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Claire Warden – How to Spend the Time between PhD & Publishing

Today’s post comes from Dr. Claire Warden and considers how to spend your time while moving from PhD to published. Claire is a Lecturer in Drama at the University of Lincoln. Her first book, British Avant-Garde Theatre is out with Palgrave next year. You can follow Claire on twitter here.

While commenting on a draft copy of my book, my wonderfully generous proof-reader made me rethink my use of citation with the following soupçon of wit:

“Quite a lot of references to what other scholars are doing. Sometimes these get rather too close to the ‘as Dr Dryasdust has said, “Shakespeare lived before the steam-engine”’.

The point being, citation in a book is substantially different from citation in a thesis. Dr Dryasdust’s comment is factually correct but we do not require the good doctor to tell us! And this gets to the crux of the difference between a thesis and a book: the former is written for examination, the latter is written to be read.

The humorous comment also points to a broader issue: the PhD-to-Book process is one of learning, personal development and transforming the way you write. While I completed my PhD in 2007, my first book will only hit the shelves (or shelf on my less ambitious days) next year. This might seem like a large gap and, as I finish the final draft, it certainly feels as if I have spent half a lifetime on it! But, as the story above shows, there is merit in taking your time over this process. There is a great deal of useful material on this site about the PhD-to-Book process, so what I want to do is focus on what to do while you’re waiting. Obviously honing our writing skills and ignoring Dr Dryasdust’s unnecessary interruptions are vital, but what else can be done?

Even independent research is in reality a collaborative effort; the books/papers of others, conversations, conference panels all mould our research to an astonishing degree. But for me it was beginning my first full faculty job at the University of Lincoln which was probably the most formative change. It means that my current book was written partly in an English department and partly in a Drama department. The difference in departmental emphases seemed to affect me by osmosis and led naturally to a book which attempts to take the best from each sphere. So, I would recommend spending time in environments that seem outside of your immediate field. When attending conferences aim to sit in on a panel that you know little about; read new journal articles that discuss topics that you are unfamiliar with. Gradually your research will become more informed by other fields and will change accordingly, imbuing a natural interdisciplinary approach.

The past four years have also given me an opportunity to experiment. Attending conferences, forming networks and getting to grips with new theories have all become part of my yearly academic experience. Furthermore there have been opportunities to hone my thoughts, to try them out in shorter journal articles. Journals remain the best way to get your new ideas on to a public platform. Although the peer review process can be a laborious affair, it is a great deal quicker than securing a book contract with a reputable publisher. It means that you can remain relevant and experiment with ideas that may later flourish into full-grown books. It also means that your work can sit in illustrious company. My first article was, to my astonishment, published in one of the best theatre journals around; it just happened to fit into a special edition celebrating the life of an eminent academic who had just died. Here was a coincidence that meant that my paper received far more exposure than might have been expected. A book that is the culmination of these smaller investigations will inevitably be more innovative and, hopefully, more coherent.

In conjunction with these first two recommendations, it is vital that early career academics begin to establish their name, whether through networking, publications or increasing your online profile. In this technologically-minded age academics can no longer spend their time alone covered in archival dust. Rather they must self-publicise. This can be quite an excruciating affair but using modern innovations like Twitter and blogging can take some of the pain away. Finding outlets to tell others about your work is becoming increasingly important and it will impress potential publishers who have no intention of being left with 500 copies of your monograph in their warehouses.

Expanding your research horizons, publishing articles and considering your online presence are all things that can be explored in that time of waiting. And by the time you publish your first book you’ll be well ready to overcome Dr Dryasdust’s call and produce a truly original piece of work.

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