Gina Wisker, (Head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton in the UK) has been a guest author for us before – here she writes on the challenges and delights of publishing during doctoral candidature. If you’d like to know more –check out her new book Getting Published: writing for academic publication http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/getting-published-gina-wisker/?k=9780230392106&loc=uk
Like a seven-year-old whose front teeth have yet to grow back, your PhD in process is both delightful and lovable, awkward and unfinished. You’ll nurture it as it grows. Publishing the right bit of it while you are writing the whole might look like procrastination (why aren’t you getting on with this huge task?) but could really help you focus on defining your contribution to knowledge, and refining your discipline language. As you proceed through the later stages of your PhD and into the examination, there is nothing so psychologically supportive as knowing you have been accepted as a scholar in your discipline community by having your work peer reviewed and published:
‘doctoral candidates who publish on early phases of their work – it moves them ahead quite substantially. Their identity shifts to one of ‘now I am a researcher’. There is no doubt in my mind that publication is central to being an academic.’ (Wisker, 2013)
You have already arrived, you have selected part(s) of your work to share, honed it, structured it, situated it in the literature, defended the methodology and methods, developed a lucid argument backed up by the data, and established your contribution to knowledge. That is what good publications do, and it is also what good PhDs do. However, deciding when and what to publish is a different matter.
When publishing through the course of the PhD
You need to pick the right part of your work and neither publish too much, too soon, too raw, nor hang on to all of it without sharing. Your raw chapters will not make publications – no journal will welcome your raw data, nor your introduction. Some might find space for a well turned out literature review if they publish these, but most will want a standalone piece that perfectly presents a contribution to knowledge in the field, using discipline language, and the language, format and focus of the journal. A journal article is less literature and methodology top heavy than a thesis. I suggest processing several journal articles from the journals to which you would like to submit, to see their interest, the way that articles are written for this journal, and the formats. Author guidelines are usually available on the publisher’s website for each journal, as are examples of published pieces.
Publishing from your PhD while you are completing it is, it seems, dependent on discipline, supervisor advice, and where you are doing the PhD itself (Dinham, and Scott, 2001; Hartley, and Betts, 2009). There are different expectations and different rules. In Scandinavian countries, and in the sciences broadly, internationally, you might well be expected to publish from your PhD early on. The Scandinavian PhD often involves, three to five (sometimes nearly published) publications and a theorised ‘wrap’, situating the whole of the work in the literature and the methodology. In other disciplines and contexts (for example, UK literature PhDs), you may still be advised by your supervisor not to publish until you have passed. In some other instances (where a patent is involved, the whole team in a funded project intend to publish together at the end of the project, or the PhD itself is considered a publication), you must not publish until you have gained the PhD and a few years have passed.
A study in Hong Kong found that students resented the time spent on publishing, taken away from their research (Kwan, 2010, 2011) and some supervisors advise against publication as detracting from your focus. So it is wise to select a part which lets your best work be seen in a good light, not something which takes you down a side road. If your best work is truly world class, you might want to wait until you have the PhD before you share it. Be proud of what you do submit – your work will improve from the publishing process – but don’t send in half written, half-baked work and expect the editor to finish it off for you.
When you have the reviewers’ comments back, you will need to be quite thick skinned to separate the advice from what seems like criticism. Review your work, make a plan to revise, let the reviewers know what you have revised and where, and if you have chosen not to change something (because of a good reason) let them know why. This is often done best in a grid and in an accompanying short letter.
If you do publish from your PhD while it is in process, make sure you:
Check university regulations about publishing from the PhD in process.
Choose the right, exciting, readable piece of your PhD to publish first.
Pick a part of it that can stand alone. Make a case, clearly grown from your shortened, targeted versions of literature review, methodology and methods, data and discussion and so on and let your new knowledge, your contribution grow from these.
Find the right journal which accepts early career researchers as well as leading figures. Don’t necessarily pitch to the top journal first. Only write for and send to one journal at a time.
Research journal article rules for your chosen journal: the length, format, size and amount of data, charts, quotations and so on.
Reshape your work for the journal readership.
Produce a clear abstract and key words (so it is picked up on search engines), and a conclusion emphasising factual and conceptual conclusions, how you have added to meaning, knowledge and understanding.
Be ready to deal with reviewer comments, learn from them and re write accordingly – this is peer review.
Feel very pleased and congratulate yourself, and share the success, once the article is published (online, and in hard copy – usually several months apart). You are in print!
Dinham and Scott (2001) ‘The experience of disseminating the results of doctoral research’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 25(1), 45–55.
Hartley and Betts (2001) ‘Publishing before the Thesis: 58 Postgraduate Views’, Higher Education Review, 41(3), 29–44
Becky S. C. Kwan (2011) Facilitating novice researchers in project publishing during the doctoral years and beyond: a Hong Kong-based study. Studies in Higher Education: 1–19, iFirst Article.
Gina Wisker, (2013b) ‘Articulate – Writing, Editing and Publishing Our Work in Learning, Teaching and Educational Development’, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 50(4).
Gina Wisker (in press) Getting Published, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gina’s podcast on publishing from your PhD at:
Gina’s podcast on publishing journal articles at:
You can also listen to two podcasts by Gina via the following links: