The word ‘branding’ applied to academics is so pretentious that I feel dirty just typing it, but it’s a good way into thinking about how you are seen as an academic based on the decisions you make. I think that a lot of assume that we should brand ourselves according to our specialism: there’s Professor X, who knows the most about mutation, or there’s Professor Green who knows the most about mangling songs. However, there are now strongish incentives (in some disciplines – mostly social science?) to maintain some sort of generalist knowledge to further comparative, interdisciplinary and/ or ‘impact’ work. In each case, your audience may not necessarily benefit from your fiddly knowledge of a subject but, instead, appreciate how it fits into a wider picture. Let me give you some rationalised and glossed-over examples of my career to make the point:
- Comparative work. I’ve been paid to go to Japan 4 times (3 since 2011, 2 this year) on the back of my work on Scottish devolution. The most useful stuff here, even for academic colleagues, is the Scottish Politics textbook I did with Neil McGarvey. My most recent trip was to give talks to a public and practitioner audience where, again, few are interested in the Scottish navel.
- Interdisciplinary work. I’ve been working on collaborations with colleagues in subjects such as physics and psychology, The most useful stuff here is a public policy textbook I did in 2011.
- Specialist work. I’ve been making some good links with US colleagues, including Chris Weible (editor of Policy Studies Journal), who asked me to co-author the ‘Schlager chapter’ in the 3rd ed. of Theories of the Policy Process (you may have to trust me on how good that is). Again, this came out of work I did bringing together a discussion of theories after doing a textbook.
So, I’m convinced, based on some anecdotal evidence (which I’ve manipulated to suit my argument) that this more general textbook (and bloggy) work has been crucial to my career development – perhaps since it has helped me write in a more accessible/ less jargony way. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed me to maintain a broad knowledge in particular fields, including policy theory and one particular area (Scotland/ UK). It is no substitute for the REF-type work we all have to do but, then again, it may not hurt either (my big book is underpinned by the policy theory work I analysed while writing a textbook).