Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Publishing Advice for PhD Students


I've been thinking a lot the last couple of weeks about publishing as a PhD student. In the current job market, the phrase "publish or perish" seems like the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads more so than before. In the current job market, as PhD students, we're expected to publish but there are few guidelines about how we approach this or what a "good" publishing record looks like. In addition, there is little prep about how to prep for publishing your dissertation as a book, the first expectation once you've graduated.

So, while I certainly don't claim any expertise I thought I would share some of the things I've learned.
  • Conference papers are not journal articles. Neither are seminar papers for class. If your professors let you, write course papers as journal articles. Express this goal to them, and ask them to give you feedback towards this goal.
    • I was taught a great model for getting to a journal article. It may not work for you, but it works for me- Get an idea. Flesh it out into a conference paper. Submit it to a national conference in your field, present it. Take notes on the feedback you get. Use this feedback to go home and do more research. Write it as a journal article.
      • One of the things I like about this approach is that YOUR argument remains at the forefront.
  • I'm a big fan of having a scholarly blog (obviously, you're reading this). I like it for a few reasons. The first is that it forces me to write all the time. The second is that it's a great way to share your research- post your conference presentations on it, post research ideas or outlines, show your process. This gets your research in one form or another out there, it makes connections to other scholars, and lets you work out some writing/research issues. And finally, it's a paper trail. Posts are time stamped. I tend to post initial ideas, then research, then conference papers for research projects, as well as tangent posts like this. It's an easy way to prevent anyone from claiming credit for your work.
  • There's a hierarchy to publishing. Journal articles in peer-reviewed, known journals are what you're aiming for. Three or four  journal articles by graduation seems to be the minimum to be competitive these days. I was advised that no more than two of these should be dissertation chapters. Chapters in edited collections are good- particularly for the networking and contacts you'll make, but they still rate below journal articles. The advice I received was that you shouldn't have more than one of these under your publishing credits.
    • There's an ongoing debate going on about Open Access versus paywall journals. There are two sides to this- Open Access will turn up during Google Search, so keep this in mind when choosing article titles. Paywall journals index and come up in library searches. There are more and more strictly online peer-reviewed journals. These are worth checking out as they are usually started by lead scholars in their field. These are a great networking opportunity. However, be aware that this is in some ways a generational divide and hiring committees might not view these as highly as traditional journals, particularly if they're not in your field and don't know the journal/name. 
      • I was told that no more than one of these should be on your publishing list. Take it with a grain of salt. I think these journals are worth looking at and knowing about as part of your responsibility as a scholar. I also think that in some ways this depends on your politics.
  • Look at the journals you use for research projects, these are most likely the best journals to submit your own work to.
    • Be sure to read the author guidelines with a microscope. It's silly to work hard on a project and have it rejected because it doesn't do what was asked of you (just like we expect from our students).
    • Check out their reviewer guidelines. While writing reviews does not count as much as published articles, it is a great way to be a part of the conversation of your field, get the latest books in your field, and start professionalizing yourself.
      • If you are accepted as a reviewer, read the book as soon as you can, and turn the review around as soon as possible. Do not wait until the final deadline. Be open to revision if asked. If you earn a reputation for being able to turn things around quickly, you'll become their "go-to" person. A reputation as a professional is a good thing to start building.
  • If you get a revise and resubmit DO IT. At a SAMLA panel, an editor once said that this was a sign that the editor was willing to work with you, so why would you turn that down? Also, make sure you drop everything to revise and resubmit. You'll get a reputation for a professional work ethic and this will only help you.
  • If you get rejected, take a deep breath. I once got a scathing rejection that pretty much told me I had no business in the field. I was devastated. I'm not ashamed to say I cried. I doubted my career choice. And then I set it aside. I came back a couple of weeks later and went over the article submission and made notes based on the feedback to improve. Some rejections or reader's comments may be vitriol. Some may have some valuable feedback. You're never going to learn the difference if you only respond with an emotional response. Try to view it as a way to improve. 
    • Ask a professor you trust (in that field) to look at both your submission and the comments. See if they'll work with you on improving it.
  • If you're lucky enough to be asked to be a peer reviewer for a journal, remember one simple fact- the piece you're reading is written by a colleague. It is someone in your field. Your job as a reviewer is to give them the help they need to be a part of the conversation in your field. This doesn't mean to recommend acceptance if the article isn't up to snuff. But it does mean that viewing the author as a colleague should color your comments and your tone. There is a way to give constructive criticism without destroying someone or their work (see above). What tone or comments would YOU want to improve your work?
  • Ask one of your professors or advisers to share their book proposal(s) with you. Ask about the process of submitting a book proposal or shopping an idea. Once you graduate (and when you're expected to do this) you may not have them as a readily available resource, so take advantage of them while you can. Practice writing a book proposal based on your research and get them to look at it and offer notes.
    • Ask them as well about the process of meeting with editors about projects as conferences.
So those are my thoughts. What about you? If you're a PhD student or candidate what advice have your gotten that is good? If you're a scholar, what advise do you have for us?

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