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Dr Piers Vitebsky, Social Anthropologist and the Head of Anthropology and Russian Northern Studies at the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, is pioneering a project to bridge the cultural gap between Russian research and that of the Western world. The project is bringing Russian research to a global audience through collaboration between researchers from the University of Cambridge and those from a University in Russia.
In 2012, Vitebsky was approached by North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in Yakutsk, Russia, and asked for guidance to improve their article acceptance rates in globally-recognised scientific journals. NEFU is a Federal university, a special status awarded by the Russian government to a select few universities. But provision of continued funding is dependent on their further academic achievement, measured in part by the number of journal articles published.
Four years on, the project is hailed as a success, with 20 journal articles either already published or accepted for publication, none rejected, and 10 more articles under review. It has also been pivotal for consciousness-raising, as many lectures were given in a mixture of Russian and English, exposing local students and senior academics to these new approaches, while researchers from both sides collaborated on field trips, gaining practical skills in data gathering and communication. Articles published have had a significant impact on the finances of NEFU, while the project has helped open the doors for research from a remote region of Russia to reach a global audience, showing how Russian academia has much to offer in terms of novel and innovative research.
This collaboration has been a springboard for change, engaging with young academics to invite an understanding of the global model for journal publishing and inspiring a shift in consciousness towards internationally recognised practices, in order to allow their research to count globally
Vitebsky’s programme was set up as a consultancy project, with the administrative support of Cambridge Enterprise’s Consultancy Services, to help Russian scholars write articles in a suitable style – and in English – to be considered for publication in internationally-recognised journals. Until now, the Russian academic world has been somewhat isolated from the global academic arena, with journal articles published almost entirely in Russian. Many senior academics in Russia have limited English language skills, and this has acted as a barrier to publishing research that can be considered by the international academic field. Accordingly, this project has put great emphasis on the training and encouragement of promising young scholars.
Vitebsky’s long association with Russia has placed him in a unique position to create a vital link between NEFU and the University of Cambridge, as the first westerner to live long-term with indigenous people in Siberia back in the 1980s. This collaboration is the first of its kind, and has led to social science papers written in this region being published in globally-recognised journals for the first time. All academics on the Russian team are themselves members of indigenous Siberian minority peoples.
Cambridge Enterprise assisted Vitebsky by putting a contract in place, which was complicated and took six months to finalise before the project could begin. Vitebsky put together a team of 10 anthropologists, all alumni or associates of the Scott Polar Research Institute’s long-running programme of Siberian Studies. These researchers, veterans of fieldwork in northeast Siberia, travelled to Yakutsk independently to work with partners from NEFU. They paired with local early-stage researchers and senior academics in Anthropology to conduct fieldwork, and then crafted jointly-authored articles in English that could be submitted to international journals.
Explaining the international publication process to both Russian academics and administrators was challenging. The peer review process was a foreign concept, as was the timescale: that it could take years from submission, review, revision and acceptance to publication. The team had to communicate to the University academics and administrators how the process worked, as it is so different from Russian processes. They held workshops at NEFU where they translated reviews and rejection letters (selflessly supplied by western colleagues) into Russian to explain what they should expect. This consciousness-raising was integral to the development of an understanding of internationally-recognised journal publishing.
Vitebsky has now been appointed an Honorary Professor at NEFU and is developing further projects there, while similar projects have sprung up throughout Russia. This collaboration has been a springboard for change, engaging with young academics to invite an understanding of the global model for journal publishing and inspiring a shift in consciousness towards internationally recognised practices, in order to allow their research to count globally as it deserves.