By Kalypso Filippou
Kalypso Filippou is a post-doctoral researcher and part-time teacher at the Faculty of Education, University of Turku in Finland. Kalypso’s research interests mainly focus in the field of higher education, international education, and intercultural postgraduate thesis supervision.
I have recently defended my article-based thesis (aka thesis by publication, collection of articles thesis) and I was intrigued by the blog of Cally Guerin regarding the ongoing debate of writing a thesis by publication (https://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/thinking-about-writing-a-thesis-by-publication-some-reasons-for-and-against/#more-2348). I actually agree with all the reasons for and against that were indicated but I decided to re-examine these advantages and disadvantages and add a few more reasons based on my experiences as a doctoral candidate who wrote a thesis by publication.
A published article is more likely to reach a wider and bigger audience than a monograph. Publishing an article could help a doctoral candidate in receiving grants for their doctoral journey. In case a candidate decides to stop his/her doctoral studies for any reason, then at least they have published part of their work and this can be used as a tangible proof of their skills. While looking for academic or even non-academic jobs, an article is a good illustration of a candidate’s research, collaboration (in case of co-authorship) and writing skills. Of course, these skills are also developed by candidates who write monographs but it’s more likely that an employer will read a 20-page article than a 200-page monograph.
Feedback from the discipline
Candidates receive constructive feedback from journal reviewers but also, after the publication of the article, academics sometimes contact and share their thoughts and feedback with each other.
Academic networking and collegiality
Possible collaborations can emerge after publishing an academic article. Publishing an article gives the possibility to share one’s work more broadly and thus increases the likelihood of readers making contact. Networks of readers who share common interests can be complemented also by collegial relationships that are built through co-authoring, for example over a subsequent paper or edited publication.
While planning an article-based thesis it is common that the doctoral candidates draft the focus of each article early in the process. This provides different milestones to reach at certain points of their doctoral journey. Completing each stage provides satisfaction and ongoing motivation to achieve the next one.
Lack of guidelines
Writing an article-based thesis is a new phenomenon for some educational institutions and many have not developed guidelines yet relating to the final dissertation “product”. In the Finnish context, an article-based dissertation requires an introduction of the whole research project in addition to the articles. This introduction, aka the “summary”, usually includes the theoretical framework and literature review, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusions, for the overall research project. This part brings together all the articles and discusses the overall research process and findings. In the absence of guidelines, doctoral candidates and supervisors have some flexibility concerning the format, length, and style of the thesis. Thus, variations can be noticed between departments regarding the length but also content, for example, some departments allow the inclusion of new information and results in the summary section which was not included in the articles, whereas other departments do not.
From the beginning of the studies, the doctoral candidates are oriented to research, write, and publish the articles. Even though this can help in the development of strong article writing skills, it can also hinder the possibility of publishing data which could be analysed or even expressed differently in the future since one’s writing skills and critical thinking develop substantially through the doctoral journey. In these cases, doctoral candidates might lose out on learning how to write a long, extended manuscript—one which requires them to develop and sustain an extended argument‚—turning “writing from an exploration into a performance” (Paré, 2010, p.33)
Different institutional and disciplinary guides, regulations and practices exist and this can cause tensions. Morse (2009) underlined the possibility of authorship disputes between supervisors and students. Co-authorship disagreements can become a source of frustration and tension for both doctoral candidates and supervisors. For example, where co-authors are ghost or gift authors, or when there are disagreements regarding the choice of journal or which researchers’ work to include, just to name a few. Regardless of the supervisor being a co-author or not, article-related challenges can affect the candidates’ motivation, wellbeing, and even the timely completion of their degree. Therefore, authorship issues need to be carefully considered, negotiated and clarified from the very beginning of the thesis process.
Going through doctoral studies, and more specifically through an article-based thesis, can feel like an emotional roller-coaster. As Cally Guerin mentioned, feedback can be harsh but even waiting for an editor’s decision or review, or receiving a negative decision, such as an article rejection, can be emotionally challenging. These rejections can be disappointing, demotivating and can lead to self-doubting of candidates’ writing and researching skills or even questioning one’s whole doctoral project. In the case of writing a monograph, the doctoral candidate might also experience similar emotions through their supervisor’s feedback, presentations, or during the final evaluation. However, for candidates working on an article-based thesis, it can be even harder as feedback comes from anonymous reviewers, who the candidate has never even met.
Strong dependency on journals
Writing an article-based thesis supports a strong dependency between the doctoral candidate and the journals, editors, and reviewers. Usually, an article is under review for a few months. Even if the article gets immediately accepted or with minor revisions and then published, the procedure can be prolonged. But if the article gets rejected, the doctoral candidate has the task of revising and resubmission. The second option leads to the temporary interruption or pause of any other research activity, and may cause substantive disruption to workflow. Moreover, the general time-schedule and thesis progress is not within the doctoral candidate’s jurisdiction but rather impacted by the journals’ and reviewers’ efficiency. Generally, the pressure and dependency on the journals is much higher when one’s doctoral progress depends on publication of articles.
Overall, a doctorate is a learning quest with highs and lows. This enriching experience is filled with small and great successes but also obstacles. Regardless of the thesis type doctoral candidates choose, it is equally important to recognise and be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each type. It is also important to highlight that each thesis process is unique and some reasons for or against cannot be identified in everyone’s thesis experience.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the University she works at.
Morse, J. M. (2008). Negotiating Authorship for Doctoral Dissertation Publications. Qualitative Health Research, 19(1), 3–4. doi:10.1177/1049732308326637
Paré, A. (2010). Slow the presses: Concerns about premature publication. In C. Aitchison, B. Kamler, & A. Lee (Eds.), Publishing pedagogies for the doctorate and beyond (pp. 30-46). London, England: Routledge.