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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.