Ping pong with my enemy and other publication strategies

I was invited in Paris last Friday to talk about my position as a junior group leader and how to apply for it. I ended up having to answer three times in a row the question “But do you really have PhD candidates?” (after me saying exactly that a couple of times already), but I also had more satisfactory communication experiences within my 24 hours there. And there was a real spring experience involved too, and that was a blessing in these times where, in Berlin, we barely reach the freezing point at around 2 PM in the sun (only if protected from the wind).

I won’t write about the crazy Easter collection my favorite chocolate shop had on display (you can see it there and it really has nothing to do with the object of this blog), nor about the collapse of the Orlyval traffic (just as Parisian to me as the exquisite and expensive chocolate), nor about the book directed by Aurèle Crasson I bought at Gibert Joseph and have been devouring since then (on which I will certainly blog soon). I will tell you, though, that I met a PhD candidate who played ping pong with my worst (academic) enemy and managed to turn him, while playing ping pong, from angry for her not having translated his text, to a nice guy. I never imagined villains playing ping pong. With PhD candidates. And then turn nice. Somehow, something is missing in this picture of academic Small-World-iness. But I suppose I was not meant to know more about it, just to proceed my journey carrying the image of ping pong for my nightmares to deal with.

What I really want to write about is my experience concerning the way open access was discussed with PhD candidates who want to engage an academic career. Publishing the dissertation was the most interesting point, especially with PhD candidates who were settled half in France and half in Germany. In Germany, you have to publish you thesis in order to be authorized to “wear the title”. In France, you mainly have to survive a 4 to 5 hour-defense, and then you are good to go as a doctor. Although publishing the dissertation is an administrative necessity in Germany, there remain a wide range of ways to do so, within which you have to choose the best deal in terms of relation reputation/expense. I appreciated a lot the way Sabine Lammers from the Hamburger Edition presented the deals that are acceptable and those that are less interesting, and why they are to be considered so. Far from just defending the position of the publishing house she works for, she tried to give the PhD candidates a sense of the market they become part of in the very moment when they engage into the publication of their dissertation. I realized how tempting it must be for publishing houses to rush on those truly innocent preys and how many, many ways there are to squeeze money out of their need. Comparatively, and although it is still a non-canonical option in the Humanities even in France, having the possibility to make your dissertation available on TEL is not only a decent alternative, it also shows what open access means for young scholars: namely that they should care about the way they can have their work be known, not how they can have their work be sold.

To be true, I regret not having published my dissertation, because not having the book as an object in the hand means that I will never get closure with what was the greatest and the worst solitary adventure I ever had. And ever since I moved to Germany ten years ago, I have been suspecting that it would soon be fatal to me in the German academic system. It still hasn’t to this day, which I consider one of the great mysteries of my way through German Academia and will probably wonder about until retirement.

But now I really have to write my second book (which will technically be the first one). And to publish it. Am already thinking about the cover.


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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