Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Academic publications, or Ada's first lecture

Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is a critical component of academic life. The old adage of publish or perish rings true for many university lifers. Your credibility, reputation and ability to garner scholarships, research grant money, tenure and promotions all depend, in part, having your research evaluated by your peers. There is a seemingly endless list of journals publishing research on an equally impressive array of topics. These journals are ranked in terms of their impact factor. For example, getting published in a journal like Nature or Science is akin to winning an Olympic medal. Scholars typically aim to publish in both very specialized journals read only by their peers and high impact journals with an extensive readership. In addition to publishing in peer reviewed journals, academics must also share their work orally - at conferences and workshops, guest lectures, in undergraduate and graduate courses. 

During my doctoral studies I need to buoy up the academic publication and presentation section of my curriculum vitae. This post is a brief account of one such foray.

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Part I: The article

Last year, I co-authored a paper with Dr. James Ford, one of my profs at McGill University. It investigates one part of the climate migration puzzle, specifically how to provide protection for the people displaced by climate change. The following abstract summarizes the main arguments of the paper.

Climate change is expected to increase migration flows, especially from socially and environmentally vulnerable populations. These 'climate migrants' do not have any official protection under international law, which has implications for the human security of migrants. This work argues that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) can and should recognize climate migrants, and is the most relevant international framework for doing so. While not legally binding, the acknowledgment of climate displacement, migration and planned relocation issues in the UNFCCC's Cancun Adaptation Framework indicates a willingness to address the issue through an adaptation lens. Herein, the paper proposes a framework for setting the institutional groundwork for recognizing climate migrants, focusing on the most vulnerable, promoting targeted research and policy agendas, and situating policies within a comprehensive strategy.

If you want to read the full article, it's available on the Environmental Research Letters (ERL) website. ERL is an open access journal, which means that you can read and download articles for free. An added perk of open access journals (to academics) is that your research is more likely to be disseminated outside the academic community. 

For a short synopsis, try reading Liz Kalaugher's article on the environmentalresearchweb.org website. This online magazine targets a non-academic audience so the writing style is much less academic and reader-friendly. 

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Part II: The presentation

One of my key informants at Ateneo de Manila University kindly invited me to present this paper as part of their social sciences guest lecture series. I jumped at the opportunity. But it didn't unfold exactly as planned.

The lecture was set for Friday January 25 at 4:30 pm. As luck would have it, Frank received a text message from the MSI service center earlier that week, informing him that the long-awaited hard drive for our beleaguered laptop was finally ready for pick-up. We were in Manila for only a few days; Friday was the only available day for pick-up. Because the trek to the MSI office entails a short stint on the body-crushing MRT (Metro Rail Transit), bringing Ada was not an option. So Ada spent the day with me.

After a delicious lunch of bulalo (Filipino beef marrow soup) at Jek's Kubo (including a complimentary bowl of the broth and vegetables for "the cute baby with blue eyes"), Ada and I set off for Ateneo. We arrived early, with lots of time to peruse library resources and to photograph the outdoor art installation of quirky giant animals made of wire and coloured cans. I orated an abridged version of the presentation to a pair of giraffes.

Ada sandwiched between two giant giraffes at Ateneo de Manila University
Shortly before the scheduled start time I asked a fellow student if he'd hold the baby during the presentation. He replied that it would be his pleasure. As the lecture hall filled up, Ada started to fuss. She was getting into one of those moods, the one in which she refuses to be held by anyone except mom and papa. 

I sent a frantic text to Frank.

When I was introduced, the remarks included the usual info - name, degrees, country of origin, research interests, etc. The remarks also included some commentary about changing gender relations (in which the father takes time off work to care for the children), work-life balance, parental leave in Quebec, and conducting research with a baby. 

I walked up to the podium, notes in one hand, baby in the other. I don't remember much about the words alternately flowing and stumbling from my lips. I do remember bouncing my daughter up and down on my hip, listening to her babble into the microphone, watching her make eyes at the audience. I remember feeling mortified and guilty; the guilt comes from wondering whether or not I am exerting white privilege by bringing my baby to work and expecting others to ignore the inconvenience. I remember stealing frequent glances at the door, willing Frank to enter the room.

A half hour later he does. Waltzes down the stairs to the podium, picks up the baby and exits the room. 

My knight in shining armor is also my yaya (Filipino term for nanny).

Despite (or perhaps because of) the distraction of my co-presenter, the lecture was well-received. I am very grateful that everyone I have met here in the Philippines, without exception, has been extremely understanding and receptive to accommodating a baby. Even when it entails listening to a lecture delivered (in part) by a seven and a half month old.

Reference: Christine Gibb and James Ford (2012) Should the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recognize climate migrants? Environ. Res. Lett. 7 doi: 045601

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