How to be a prolific researcher

Headshot image of Nabamita Dutta.Nabamita Dutta, associate professor of economics, researches the overlapping areas of economic development and new institutional economics, political economy, gender economics and entrepreneurship.

UWL economics professor with 40 + peer reviewed publications shares how she writes, networks, perseveres and more

Nabamita Dutta is an associate professor of economics who has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles to date on various topics of economic development ranging from foreign aid to to entrepreneurship. Dean of the College of Business Administration, Laura Milner, encouraged Dutta to be interviewed. Dutta answers a variety of questions related to her prolific publishing record.

Q: What are your tips for finding the time to write?

Find research that excites you. Finding time for research is extremely challenging amidst our heavy teaching and service loads. But once a research project excites me, it’s hard for me to stop unless I have fully explored the question. Often research publications are an outcome of pursuing exciting questions, but they have never been my primary goal. Finding answers to questions has always been the primary goal. I often work on my papers in the department until late into the evening and spend a considerable part of the weekend writing. This has become more challenging and stressful over the years as my service load has gone up quite a bit. However, because of the excitement of working on research, sometimes long hours do not seem as long.

Seek out motivated co-authors. I have been fortunate to work with wonderful co-authors from varied backgrounds, and many are from research-intensive institutions. Such co-authors keep me highly motivated both in terms of producing quality work and working at a quicker pace. We divide up the work based on strengths. However, keep in mind that sometimes collaborations don’t work out. If you end up having to do the majority of work on a paper, don’t repeat the mistake. But, more importantly, don’t give up on the idea of working with new people.

Q: How do you find research topics?

In the years following my doctoral degree, my research interests have revolved around the focal points of my dissertation, as is true for many in academia. Reading a lot of papers by other scholars and being aware of the research in one’s particular sub-field is very important. Also, I cannot stress enough how reading papers in related sub-fields provides a lot of ideas for new research. Economics is intimately linked to both historical and current issues, so, of course, reading analyses of current issues like op-ed pieces in The New York Times or The Economist can help a lot. Additionally, reviewing papers sent to me by editors also helps with the growth of new research ideas. As your citations grow alongside your own publication record, one is bound to receive more papers for reviews.

Q: Does networking with editors or other authors play a role in getting published?

Networking is quite important for a successful publishing career in academia. I am lucky to be able to write with people from more research-intensive institutions. As one publishes more in reputable journals, editors may start noticing a particular scholar’s work. That said, there are no simple formulas. Though it understandably competitive to publish in A and A* journals, it is less recognized that it can be equally challenging to publish in a B journal. For instance, less than 20 percent of over 500 journals in the field of Applied Economics ranked by the Australian Business Dean’s Council in 2013 fall within the A and A* categories, while around 30 percent fall within the B category. I have always diversified my risk by working on a variety of papers, making sure to shoot for papers that are of very good quality to the top journals.

Networking is often done during conferences, which can be overwhelming. This is where I have met a lot of my co-authors and editors. I have often approached people who have more publishing expertise than me with a new research idea. If the idea has potential, I have ended up working with them. Be brave and approach those who are further down the career path than you! In a similar way, through my co-authors or simply during discussion sessions at conferences, I have had conversations with editors or potential referees. Perseverance is the key to the entire process.

Q: How do you incorporate your research into your teaching?

I definitely incorporate a lot of research outcomes in my teaching. Researching in my areas of interest helps me enhance my knowledge and get a better grasp on the subject matter. For the upper-level classes, it is all the more important to expose the students to ongoing research and contextualize the findings to current issues. It is challenging to keep up with the ongoing research without investing oneself in the process on a daily basis. Many times while explaining the recent findings in the literature to the students and having a discussion on specific topics, a new research idea will hit me. In that way, the process of teaching and research are complementary to me.

Q: Do you get feedback from others before you submit? If so, who?

Yes, definitely! Feedback greatly improves a paper. Presenting papers at conferences is a great way to receive feedback. Sometimes, one strategy can be to submit a paper to a top-ranked journal. Even if the paper gets rejected, one can receive valuable feedback from the referees. Also, I often discuss my research and the papers I am working on with my colleagues in the department.

Q: What is your most effective strategy to being published extensively?

One of the most important strategies is to have multiple papers under review in different journals at the same time. In economics, a single paper can take up to four or five years to get published, that after many rejections from journals followed by several rounds of revising and resubmitting! A major lesson that I learned from my mentors is that submitting one paper and depending solely on that is too risky. At the same time, it is always important for me to send papers that have the merit of ending up in top to journals to well-ranked journals. I have never worked solely on a single paper. People differ on this strategy, but since I usually work with multiple co-authors, focusing on just one paper at a time is challenging. As mentioned earlier, if you are able to effectively work with multiple co-authors, then you will be able to submit multiple papers to multiple journals at the same time. Research needs a lot of perseverance and hard work! Perhaps most importantly, one should not get frustrated and give up even after several rejections. I have been there and continue to be at there at times, but the excitement of new research ideas should keep one going.

Q: Can you describe your research?

My research examines the overlapping areas of economic development and new institutional economics, political economy, gender economics and entrepreneurship. Institutions were traditionally simply perceived as organizations (e.g. the Federal Reserve, IRS, or World Bank; and more generally individuals, firms, states) whose interactions led to economic outcomes. A far richer and more inclusive notion of institutions, as defined by Douglass North in the 1990s, views them as humanly devised constraints that shape human actions. This latter viewpoint is taken by a growing body of economic research that is known as the New Institutional Economics. This area, which is perhaps not as well known outside of economics, provides an incredibly rich new lens to study the social, legal and cultural norms and rules that underlie economic activity.

The questions I have explored in my research so far can be classified into three broad categories: how different institutions shape various development outcomes; the interaction of institutions with macroeconomic variables (such as growth or income among several others) to determine development outcomes; and what factors shape institutions over time. Development outcomes range from GDP growth, income per capita, entrepreneurship, labor market outcomes, foreign aid, capital inflows, and financial markets. Institutions in the broad sense described above can encompass political institutions (e.g., autocracies or democracies), checks and balances, economic institutions (e.g., property rights, press freedom, or economic freedom), and labor market institutions or social institutions (e.g., laws related to human rights). Several of my papers incorporate a significant component of political economy, such as the impact of political institutions on capital flows, how entrepreneurial outcomes are affected by political agents, how political institutions are molded over time, and so on.