This is a guest blog by Dr Ceri Davies, Research Director at NatCen Social Research. Ceri completed her PhD in 2016 at the University of Brighton. Her thesis title was ‘Whose knowledge counts? Exploring cognitive justice in community-university collaborations’. It can be viewed online at: http://eprints.brighton.ac.uk/15891/.
I am an early career researcher whose has recently departed academia for a research job at a national charity. These four reflections are based on the writing I’ve done through my career to date, some in non-academic positions, as a PhD student and a Research Fellow. I have published in a range of places; journal articles, book chapters, blogs, good practice guides, conference proceedings…
So my first reflection is consider diversity – yes some types of publishing are academically more esteemed than others, but it’s all practice. And my experience is that is what I needed. Being able to communicate to different audiences for different purposes is also useful academic development. This also sometimes means that writing that doesn’t work out for one thing can go somewhere else. After building a small list, it is probably now the time to be more selective/strategic, and depending on your career ambitions this will be more important to you. My publications list might look a bit random to a single discipline for example, but it works for me.
My second reflection is look for opportunities to collaborate – you might have something to offer to articles being developed by other researchers/teams that allow you some practice in sharing your own interests. You could also offer to read drafts of other’s work to build your network and experience. Grab these opportunities! They are invaluable for working alongside people with experience. My first published journal article came about this way, with a professor who had millions of publications and could ‘quality assure’! – I wrote my second with the same group, and this time got to lead the writing and even (…drum roll) put my name first. Recently, I offered to review an article in development by a colleague, I had lots to say about how they were using a particular concept – and they invited me to co-author the revisions and now we’ve had it accepted to a journal. But collaboration requires clarity, roles and timescales to push an article over the finish line. I’ve also felt extra pressure in all these examples to do a ‘really good job’, and struggled with working out what ‘good enough’ might look like; I mean – how do you know if you are learning?! So…
My third is don’t take it all too personally… be clear about your goals and purpose with publishing and be realistic about what you are trying to get published where (have you read the aims/scope of the journal, are you citing previous debates from that journal/have you kept to basic things like word limits/referencing styles etc…)? Peer reviewed feedback can be pretty tough, and it’s been hard sometimes not to have confidence (and motivation) knocked by that. One article was peer reviewed by 5 people (don’t ask why), some of which offered contradictory comments… In another case, the reviewer resorted to capital letters to express their frustration at my apparent ineptitude…. (I had to put that one down for a week). I think navigating the peer review process is a skill; a balance between learning to be critiqued in the pursuit of improvement of your writing – but if you feel personally insulted, you probably have been. The end result is the same though – revise/edit/revise/edit… so be up for that discipline.
My fourth reflection is work out the strategies that can support you with getting published and can underpin that discipline. There are endless books/blogs/approaches, so the key is finding what works for you. Mine I realised after a frustrating recent period of no progress, was meet up with others who were also developing articles and sit (quietly) together and write…! The accountability and solidarity was the key. Being organised, having article plans, researching appropriate journals all underpins this stuff. Another major help has been to volunteer to be a peer reviewer for journals when I’ve had the chance – being on the other side helps you with a few things. You see the inner workings of other people’s writing and pick up ideas/tips. You also get to practice at being constructive and careful with your feedback, and often see the other reviewers’ feedback – again helping you to see what makes for good, publishable writing.
But the key thing above all, is getting started in some fashion or another… There are plenty of reasons not to:
- your ideas aren’t clear enough yet
- you don’t know when you’ll find the time
- you don’t know where to publish
- you don’t think your ideas are good enough
- you are fed up of having people say ‘no’
- a few months in you are still staring at a pretty blank page… etc…!
The ‘worth it’ bit is that publishing is a core aspect of academic life and careers, it is satisfying to craft a well developed and interesting set of ideas, you can be proud of a quality achievement, and everyone needs a peer review horror story for their locker to be admitted into the realms of academia….
… and now to take some of my own advice; those papers from the PhD don’t seem to be writing themselves.