Cinderella – the academic edition

woman in gray sweater drinking coffee
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on

Once upon a time in a university* not too far away, worked a lecturer, called Ella (short for Cinderella). In her department**, there also was a very prolific academic named Professor Roberts and her two post-docs, Taylor and Alex. Prof Roberts was a well-known researcher in her field who had won countless million-pound grants and had published so many journal articles, she had lost count.

Ella rarely brought up her research activities during the research meetings as she hated the sniggering from Taylor and Alex. Just because her research was in an obscure area that had little attention from either the research grant bodies or journals, did not make it less interesting or useful.

Prof Roberts was keen that her team concentrated on her ground-breaking research and made sure to offload any teaching she could on Ella. Ella did not mind the teaching. She enjoyed talking to her students, getting them to those a-ha moments and thinking up different methods she can help to inspire them to think beyond the assessment. But sometimes in those late hours of frantically marking assessments or crying at 2 am over the anonymous remarks made by one or two students on how they find her boring, she imagined having the luxury of buying out all her teaching time with research grant money and being a sought-after academic.

Ella was happy to continue with her academic life of teaching and crafting her new ground-breaking journal article. She wrote between coffee meetings, on the train commute and in those still moments when an important person forgot about or was unexpectedly delayed to a meeting. The day she submitted the article, she held her breath until she got the notification email. However, after six rejections in two years,  (including three desk rejections), she didn’t bother even looking for the notification email.

But if Ella was expecting to make any career progression, her research outputs and impact were holding her back. She knew that no matter how extraordinary her teaching was if she did not have any high-impact research much less publications, the promotion panel was not going to look twice at her.

Ella decided to do what Prof Roberts, Taylor and Alex thought was unthinkable, she was going to submit her article into a low ranking journal – one with only a Scopus score***! Miraculously, almost like a fairy godmother was looking out for her, it got in – the second reviewer was harsh and although still held reservations about the findings, the reviewer felt that she had addressed the comments sufficiently to warrant publication. She could not believe it, she must have downloaded the paper a hundred times. And even Taylor and Alex sniggering when her article was declared as being of a quality that is recognised nationally, could not take away her pride in it.

After several long months of her tweeting her article, sharing it on ResearchGate and a failed attempt at talking about it on TikTok, her article only had 9 unique views (8 hers and one from her mother) and 1 citation (a self-citation). She had taken to only downloading her paper once a month now.

A couple of months later, in a university in a nearby country, Prof Shaheen, an eminent professor, was being driven mad trying to solve a problem. She was searching for an answer on Google Scholar when Ella’s paper came up. Prof Shaheen clicked on the paper and waited for the pdf to load, but then her computer decided to do an automatic restart and update. Prof Shaheen let out a groan and grabbed her phone and loaded up Ella’s paper. She could not believe it – this paper was a fit. The answer to her problem was right there staring at her. Ella’s paper could open up a whole new and different way of looking at the problem. It could create a whole new field. But being that Ella’s article was in a low-ranking journal, Prof Shaheen cross-checked her interpretation with her team who all agreed with that this was what they had been looking for.

Within months, Ella was being invited to visit Prof Shaheen and then onto the Guest Lecture circuit. Academics across the world were inviting her onto their grants and onto papers. She even had a spot on doing a TED talk. She could not believe it! Within a year, her obscure paper and had tens of thousand views and over a hundred citations. Because of her new-found research fame, her department was willing to shift all of her teaching load to Taylor and Alex but Ella could not ignore the students who brought her joy and meaning to her academic life when everyone else had turned their backs on her.

Ella was set for academic life. She could now live happily ever after on this paper for the rest of her academic career life, doing the teaching and research she loved (well, at least until the next promotion rounds when they would like more impact).

The End


* This story is purely satirical. Any resemblance to any person (or university), living or dead is purely coincidental. The inability to get an article published in a journal, however, resembles my life closely.

** The department described here does not resemble my department whatsoever – where everyone is lovely and we have a great time together. I can’t think of a better place to work 🙂

*** This is not a reflection on the quality of any journals with a low Scopus score but rather a reflection on the academic community’s attitude towards these journals. Plus – I’m trying to write satire – I need to use some heavy stereotyping.

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