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Insights from Top-Ranking Scholars on their Research Productivity – Part 2

Insights from Top-Ranking Scholars on their Research Productivity – Part 2

American Marketing Association Doctoral Student Special Interest Group

The academic world has long wondered about the factors that lead some research scholars to publish prolifically in the top journals in marketing. Especially intriguing is the strong publication record of research scholars who rank among the most productive researchers in marketing, year after year. Is there a secret formula? If yes, what is it? What does it take to follow in their footsteps and build a strong publication record over the years? In Part 2 of a series focusing on this question, AMA DocSIG reached out to the female scholars in the Author Research Productivity List for Premier AMA and Premier Marketing Journals (2011–2020) to learn more about their productivity and presence in the Most Published lists. At the time of the publication of this article, we received responses from Dr. Jennifer J. Argo, Dr. Jordan Etkin, Dr. Aradhna Krishna, Dr. Peggy J. Liu, Dr. Alina Sorescu, Dr. Catherine E. Tucker, Dr. Katherine White, and Dr. Karen Page Winterich, who provided insights on researching and publishing that can benefit doctoral students and young researchers. The insights from these highly productive researchers provide guidance on which factors drive research productivity and highlight the researchers’ unique perspectives as women in research. The top female researchers who shared their insights all agreed that several factors have contributed to their research productivity. While inherent qualities of individual researchers—for instance, hard work, perseverance, resilience, passion for research, and willingness to learn—play an important part in building a publication record in top marketing journals, some external and environmental factors—for instance, collaborations with coauthors, discussions with the marketing academic community, social support from the academic community and personal social circle, and reaching out to inspirational people—also drive research productivity. We delve deeper into these factors in this article.

According to Dr. White, Dr. Tucker, Dr. Sorescu, and Dr. Argo, choosing an interesting topic is one of the most important factors to publish research in the premier journals. As Dr. Sorescu states,


“I believe that the first factor that makes a paper advance through the review process is to be based on a very interesting topic/idea. One of the main traits of productive scholars is that they are able to identify these ideas. A paper can be perfectly executed; if its core idea is not exciting (at least to the review team), it will not get published. Reviewers may allow you to fix the method or the theory, but if they do not believe that the contribution is sufficient, the rest of the paper becomes irrelevant.” Dr. Argo reveals her approach to selecting interesting ideas to research, saying, “Many research ideas come from personal experiences, and I think that if they happen to me or my coauthors, they are likely to happen to someone else (suggesting that they are relevant to study).”

A strategic approach that can aid publication is one in which researchers identify topics that are interesting and relevant and have a clear contribution. Dr. Tucker notes that being the first to study new questions has played a major role in her consistent publications in the top journals. Dr. White states,

“The first factor that helps me in terms of publishing is to choose interesting topics where there is some space to make a contribution. One way I think I do this by selecting research topics that I am intrinsically motivated to work on, where I see some kind of problem or puzzle that I am motivated to solve. When you are genuinely motivated to pursue a given question, or you see a gap or inconsistency in the research that needs to be resolved, the ‘sweet spot’ of where a contribution might lie can often come to light. I don’t always jump on an idea as soon as I come up with it. I like to write ideas down and let them simmer for a while. I have written ideas down and returned to them years later, when I saw an angle or an avenue to make a contribution with the initial spark of an idea.”

Dr. Etkin’s process focuses on the testability of ideas that seem interesting. She says,

“I try to be very critical of my own ideas. I brainstorm constantly and read broadly, keeping notes on anecdotes, observations, and ideas that I find interesting. I also try to keep in mind that in order for interesting ideas to seem interesting, they need to be able to be tested in compelling ways, and I try to invest more in ideas that have potential both conceptually and practically.” Dr. Winterich also reiterates the importance of doing relevant research, emphasizing, “Make your research relevant. This factor is getting more and more weight even while it remains important to offer theoretical insights.  Be creative and think of how you can demonstrate the effect with realistic stimuli and also assess with actual behavior.”

At the same time, interesting ideas need to be supported by hard work, attention to detail, persistence, and openness to revise the theory or analysis if required. Dr. Sorescu summarizes these aspects aptly in underscoring the importance of “hard work, being very thorough and not cutting corners, and being willing to put in as much effort to ensure that the exposition and the analysis are as correct, thorough, and clear as possible.” Dr. Krishna and Dr. Liu underscore the importance of working hard on the writing to ensure that it is smooth and fluent, and consequently, creates a persuasive research article. Dr. Liu shares her story about learning to enjoy research writing over the course of her career.

“I learned to enjoy writing after taking ‘Writing from the Reader’s Perspective’ at the encouragement of one of my PhD advisors, Jim Bettman. I found that writing made a lot more logical sense to me. I enjoy writing (and rewriting) drafts now because I find it really helps me work out the logic of arguments and to think of holes in the logic from the reader’s perspective.”

Dr. Argo also notes that it is equally essential to keep the idea simple and avoid complexity in communication that might confuse readers and reviewers.  Dr. Krishna stresses the importance of time management as an essential skill, saying,

“In our highly flexible and unstructured academic world, I feel that time management is crucial – I tried to divide duties at home, have specific work times, learn what aspects of work I could parallel process with nonwork activities while not shortchanging quality times for the children … and I prioritized. This is especially important for women, since most women handle the lioness’s share of household and childcare work.”

Regardless of the approach that researchers choose to develop their ideas, Dr. Winterich urges researchers to be passionate about their research as they keep publishing in premier journals.She says,

“I’m genuinely very enthusiastic about my research and really curious to understand the effect. I can’t wait to get results of a study and see if predictions held (or if they didn’t and what can be learned from that to move forward). Of course, the enthusiasm for a project may wane temporarily after reading a rejection letter, but it does tend to return. This curiosity and enthusiasm keep things moving forward.”

Key factors that these top researchers emphasize are the perseverance, grit, and resilience to deal with a very common experience in academic research: rejection in the review process. Dr. Liu says, “Rejection bothers me less than it used to because I remind myself that (a) it happens to everyone, (b) it happens to most papers, and (c) there is idiosyncratic variation in people’s research tastes and judgment.” While even the most productive researchers may face rejection many times, rather than shutting down and giving up, they stay motivated and determined to give their best through the review process. Dr. Winterich identifies that the difference lies in their openness to feedback and willingness to revise their paper. This includes listening to someone else’s feedback, perhaps on a subjective matter, and putting in time and effort to truly improve the paper beyond surface-level changes. She further says, “This process will likely need to be done repeatedly for any one publication, and it is tempting to give up, particularly when the final outcome of the review process is uncertain, but it is those that keep pushing through and putting in the work who see success over the long term. As soon as you think you have all the answers, you’re headed in the wrong direction. You need to remain open to learning as you go—that’s research.”

In this regard, it is critical for young doctoral students to persevere and try again if they do not succeed at first. Dr. White narrates her experience:

“You may work years on carefully crafting a set of studies and perfecting your manuscript, only to get an immediate desk rejection upon submitting it to a journal. My record is a project that I started with an honors undergraduate student that did not get published until 12 years later—after she had completed her undergrad degree, master’s degree, doctorate degree, had a baby, and was already working for a couple of years as an assistant professor! You really have to learn to have a bit of a ‘thick skin,’ which can be difficult. Don’t take things too personally and try to take the feedback that you can act on.”

Dr. Winterich echoes this statement, saying,

“You need to separate yourself (your identity) from the outcomes of the review process. This separation helps to maintain the mental stamina to keep going. It may sound silly to some to think of this as even a possibility, but for others, they’ll understand because a rejection on a paper can feel personal, but we have to remember it’s not.”

Rejections can potentially demoralize and demotivate researchers, especially doctoral students and recent graduates, but Dr. Tucker stresses,

“The process is really very random, and rejection and even serial rejection does not necessarily mean your paper is no good. Ultimately, publishing a paper is a matter of luck a lot of the time and also being willing to signal a lot of hard work to the review team. What matters in the end, though, is whether the underlying idea was good. Ultimately, being published is far less important than having had a good idea.”

Most of the top researchers we spoke to also described the importance of being focused, patient, and willing to adapt and revise your research based on reviewers’ feedback while going through the review process and getting research published. Dr. Winterich explains,

“Each review process is different, and there’s a lot of subjectivity. As much as people want a recipe for success, it’s not that straightforward. There are some key ingredients—clear contribution, rigorous support, relevant phenomenon—but you need to be flexible and willing to adapt to highlight what others might see as valuable even if you don’t at first. Keep an open mind that how you initially viewed your research may not always be the best positioning for a compelling story.”

Dr. Sorescu urges researchers to approach the review process with a sense of humility, which helps view the reviewers’ feedback from the right perspective:

Reviewers are often right, and in many cases, the paper will be improved through the review process. Do not be afraid to completely revamp the theory or the analysis if it improves the paper. I have come to accept that there are multiple ways in which a paper can evolve, and it is not really the end of the world if reviewer pushes me in a direction that is not, in my opinion, optimal, as long as they do not ask me to do something that is wrong.”

While different researchers follow different processes during reviews, here’s Dr. Liu’s process:

“I enjoy thinking through journal reviews. When I get a revision invitation, I often write a draft of the revision notes before I start working on the paper or running any studies. This revision notes draft helps me mull over the big picture as well as the small details and to make sure that what I’m thinking of doing for the revision actually maps onto what reviewers have suggested.” Dr. Krishna adds, “Identify and build on your strengths; spot and work on your weaknesses.”

Another thought voiced by some of these researchers is to ensure that a research paper is at its best when it is submitted to a journal. As Dr. Sorescu and Dr. Argo point out, if there is a weakness in the paper, the reviewers will almost always point it out, as well as other issues. So, it is always better to address potential weaknesses before submitting the paper. Furthermore, it is a good practice to strive to address issues that reviewers identify in the review process and be honest about issues that cannot be addressed. At the same time, Dr. Argo encourages researchers to “celebrate even the smallest victories (it didn’t get rejected!),” as these small celebrations can provide the motivation to help carry researchers through the negative outcomes.

Meanwhile, the evolutions in the dynamic field of marketing also encourage researchers to work on timely, relevant, and new and interesting topics and can provide additional insights during the review process. As Dr. Winterich mentions, “While you’re going through the review process, you need to keep an eye out for other relevant research that is coming out and incorporate that. Additionally, be aware of the ‘hot topics,’ though I wouldn’t recommend chasing them.” Dr. Krishna suggests a forward-looking approach to identify hot topics: “One needs to look ahead a few years.  It is also really important to keep up with new methodologies being used.” Dr. Liu agrees, asserting, “It’s important to be very open to learning new methods, analysis approaches, and research tools and not to be afraid to try them out to see if they can improve the quality of your research.” She also suggests taking a cue from the premier journals, by being aware and mindful of what they are looking for and being up to date with their expectations, as they can provide direction and guidance in your research: “I think it’s important to keep up to date with reading editorials from the top journals and attending webinars/sessions when editors discuss their vision for the journal.” Dr. Argo adds, “Pay attention to editor transitions. Read the editorials they publish, as they will clarify what they are looking for in submissions. Make sure you have a good understanding of the journal’s expectations, policies, etc.”

Dr. Etkin suggests another approach to build your body of research in a focused area: leverage or extend the work of one research project to additional projects. She notes, “It can be very, very helpful if the reading and experimental design work you do for one project can be leveraged or extended to additional projects. Working in a focused space, particularly early on, gives you a greater understanding of the topic and ability to identify what would make for a meaningful contribution.” However, Dr. Etkin cautions that the flipside of working in a focused area is that it can sometimes lead researchers to pursuing ideas that feel more incremental in contribution and ideas. “These projects might be turned into A papers, but they aren’t as exciting to work on or read. Given how much time and energy go into every paper—even incremental ones—over time, it’s been increasingly important to me to pursue ideas I’m passionate about rather than ones I think I could publish.”

Most of the top researchers that we spoke to credit their collaborations with their research team and coauthors as key contributors to their consistent productivity, motivation, and learning over the years.  Dr. White and Dr. Winterich believe in collaborating with coauthors whom you enjoy working with, to create motivating work environments that promote quality research. Dr. White says,

“I choose to work with people whom I genuinely like, respect, and enjoy working with. I know that some researchers have a ‘complementarity’ hypothesis when choosing who to work with—that is, they choose coauthors who complement their abilities and can compensate for the skills they don’t have (i.e., if you are strong on writing, but weaker on statistical analysis, you choose to work with someone who is strong on the stats front). In practice, though, I tend to end up following a similarity and enjoyability heuristic: I select collaborators who are interested in topics I am interested in and whom I enjoy spending time with. Note that having amazing coauthors to collaborate with is the secret to having multiple top publications. One person cannot really do all of this stuff all on their own!”

Dr. Winterich recommends:

“If you can find coauthors you truly enjoy being around and talking with, it will make all the hard work more fun. You’ll look forward to calls, etc., because your coauthors are your friends.  On that note, make sure you choose good coauthors. If a coauthor isn’t pulling their weight in contributing to the project or consistently doesn’t prioritize your projects at the level you need them to, then don’t continue working with them. Perhaps you’ll need to finish off an existing project, but then branch out and find someone who is willing to work with you, contributing at an appropriate level and on a timeline that you need. Of course, you also need to be a good coauthor—putting in the time and your best effort when working with someone on a paper.”

 Dr. Etkin underscores the learning opportunities provided by working with coauthors, saying:

“I learned a lot from working with a broad range of coauthors that I had so much respect and admiration for, and I am really happy now when I can play that role for others.”

Dr. Sorescu also believes that reaching out to colleagues in the community who have published in premier journals can help researchers vet their ideas thoroughly.

In my mind, the most important step is to vet the idea of the study as thoroughly as possible with colleagues who have experience publishing in these top journals. Reviewers may allow you to fix the method or the theory, but if they do not believe that the contribution is sufficient, the rest of the paper becomes irrelevant. Once you have come up with an idea that multiple colleagues view as promising and exciting, the rest is just finding appropriate data and the right method to document these effects.”

On being asked to share their advice and insights from their unique perspective as women in academic research, many of the researchers we reached out to highlight the importance of balancing research, service, and personal demands on their time. They recommend taking on service-related tasks and assignments to the extent that is feasible and doable, without losing focus on building a solid research foundation. They also share their tips and experiences as women in research with regard to balancing professional and personal commitments. A few of these researchers share their experiences of reaching out within and outside the academic community for social support, and the impact of this social support on their lives. Their insights are powerful and invaluable for young researchers, especially women researchers, and hence, we reproduce them in full here. Our hope is that the advice of these productive researchers will encourage, motivate, and guide young researchers and doctoral students in the course of their academic journey.

Dr. Katherine White:

Three pieces of advice:

Get Comfortable Saying No: Research suggests that female professors take on more service work than their male counterparts. In addition, research shows that students make more frequent and more unreasonable requests of female professors than male professors. In addition, I seem to get a lot of requests from random people outside my organization asking me to do volunteer service work for them, do free consulting for them, write their papers for them, edit their papers for them, give them a dissertation topic, run a conference for them—you get the idea. I often ask my male friends when I get particularly outrageous requests if they get similar ones, and they just don’t seem to get these as frequently as I do. I do believe that one piece of advice to all of us, but perhaps especially to women in academia, is to learn that you can say no. You might have to do it more often than you expect to, and that is perfectly OK!

Consider the Playing Field Differently: It is also very telling to consider what happens to academics (and all people who are employed full-time for that matter), who also take on caregiving roles. Research has shown, for example, that when unforeseen emergencies occur, it is often (not always, but often) the female or the partner who takes on the more “feminine” role who makes career sacrifices to take care of family members. The most salient example of this is the fact that there have been marked declines in metrics of productivity among working women during the COVID-19 pandemic. The playing field is not always level when one of the parties has a spouse who can stay at home and the other party is the spouse who stays at home. Most female academics simply do not have a stay-at-home spouse. And I am not simply talking stereotypes here. Research shows that married female academics are almost always in dual-career marriages, while approximately half of male faculty have spouses who work full-time (I apologize, but I couldn’t find the data on same-sex partnerships!). I am very fortunate to have a spouse who helps with family responsibilities. Thus, one piece of advice is to choose wisely and select a supportive partner who uplifts you in your career efforts and embraces mutually sharing elements of caregiving, especially if you see yourself having children or taking on other caregiving roles.

Ask Yourself What Model of Productivity You Value: This isn’t about being a woman in academic research per se, but there is a very specific model of productivity that is being encouraged in our field—one in which competition, achievement, and raw output metrics are valued above all else. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it feels like there is an opportunity to step back and consider why we have this model of productivity in our field that is based on very “masculine” values. There is room to consider other models of productivity too—ones that take a more holistic view of what being productive means. One rule of thumb that I use when choosing projects is that I want to get on board with research where I can bring junior professors and graduate students on with me, in ways that can help build their own success. What about models of productivity that also help others and give back to the community or school in some way? Of course, giving back is not male or female, and many of our male colleagues are doing amazing things in terms of giving back and fostering the development of others. The question is though, why don’t we, as a field, hold ourselves more frequently to these other more “feminine” values? Could we have a conversation around why this is and whether this is how we would like things to be?

So, my last piece of advice is to consider what “productivity” means to you as a researcher. Do you care about raw counts of journal publications? For me, I view productivity as more of a balancing act in terms of all the things an individual wants to accomplish. I may be publishing in top journals, but I am also balancing family life (with twin daughters and a husky), running a research center, taking on a senior associate dean role, teaching, serving on three editorial review boards, serving as an associate editor, consulting, etc. All of this is to say, that we might want to consider what our “simply counting the numbers” view of productivity means and whether there are other ways to conceptualize it.

Dr. Karen Page Winterich:

Be conscientious of how much service you are doing, as women tend to do a larger share of service than men. This difference translates into less time for women to work on research, even if all else is equal (which it is often not, considering time spent on household management and potentially childcare). It’s important to be a team player and meet service expectations, but you don’t need to do extra, particularly as a junior faculty member still building your research foundation. The better job you do, the more you’ll be asked to do it, so do a good job, but politely decline taking on more than you need to.

There’s also a lot of implicit bias and double standards from students and colleagues alike. You can say and do the same thing a man does in the classroom, but you’ll likely be evaluated less favorably by your students, as you may be perceived as less knowledgeable because you’re a woman and either too assertive for a woman or too weak because you’re a woman. I don’t have all the answers to overcoming these issues, but it’s good to be aware these biases still exist.

Experiences will likely depend on the makeup of your department or college, but you’ll likely need to make a case or “fight” for yourself a bit more than you may think, so make allies with those that will support or “fight” for you instead of letting your accomplishments and contributions get overlooked. Most times you won’t get what you need without asking, but if you believe what you need is reasonable, then don’t be afraid to ask (but be prepared to have evidence for why it’s appropriate).

Dr. Alina Sorescu:

I was very fortunate to not experience any type of discrimination as a woman in academia. Most reviewers do not have time to look up the authors of the papers they review (I know I have never done so), so they would not know your gender, nationality, etc. The biggest challenge as a woman in academia is the long hours that one has to put in an academic career at a time when women typically have young children. I have two pieces of advice as a woman who has gone through the academic ranks while raising a family. First, learn to say no politely if it appears that you are getting more service assignments than male colleagues. Women tend to be more conscientious, and therefore, they tend to be asked to serve more than their male colleagues. Remind your department head of other service roles you have fulfilled and reiterate your commitment to advancing your research. Second, think of your salary as being smaller than it actually is and outsource household tasks that others can do for a much lower price per hour than it would take you to do it. Save all your time for your family and for your job; let others clean your house, pick up your groceries, or mow your lawn. Your most valuable resource is time, and possibly one of the most important skills is to manage it so that enough goes to your job to make tenure, and enough goes to your family to make sure that you and the rest of the family are happy. There is no successful individual in academia that publishes a lot and is also a perfect homemaker; trying to do everything would only lead to frustration.

Dr. Aradhna Krishna:

It’s much tougher for women to succeed overall. Besides the extra household and childcare work women carry, academic non-research activities are tougher—for example, establishing credibility in the classroom needs careful planning. Extraneous demands on women are higher too—perhaps, we appear more accessible.  We seem to have an innate desire to do more service, as well. Ending with an observation: I have noticed that, typically, male professors are considered full-time employees by their partners, whereas female professors are thought to have a flexible job that allows them to handle all the chores and various demands on time that come up in raising a family (doctor’s appointments, classroom visits, etc.). Time to change that.

Dr. Jennifer J. Argo:

Women get asked to do a TREMENDOUS amount of service (sometimes as the token female on committees but also because I think they have a different approach then many men—not better, just different) so learn to say “no.” Be selective in the service requests you pursue.

Share your victories with your department chair; don’t expect them to just find out. In the past, I haven’t shared nearly to the same extent as my male colleagues (many of whom I think are very forthcoming/public with the information), and I honestly do not think sharing this information has ever hurt, only helped them.

As a mom I used to feel guilty for leaving work to go and pick up my kids, missing a meeting to stay home with them if they are under the weather, etc. DON’T!!!!!!! Spending time with them is worth every second and should be guilt free. Others will understand and if they don’t, forget about them!

Dr. Peggy J. Liu:

I have benefited greatly from both female and male mentors in this field. I do think that having social support is critical. I am part of a women in academia group that provides a lot of support in terms of discussing unique challenges that women in academia face and also in terms of supporting each other’s successes. I think this has been an important group for feeling connected with other female academics. Outside of academia, having social support is also important. I have a toddler, and without my family helping a lot with care-giving, especially during this pandemic, I would not have been able to get as much research done. I think it is really important to recognize care-giving disparities that have disproportionately affected many female academics.

Dr. Jordan Etkin:

I have been fortunate in my career to be mentored by incredible people, including some amazing women. They have not just been mentors, friends, and supporters but also important role models for my own career aspirations. The best advice I can give would be to find people who inspire you and reach out. Get to know them, and if you have mutual interests, try to start a collaboration. Also, get input on your work from others, and give it when asked. Being comfortable talking about your ideas and receiving constructive feedback are really important skills!

Dr. Catherine E. Tucker:

My aim for every single female researcher who reads this is that ultimately there is nothing distinctive about being a woman as they progress through their career. It shouldn’t be the case that in 2021, we have never had a female editor or senior editor at Marketing Science[1]. But that is the case. And it is up to the younger generation of scholars to ensure that their gender is not something that is remarkable going forward.

            These top researchers acknowledge that multiple different factors contribute to their consistent research productivity, and their insights suggest that research is driven by a combination of intrinsic and environmental factors. The environment around a researcher, including their collaborations, the changing landscape of the marketing field, and support from the academic community, plays a crucial role in their research productivity. However, the researcher cannot create an impactful publication without the ability to identify a truly interesting idea, the hard work and attention to detail to create a research article that is well written with a clear contribution, and the resilience and passion to survive and thrive through the review process. The researcher will need to draw on their inner strength to take into account reviewers’ feedback while not taking it personally. Women in academia, specifically, may benefit from equipping themselves with an awareness of any biases that may exist in the field and being mindful in balancing the expectations and demands that they may encounter. Undoubtedly, the advice of the top researchers in the field will be valuable in enabling young researchers and doctoral students, especially women researchers and students, in building a strong and impactful publication record.


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