“One Format Doesn't Fit All” — An Interview with Ulrich Baer
Interviews

“One Format Doesn't Fit All” — An Interview with Ulrich Baer

Deeptanshu D
Deeptanshu D

Typeset Interview Series on Connecting Global Authors, Researchers and Publishers

Continuing our efforts to bridge the gaps in the existing world of academia, we recently got connected with Dr. Ulrich Baer, University Professor of Comparative Literature, Department of Photography and Imagining, Tisch School of the Arts from New York University.

Just to draw some familiarity with his works, he has authored one of the best books on the after-effects of 9/11 attacks on victims and their families, titled: 110 stories New York Writes after 9/11. Presently, he is providing his expertise for books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In a career spanning more than two decades, he has authored and edited several books and research journals only to present the complex, more profound meaning of different aspects of a certain topic in a simpler and accessible way.

We had the pleasure of interviewing him where he drew many similarities from his past, arcane literature to the present world, and at last, gave tips that young researchers can adopt to achieve success and repute.

1. There is a long list of works that you have undertaken in over two decades of your career. Could you share with our readers how you transcended from a scholar to a well-respected author?

Not a linear journey, but after 9/11, I edited a book of 110 writers responding to 9/11, and that book addressed the general public. After that, I felt I could use my training and expertise to make deep knowledge available to a broader audience in accessible terms. The events of 9/11 made me rethink my role as a scholar.

2. Since your journey has not been linear, could you share how you trekked various uphills that came into your life?

I have loved being an ivory-tower researcher, often looking out for opportunities for diving deep into arcane history and literature. However, I also like people, trying to understand their perspectives and thought-process over different topics (not all academics do!). Moreover, I loved and still do, working with various teams to build a better university experience for students. After working for 11 years in senior administration, I did not want to return to the once-cherished solitary existence of a scholar, and that’s why I am now editorial director of a press. I even host two podcasts with new guests each week. I like working in teams better, as I know it pushes me to try harder.

3. Besides the team effort, if we ask you to pin your success to one inner trait of yours, what will it be?

I have a lot of patience and tolerance for spending a lot of time assimilating knowledge by myself, reading for days and even weeks but then sharing what I learned with students and the public. I think the back-and-forth trips from deep immersion in the material to communicating it is the key to my professional success.

4. Please, share the experience of your first journal article. What were the challenges you faced back then due to lack of technology?

I submitted my first article as two hard copies and received hand-written edits in the margins. Nobody told me the abbreviations used for editing, so I had to learn those myself. The lack of easy editing forced me to think harder about each sentence – even minor changes entailed lots of work and re-setting! So the lack of technology made me think out my strategy before acting on it – a good lesson till today.

5. Share something about your recent ventures. What’s the vision behind it that you intend to continue on that venture?

I host two podcasts, Think About It and The Proust Questionnaire. I wanted to harness the power of a phone to give people access to deep conversations on important topics. I’ve been able to engage super-specialized academics in serious conversations without using jargon and by letting an audience witness in real-time how they develop their train of thought.

6. You have been involved in multidisciplinary projects for long.

So are you just working for your podcasts, or are there any projects you have been working on lately?

I have been currently writing introductions to the world’s greatest books – from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. These books, stories, and images have shaped who we are as people, whether we fully realize that or not.

But is public shaming and canceling culture not the same as pinning a scarlet letter “A” on someone who’s transgressed? Will science and technology save us or turn out to be a monstrous creation that turns against us, like Frankenstein’s creature? Is the first world’s outrageous exploitation of other continents preventable? Will a self-made tycoon rule the world?

I’ve also published a significant book on free speech in the university and will continue to publish on this topic and do podcasts on it. It’s a vital topic that cuts across many disciplines, affecting people in the real world. Without some clear thinking, people can really suffer immediate consequences in today’s online world for saying what others don’t like.

7. You have authored many journal articles to date. Can you tell us how today’s publishing domain is different from the time when you started?

The process of submitting, getting responses, and editing is streamlined. Most significantly, all academic journals are available online, which vastly increases readership. However, there still are not great editing platforms to format papers in the way they will appear in print/online. So there is a need for better platform, and back in the day, too many steps were needed to create a streamlined text.

8. What are your views on Open Access Journals? Been in this domain for such a long time, how well do you see the future of Open Access Journals?

There is a lot of money in academic publishing, but Open Access will become the model, and it should! There are ways to keep quality control but turn publishing into non-profits.

9. You’ve spent more than a decade on a university campus, grooming students towards research and other better aspects. What are the general mistakes that authors, very often, make?

They don’t realize that they are not writing for a specialized audience. Do your readers a favor and indicate why your points are important, and remind them of the who, what, and why aspects of your writing. Even academics can learn from good journalists who write for the general public. Also – don’t follow convention too obediently. If you need more space, claim it. If you need to write in rhymed couplets, do it. Don’t think one format fits all.

10. What advice would you give to such early-career researchers to avoid common mistakes while writing research papers?

Read the best papers in your field and model yourself on them. Don’t try to impress people with knowledge but try to draw them in and let readers follow your train of thought and argument. Don’t tamp down entirely your own excitement about your discovery. I don’t have recommendations right now for tech platforms, but I appreciate learning about new ones!