivity as the effectiveness of productive effort as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. Applied to the academic context, productivity refers to the amount of research and the quantity of publications produced by each researcher and by the institution. Allow me to interchangeably use the terms productivity and output. According to Wootton (2013), research output may be measured by: i) publishing: peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed papers, book chapters, books, popular articles; ii) gaining grants; iii) supervising research students; iv) serving as a peer-reviewer (of grants and papers), examining PhDs, acting as a member of an editorial board; v) giving lectures and other presentations, especially as an invited (keynote) speaker; vi) contributing to national and international committees; and vii) filing patents. The list goes on. However, I would like to caution that when you design the productivity indicator for your department or University you should realise that one size certainly does not fit all when it comes to assessing research productivity because it varies by discipline and by type of publication.

Let me acknowledge that sometimes research is daunting and potentially discouraging for novice researchers in particular. Publishing is not easy or cheap. We often complain about lack of the time for writing papers; about lack of research funds; and about the rejection of our project proposals and papers by journal editors and reviewers. Sometimes we wonder whether reviewers and editors realize that English is not our mother tongue and that culture and context are different from theirs. Many obstacles impede our research and publication.

Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot think of immediate solutions to the above challenges, but I believe that persistence pays off and that any form of rejection can be overcome as far as the adage, “Where there is a will there is a way” is concerned. I believe that there is always a way to overcome challenges because I have seen grass can grow out of a pavement. Jia Jiang in his book Rejection Proof encourages readers to beat fear and become invincible. For one hundred days he subjected himself to different situations that gave him the opportunity to overcome rejection. His experiments showed that fear can be smashed in the face with a strong punch. Jim Stovall himself, a prolific writer who has published over thirty books; a columnist; and a speaker in the field of personal development is in fact physically blind. Many scholars here in Botswana have also managed to achieve the pinnacle of research despite experiencing the same challenges I have mentioned above. The same circumstances that defeat our productivity have been used by others as a springboard to greater and more significant things.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me now to move to the crux of my talk. As I have indicated, the first objective of my speech is to motivate you as individuals and as an institution to re-examine your research and publication productivity with regard to the four elements of productivity – mission, motivation, communication, and implementation. Let me first and foremost find out if this University has a mission statement. Does the institution have a research and publication mission? Please do not answer these questions now. Do you yourself have a research and publication mission? If so, does it resonate with the mission of this University? If not, do you understand the value of a mission? These questions are not meant to expose you but to help you appreciate the value of a mission statement.

Ladies and gentlemen the mission of this University among other things is to drive productivity and to continuously improve the quality and excellence of all its activities, including research. This mission shows that the University recognizes the importance of research. As important as it may be for organisations to have a mission statement that is truly meaningful to its staff members, it is even more important that individual staff members should have a personal mission statement that defines their personal and professional journey toward their own definition of success or productivity (Stovall, 2017). In other words, as individuals you should have your own mission that will take you to your ultimate research and publication journey and that mission should resonate with that of this institution. Otherwise you will find yourself on your University’s mission, for which you feel no passion, energy or commitment. The importance of a mission cannot be over-emphasised ladies and gentlemen. I would like to borrow Jim Stovall’s argument that “anyone who has ever achieved a degree of what we would call success has been on a mission. Their mission has been clear, concise, and easily stated”. For example, President F. Kennedy gave the American people a goal in the 60’s that he would put a man on the moon and bring him back to earth safely. His mission culminated with Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and returning to earth safely.

This is the second element of productivity. Ladies and gentlemen, J.F. Kennedy and other successful men and women across the world, including Botswana, achieved their missions and goals because they were motivated to do so. Naturally, humans need some sort of intrinsic and extrinsic inducement, encouragement or incentive in order to get better performance. Intrinsic motivation means the desire, want or drive within a person to meet a need or to achieve a set goal. In the academic context, according to Horodnic and Zait (2015:1), “Many scholars have argued that motivation is central to a quality research culture at universities”. These scholars believe that well-motivated instructors are likely to be productive researchers who contribute to their universities’ international recognition, attract research funds and produce outstanding graduates (Horodnic and Zait (2015).

In The Art of Productivity Stovall indicates that motivation is the most individualized and personalized human trait. Therefore, it is up to an individual to determine the most effective way to stay motivated. In terms of research and publication, self-motivation is required for example when one’s paper or project proposal has been rejected. We have to rise after we fall, dust ourselves off and start again. Stovall likens motivation to a shower. The shower you took yesterday has worn off today and you need to take another one. In a survey among Romanian academics, Horodnic and Zait (2015) found that scientists who took strong interest in their work were, as a consequence, more productive researchers; whereas those who were extrinsically motivated substituted their efforts toward pursuits that were more financially profitable. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen to become productive publishers you should motivate yourself to overcome the overwhelming challenges that impede your research initiatives.

This is the third and most important element of productivity because it is the direct link between motivation and implementation (Stovall, 2017). Communication is critical to productivity because it is one of the factors that influence motivation. Lack of effective communication leads to dissatisfaction and lack of productivity. Communication is vital in academics because it facilitates the transfer of knowledge and concepts as well as the exchange of feelings and ideas. It is also used for engaging with other people on our research and publication mission. To improve our communication we should avoid wrong, incomplete and false communication. Ladies and gentlemen, the consequences of poor communication can be catastrophic. On the other hand, effective communication is open, interactive and creates more avenues that can facilitate the art of productivity and build a bridge between motivation and implementation (Stovall, 2017).

Implementation is the fourth crucial element of the productivity equation. To discuss this element I am going to suggest methods that can be used to increase research and publication output. Let me hasten to point out that proper implementation does not come naturally to human beings. Implementation can be affected by lack of a mission and passion, lack of motivation, and lack of effective communication. Implementation can also be affected by lack of perseverance and lack of self-discipline (Stovall, 2017). What can you do now to address these issues?

speech media 2

Fight or flight?
First let me talk about what you can individually do to increase your research and publication output. Suha Evrhim talks about the brain function called amicdola found in reptiles. This is a fight or flight instinct which tells a reptile to swiftly decide to either flee or fight when in a situation that threatens its life. It quickly acts on the choice it makes without hesitation. Ladies and gentlemen, which of the two decisions is your amicdola telling you to choose between publishing and not publishing? If you have chosen publishing then why don’t you fight aggressively and publish more and more papers despite the challenges you are meeting or the negative feedback you are receiving from the reviewers and editors? You should positively accept that negative feedback provides an opportunity for you to improve the quality of your paper. If your paper is rejected you should resend it to another journal which may accept it for publication. Journals are not the same. Take advantage of the internet and send your paper to open-access journals. Such a journal is good because it exposes your paper to more readers and give you more citations. However, checkout for those that are not genuine.


This is another avenue for increasing your publication output. Other avenues include building regional and international research networks with peers; attending conferences, seminars, colloquiums, and workshops. To improve self-citations you should try areas of research where there is limited output. Review research limitations and recommendations in journal articles and theses and look for potential areas for new research in your area. Your department can annually come up with a list of themes that address your departmental needs. To overcome shortcomings of small sample sizes you should use mixed methodology. The list goes on. But most importantly, ladies and gentlemen, you should write your research goals down and draw a time planner that will remind you about the number of papers you should publish per annum. Junior lectures can set themselves a target of publishing at least 2 articles per year; Associate Professor 4 articles; Professor 8 articles and so forth.

As an institution you should come up with a model that can be used to improve your research and publication output. According to Aithal (2016), such a model can give you an idea on how to involve students and staff in your institution’s research and publication, and that the model should be curriculum and industry focused. Aithal believes that the quality of higher education depends on the ability of the institution in new knowledge creation; knowledge creation depends on the institutional research and publications by both faculty members and students; and institutional publication is measured by calculating its annual average publications.

Aithal’s (2016) model comprised the following components: Organisational objectives and policies; supporting facilities such as a research centre, IT facilities, online databases; strategies for increased research productivity such as recruiting faculty members with research experience or passion; time for individual and institutional research projects; research and publications target for each faculty member; periodic national and international conferences; teams that publish in international journals, especially open access journals that will give your articles more readership and citations; promotions and increments based on productivity.

I find this model very useful and I would recommend it for any institution, perhaps with a few other components such as editing support (to overcome the language barrier), and recognition of mentoring, a very time consuming aspect of research and academics.

we raise our glasses
we raise our glasses

We raise our glasses to a year of great success

In conclusion ladies and gentlemen let me urge you to individually and collectively re-examine your research and publications productivity. As indicated earlier, according Stovall (2017), productivity is a process that begins with defining your own success, establishing a mission, evaluating your passion, creating motivation, and communicating. Align these with your institution’s, ladies and gentlemen. Think outside the box. Go against the norm that research is a waste of time. You already have all the necessary tools, in the form of research skills. My greatest desire is to see you take action now and beat any form of rejection that impedes the publication of your findings. If not now, then when? If not you who is going to do it? My parting words are that perseverance and hard work is the key to successful academic research and publishing. I am looking forward to your success, and once you acquire the vision of your future which contains your definition of success, you will never be the same again.

Happy reading!        Happy reading!         Happy reading!

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