Image by Françoise Foliot circa 1902

If Ivory Towers exist, then there must, by extension, also exist elephant graveyards. Somewhere out there exists fields of dead rotting elephants, elephants that have been massacred by poachers. Which is to say, the existence of Ivory Towers is only possible if and only if we acknowledge that the brutal practice of poaching — killing elephants for pleasure and for trade and commerce is being actively ignored by all who occupy the Ivory Towers. For the stench from the elephant graveyards never wafts in the direction of the towers.

These were the thoughts going through my head as I was logging onto the CDMI hosted workshop, How to get published in academic journals, on May 12, 2022. For every publication that we get to see in academic journals, there’s got to be these rancid decomposing corpses of papers that never made it into the journal, because the scholarship was pedestrian and/or not up to snuff. I couldn’t help but think about the pain, the sorrow, the putrid stench of ideas that never got a chance to see the light of day, the validation that those writers never got, these olid characters were the ones that kept haunting me as I logged into yet another Zoom-based workshop.

As I prepared myself to enter the Zoom Room as a Flat-Stanley version of myself, greeting me in the room were the generous cast and crew from the CDMI and the editors of Feminist Media Studies, Digital Humanities Quarterly, and Social Media & Society. The editors had some sage advice on how to navigate the Squid Games of academic publishing. And I found myself not able to take in the upbeat narrative that I was seeing and hearing in the room. It wasn’t the headspace that I was in. My thoughts were marinating in the ideas I had come by in a few articles1 recently, Academic Moneyball2, ‘Moneyball’ for Professors?3 and The ‘Moneyball’ solution for higher education4. These articles were circling around the logic of sabermetrics and how it could be adopted in academia. Billy Beane’s mantra of getting on base was the theme that united all these articles. There was also the idea of failure, that I was grappling with and reading pieces like the one by Johannes Haushofer, the Princeton University professor who decided to publish his CV of Failures; or Fuckup Nights, a global movement and event series where entrepreneurs come together to shares stories of professional failure. I particularly liked how the focus of Fuck Up Nights happens to be building community around sharing and learning from each others failure, something I wish academics would also try their hand at.

And with these articles taking up a lot of real estate in my head, I kept thinking about how the pandemic made pursuing an academic career, what was always already a solitary pursuit and isolating experience, just a tad worse. So when the question and answer period of the workshop came around, I wanted the editors to cede this space to think about how it is that as scholars, one is expected to manage failure, cope with rejections, and bounce back after losing out on grants and scholarships? What does strength training and developing resilience look like when it comes to learning to navigate the hostile terrain of academic publishing? How are we expected to develop the competencies, fluencies, and literacies to navigate through failure, rejections, and loss, as we work through our research and try to communicate our research ideas in the scholarly community?

I posed my question, and the answers struck a chord! The editors started talking about the stuff I hadn’t given much of my time and consideration, they filled in for me what was crucial and missing. If we stop thinking about the h-index, the impact factor, the metrics, the key performance indicators, the hit rate, the kill ratio, the capacity to pump out articles ad nauseam, etc. If we take a moment to step back from the rat race of it all and begin by asking who am I talking to? and who do we want to be in conversation with? Then and only then can we as academics engage in ‘publishing with care.’ To be in community with those whose work and scholarship we hold dear to our hearts, whose work we cherish and respect when we strive to be in conversation with them, we are bound to find ourselves in community, making academic kin, and not feel isolated and adrift chasing the next citation.

It was all slowly beginning to make sense to me, in that, rather than dwelling on the big scholarships and fellowships that I missed out on; rubbing salt on my rejection sensitivity, if I were to pay attention to getting on base, if I spent some time cultivating unusual or unpopular specialties, there’s a there is an unconventional path that I could carve for myself. And I thought to myself, so what about when it comes to getting published in academic journals? What if I didn’t try to get into the marquee journals, the big name ones, that have their own scholarly discourse networks and expect you to have specific kinds of social capital; what if I didn’t try to get my writings into those places. Instead, what if I were to reimagine the kind of scholarly outputs I can produce and produce more of them? Always having something to show meant I was accruing traits that would allow me to advance and, by extension, progress. What if they were blogs, workshops, podcasts, interviews, or non-peer-reviewed pieces? I was so glad to hear the DHQ editor endorse this idea of scholarship. The idea of getting your idea out there in which iteration it is in and working through the idea through various iterations and publications of various types and calibre was strongly encouraged. That was such a good feeling! Knowing that sometimes less than perfect pieces can begin to gain momentum and you as a scholar can build a repertoire for the work that you are doing in the field. It is a different way of thinking about scholarly publications and getting published.

To circle back to the question, can they smell the rotting elephant corpses in the Ivory Tower? I think what I took away from the workshop was that the value of the elephant is not measured by the amount of ivory you can extract from it. An elephant is worth much more than its weight in ivory. The matriarchal and multigenerational family herds of elephants care for and tend to their calves. They babysit the babies of different mothers in the herd and celebrate the memory! I was so wrapped up in thinking about pandemics, wars, and extreme weather events that knowledge production didn’t feel like a life-giving practice rather, it felt very extractive, it felt futile, yet another kind of accumulation through dispossession. It was helpful to hear from these mindful practitioners of knowledge production that there were other ways of navigating this space.

1 CV of failures: Princeton professor publishes résumé of his career lows | Princeton University | The Guardian

This Princeton professor’s list of his failures is the most reassuring thing you’ll read today – Vox

2 Dan Dustin, James Murphy, Cary McDonald, Brett Wright, Jack Harper & Gene Lamke (2014) Academic Moneyball, SCHOLE: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education, 29:2, 43-52, DOI:

3 ‘Moneyball’ for Professors? MIT Sloan Management Review,

4 The ‘Moneyball’ solution for higher education, Politico Magazine.

Arun Jacob
Arun Jacob

Arun Jacob (he/him) is a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, working in the Media, Technology, and Culture concentration. His research interests include examining the media histories of educational technologies.