doctoral publishing, publication practices, publishing from the thesis, supervising student publishing
By Claire Aitchison
In my last blog I wrote about the benefits of publishing during doctoral candidate. Here I wish to revisit the topic looking more particularly at the work of supervising research students who wish to publish.
In some disciplines, especially in the hard sciences, publishing during the doctorate has a long history and is accompanied by well established publication-appropriate practices. I have worked with many students for whom this has been the case. One example involved water management research which consisted of a number of individual case studies and experiments conducted sequentially over the course of the candidature. Each of these smaller projects was described as complete and separate studies containing an account of the relevant literature, research question, methodological approach and findings. This system enabled the researcher to write the relevant chapter and a journal publication in tandem as their candidature and research progressed; it also facilitated post-completion publications and minimised major rewriting.
In another instance, a supervisor I know insists her nursing students do a systematic review of the literature – right from the outset, requiring it to be written and submitted as a publication. With very little additional work, this output then becomes the literature review chapter of the thesis. For this supervisor, ‘writing for publication’ is a key pedagogical practice that she believes facilitates student learning – of the relevant literature, the methodology, and of the scholarly and publication practices of the field.
As more institutions have adopted various PhD-by-publication models, many such practices have become explicit and formalised – and indeed have made the task of reworking thesis chapters into publications redundant.
However, not all supervisors are necessarily well tuned to such approaches, and of course not all research projects are suitable. In addition, some supervisors may not regard student publishing during the doctorate is a high priority, or they may not wish to encourage publication during the doctorate because of concerns about competing demands on their own, and/ their student’s availability.
In the humanities and social sciences there isn’t the same tradition of students publishing during their candidature, and there isn’t a tradition of supervisors co-authoring with their doctoral students, as occurs in lab-based, large-scale science research. In the social sciences and humanities, doctoral study is mostly an individual enterprise, and even when I was doing my PhD less than 10 years ago, publishing during candidature was rare. The vast majority of supervisors saw their job as assisting students to do the research and write the examinable thesis. This has changed considerably and many more supervisors in the social sciences and humanities see writing for publication as a component of doctoral study.
But supervising doctoral students to write for publication can be a labour intensive and difficult challenge for supervisors.
Why would supervisors be interested in taking up the extra work required to support a student who wished to publish during their candidature?
There is an understandable hesitation on the part of those who are supervising students already struggling with their doctorate. It’s not uncommon to hear supervisors speak about the heavy workload involved in simply getting a student to fulfil the basic requirements for completion. Where the doctoral degree does not require researchers to publish, and where supervisors will not be co-authors, should a supervisor feel obliged to help with the additional work of publication?
I know students in the humanities and social sciences often feel awkward and hesitate to ask their supervisors’ assistance in their publication ambitions. And yet most students these days want to publish; at a minimum, they see it as a career imperative.
How can we acknowledge and respond to this desire? What is our role, and what are our obligations regarding students who want to publish?
If anyone wishes to share strategies or practices they’ve found useful for supporting student publishing, we’d be pleased to hear your story. Or if you can share a student perspective, that would also be welcome.
Jill McKeowen said:
Thanks for this Claire. It can be a contentious issue when working as a Learning Adviser with HDR students, as some consider the publishing endeavours of students to be beyond our role as Learning Advisers. This view seems to be based on a distinction made between ‘student’ as someone who completes a thesis, and ‘early career academic’ who publishes in journals.
However, it is not so easy to make such a distinction. You and others have written about the issues of academic identity in being a PhD student. Many PhD students are already staff members, but they are then cast back into a research student role. Or if they are not yet staff members, they have to ‘step up’ and assume the role of ‘apprentice’ academic. The former can be confusing for some, while the latter can be daunting. And then there is the almost semi-professional model of the lab-based research team. Whatever the situation, it constitutes the identity of the researcher who writes the PhD thesis, and their position in relation to the research, all of which has implications for the writing voice.
My own view is that, as a Learning Adviser who facilitates writing groups for HDR students, my role is to help them develop as academic writers. Fundamental to being an academic writer is an understanding of ‘voice’, and the different rhetorical purposes in writing a research proposal, a thesis or a journal article. In fact, it’s a similar principle to having a mix of disciplines in writing groups, whereby students learn to more clearly define their own discipline by relating and comparing to others. (And my students have expressed this view.) Having a broad understanding of the difference between writing a thesis and writing for publication can only be useful.
So I focus on enabling students to write with clarity and cohesion, whatever the context. It is up to the research student, with their supervisor’s support, to work out where their time and energy is best spent.
Thank you Jill for reminding us of the tensions that extend beyond the student/supervisory relationship, especially in regard to the implications for Learning Advisors. In Australia, the role of Learning Advisors is often prescribed locally according to the skills and interests of those in the position and in response to the requirements of management, institutional and funding priorities. So yes, as you suggest –supporting publication writing may well fall outside the expectations, interests and capabilities of some Learning Advisors. Your approach that recognises the requirements of different academic identities seems a powerful way to frame our work with a variety of scholars with differing needs. Helping scholars understand and construct a repertoire of ‘voices’ to match different identities and writing tasks is a great strategy. Thanks for sharing – so valuable for building pedagogical capacity.
Ashish Dutt said:
This blog was a chance discovery and in some ways I am glad that I stumbled upon it. As a student i have read numerous papers related to my subject of interest and i have found a peculiar trend. As Claire had pointed out, i have noticed many recent publications in IEEE are simply summations of previous research with very little new content. In my perception this can be considered the easiest way to increase the count of one’s publications, but it also redundant information.
Hi Claire, things in the ‘softer’ fields must be changing. I am in the education stream and I am required to have published at least once during my doctoral journey. My supervisors are aware and geared up for it. I think if, as a student, you have this conversation early – like I did – it sets up the right expectations.
Fabulous thanks Brian. Yes, how often we remind each other of the importance of clarifying aims, hopes and fears in early student /supervisor meetings! You say you are ‘required’ – I wonder if this is a ‘requirement’ in the sense that you need to publish in order to fulfill the requirements of the degree – or is it an agreement between you and your supervisor, and/or the School, that is an ‘added extra’ rather than a compulsory component of the degree?