PUBLICATION QUALITY COUNTS. While we think that academic priorities should be different, in real life tenure committees focus almost exclusively on publications in peer-reviewed journals, the higher ranked and the more ‘impact’ the better. Of course, the quantity of your publications is also critical. Value quality highly. Try to make each paper you submit to a journal about a single topic of importance. Conduct your research with a solid, rigorous design. Write as clearly as possible. Try to produce each article as though it is the one example of your work that will be remembered.
This post is the first in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan. She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this new set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap.
In this series:
- Ivory Tower vs Shopping Mall
- Micro vs Macro
- Passenger vs Driver
- Process vs Afterlife
- Features vs Benefits
There’s a great article by Peter Barry which appeared in the Times Higher Education under the headline ‘Footnotes and Fancy Free’. Among many useful insights, Barry caricatures very effectively two opposing worldviews or value systems in academic research. For residents of the Ivory Tower, it’s all about pure intellectual excellence, never mind who (or what) it’s for. For those who inhabit the Shopping Mall, there needs to be a clear benefit to an identifiable audience, and ultimately some form of commercial value for a paying market. Barry diagnoses a fundamental problem in the fact that all too often PhDs (particularly in the arts and humanities) are supervised and examined by Ivory Tower standards, yet at the postdoctoral stage, researchers are suddenly pitched headlong into the Shopping Mall. This is of necessity where publishers live, since their business is dependent on realising a commercial return on the investment that is made in every new publication.
Profitability – at whatever level – is key to a sustainable publishing business, and even university presses (whose non-profit model is the least commercially driven in the industry) can’t avoid this fundamental pillar of the Shopping Mall. The sources of subsidy which have long shored up large sectors of university press publishing (particularly in the US) are running dry, and editors are looking ever harder at the commercial factors which position a prospective publication on the right or wrong side of the margins of viability. At the other end of the scale, many major players in the academic publishing industry are fully commercial businesses accountable to shareholders with steep demands when it comes to the return on their investment. It’s a fine balancing act to reconcile editorial values based on intellectual quality (those ivory tower sympathies which bring graduates into publishing in the first place) with tough financial imperatives, but that’s the daily challenge for commissioning editors at commercial academic presses like Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, Blackwell, Ashgate or Continuum, to name only a few.
So the first stage in your journey from PhD to publication has to involve stepping out of the Ivory Tower and into the Shopping Mall, in order to see your project from the publisher’s point of view. Here are five key questions to ask yourself, to help you to take this more commercial perspective on your research:
- What’s your USP (unique selling point)? Can you sum up the original contribution of your research in a few accessible sentences, and make it into a selling point? Imagine a blurb in a publisher’s catalogue – your sales pitch needs to be aimed at non-specialists in the book trade and the library supply business, not your end-user academic readers.
- Who are you writing for? Publishers respond best to projects pitched at a well-defined readership. Beware losing focus by trying to be all things to all people, either in terms of level (a research monograph is not a textbook or a trade book) or subject (interdisciplinary projects run the risk of being peripheral to several markets and central to none).
- Why do they need it (and will they pay)? In tough market conditions like the present, there is very little room for discretionary, nice-to-have purchases. Even libraries are having to prioritise very carefully after severe budget cuts, so there must be a clear demand for your research before they will consider buying it. This is closely related to the next question:
- What benefit does your research provide? (not to you, but to the reader!) Think about the applications of your research – how will it be used, and where will it make a difference? Is there a problem (intellectual or otherwise) to which your research offers a solution? Are there methodological tools or reference features which your readers will find helpful? Publishers are looking for something more tangible than ‘another new interpretation’ of the subject, or research that ‘fills a gap’.
- How international is its focus and appeal? The UK is a small market, and these days even the US is insufficient to carry the commercial viability of an academic publication. Publishers will be thinking about the appeal to international markets, so you need to, too.
For more detailed guidance on these and other factors essential to maximising your chances of success in a competitive publishing climate, come to one of Josie’s publishing workshops or contact her direct.
WHEN WRITING THE NTH PAPER, MAKE YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE ISSUE CLEAR. It may be a carefully done experiment or an elaboration of the theory or a synthesis and interpretation of previous work. Whatever it is, be explicit in claiming it in the paper. The reviewers need to be convinced that the manuscript contains something new that merits publishing.
A note from Anna: As part of a series of blogs on PhD2Published about Online Theses, Will Deyamport, III explains why he will definitely post his dissertation online. To engage in this conversation on Twitter please use the Online Thesis hashtag #thesisonline
Will Deyamport, III is an Ed.D student in Educational Leadership and Management at Capella University. He is the founder of peoplegogy.com, a blog that focuses on life and career developments. He is a monthly contributor to MyPathfinder Career Blog, where he writes about higher education. Currently, Will is writing his dissertation on how Twitter can support the professional learning needs of teachers. You can follow him on twitter @peoplegogy.
This digital world we live in isn’t going anywhere. We pay bills online, we shop online, we make phone calls online, we date online, and now we’re streaming movies and going to school online. So why wouldn’t I post my dissertation online?
Has the academy become so insular that it has failed to understand and embrace the realities of this digital age? Has it become so arrogant that it believes that it can remain the sole guardian of academic knowledge? Or has the academy so blindly held on to its beliefs of what scholarly work is that it refuses to see this work being published on a daily basis on blogs around the globe?
Whatever its reasons, I plan to publish my dissertation online and here’s why:
- I happen to have a passion for digital media and most of what I read is read online.
- What I do and want to do for a career is done online. I’ve been a social media strategist, I blog, and I am earning my doctorate online. So for me the online space is a place of isn’t some separate entity. It’s a part of who I am and how I express my ideas.
- I am a digital citizen. As such, I see the online world as the way for mobilizing the world towards a common humanity.
- I routinely seek out information online. Whether it is via Youtube, LinkedIn, or my personal learning network on Twitter, I am able to gain access to experts from a variety of fields and disciplines.
- I believe that academic knowledge belongs to the masses and should be made available and given freely to those who seek it.
- My dissertation is on teachers using Twitter to support their own professional development. The topic doesn’t belong is some bound book. It was meant to be posted online and shared with scholars and practitioners alike.
The ivory tower and those who worship at its feet need to understand that education is no longer insular. Holding information hostage does nothing for the academy or the betterment of society. In order to truly build a thriving academic knowledge-base and further the continued and expansive research expected in academia, technology has to be a part of how that research is shared and disseminated. Using emerging technologies, schools have the capacity to expose its students’ research to every corner of the globe. It is with this type of free exchange that the academy can reinvent itself and lead the way in today’s growing global economy and workforce.
Moving forward, I would like to see every doctoral student publish their dissertation on ProQuest or some other online platform. Just like TED has revolutionized the conference model, as current and future scholars, we have an opportunity to revolutionize the way people think, learn, and are taught about academic research.
WRITING THE NTH PAPER means that n — 1 papers on the subject were written before yours. Although you need not cite all of them, you should cite enough of them so that authors of previous papers will be selected as reviewers. (One of the secrets of the journal editor business is that editors find reviewers by looking in the citations for names of people they know). You may, however, be unfortunate enough that the paper is sent to someone for review whom you did not cite. If so, the reviewer will comment that you failed to include the citation, which, of course, is a dead giveaway of the reviewer’s name.
Today’s post is written by our resident Science Correspondant Katherine Reekie (@katreekie). She has written interesting posts for PhD2Published on adapting to scientific writing and Publishing in the Sciences. Here she shares her Top 5 choices of Genetics journals
Recently on Twitter, PhD2Published posed the question “What is your academic discipline and what are your top 5 recommended high impact journals?” Well, I am a geneticist, and for my top 5 I picked, in no particular order:
1) Nature Genetics
2) Human Molecular Genetics
3) American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG)
4) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
5) Nucleic Acids Research
This is a somewhat arbitrary list, which was drawn up on the spur of the moment. Other journals which could well have made the list are Genome Research, Trends in Genetics, Human Mutation…I could go on. So how did I come up with my list? For me, it was down to journals in which I (and my colleagues) either hope to publish, regularly find interesting articles, or regularly cite. I excluded a number of excellent review journals, as for this purpose I was thinking in terms of original research only.
Subsequent to coming up with this list, I did a bit of research on the impact factors of my chosen journals, and was not surprised to find that all five were towards the top of the scale for genetics, with Nature Genetics at the very top with an astounding 2010 impact factor of 36.3 (according to the Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports) – but then the Nature journals are always very highly ranked (to put this into perspective, the others titles on my list had impact factors ranging from 7.8 – 11.6, all of which are considered high). The “Impact Factor” is the system most commonly used to rank journals. This figure is calculated annually, by taking into account the number of times papers from the journal have been cited in the two previous years, and dividing this number by the number of articles and reviews which were published in the journal in those same two years. So the 2011 impact factor = (number of 2010 & 2009 citations)/(number of 2010 & 2009 articles & reviews).
It is important to note that the “impact” of a journal is not always the most important factor to bear in mind when considering publication. It is certainly worth researching the impact factors of journals in your discipline, and thinking about where your research might fit in. However, you must also take into account which journal is most appropriate for your work in terms of its “novelty value” (groundbreaking research will always be of interest to the very top journals), strength of the findings (how robust are your data and conclusions) and also your target audience (who you are hoping will read your paper). For example, Nature has a very high impact factor, but it covers a broad subject area and focuses on cutting edge research. Therefore it is unlikely to be the best fit for a paper which describes an association study which considers a single region of the genome. Compare this with Human Molecular Genetics, which has a specific section dedicated to reporting the results of association studies – clearly a much better fit for this research. Typically, authors aim high with the first submission of a journal article. However, the higher the impact of the journal, the more submissions they are likely to receive and therefore the more competition there will be for publication. Subsequent submission to a good journal with a slightly lower (but still high) impact factor is a perfectly respectable option!
Brief note from Anna: What are the Top 5 journals in your discipline? Tell us on Twitter (@PhD2Published) and DM us if you wish to contribute a blog.
RECOGNIZE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING THE FIRST PAPER ON A SUBJECT AND WRITING THE NTH ONE. Writing the first paper requires a special knack for originality that few people have. A first paper usually is not very deep, but it creates enough of an impact that others follow your lead and write deep, scholarly works. The advan¬tage of the first paper is that it is always referenced, giving you a long list of citations. If you are fortunate enough to have the knack, you will need to market your output carefully. Journals (and review¬ers) look for the tried and true. Journals, after all, publish almost exclusively on subjects they published previously. Tenure and pro¬motion committees will read the paper and say that it is trivial be¬cause they read the more careful papers that others wrote later based on your idea. It has been our observation that people who write first paper possess a different set of skills than those who write the nth ones and should leave the writing of the nth papers to someone else.
Today‘s post follows a Twitter conversation @dratarrant had with our post author Mark Carrigan (@mark_carrigan) about the challenges and choices faced by those making the decision of how best to publish the material from their thesis. Mark is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology at Warwick University and his own website can be viewed here. He also has his own podcast series here.
The tag line for this post?: “That awkward moment when you find yourself standing over your PhD thesis with an intellectual carving knife wondering what to do…”
I remember very distinctly the moment when I first took a figurative carving knife to my PhD thesis. I was in a careers workshop at a conference and a senior academic had just explained how the oh-so-rational metric of the REF placed the same value on monographs and journal articles. From the start of my PhD I’d always been drawn to the prospect of publishing it as a monograph, drawing together years of work and sending it out into the world in a pretty package with a shiny cover. I liked the idea of turning my thesis into something which would be read by people other than my parents, supervisors and examiners. Perhaps even something that people responded to? Yet I also wanted a job and, at the same time as I was growing attached to the idea of the monograph, I was also rapidly internalizing that horrible motif which plagues the psyches of aspiring academics everywhere: publish or perish. As much as I liked the idea of a monograph, I liked the idea of getting a job more. So upon learning the value of a monograph relative to a paper, I picked up the intellectual knife and started to ponder how many choice cuts I could get from my thesis.
After an afternoon of hacking away at my planned thesis, it turned out I could spin off a lot of papers. Sure there would be repetition and overlap but that’s inevitable, right? In the months since then, this sense of inevitability has troubled me. I realized how quickly and deeply I’d come to accept the ‘rules of the game’, making plans that were entirely contrary to what I believed and cared about because I couldn’t see any choice other than submitting to the logic that defines the contemporary academy if I wanted a career within it. Which left me with the obvious question: did I want a career within it? The perverse eagerness with which I instrumentally carved up my long treasured post-PhD monograph became symptomatic of everything I disliked about the modern university. The fact that just three years of a PhD, framed in terms of ‘playing the game’ in order to win autonomy within it, had left me able to be so thoughtlessly instrumental truly worried me. If this was what academia would do to me then I didn’t want to be an academic.
Since then I’ve relented somewhat, partly due to realizing that there was no need to see it as a matter of being entirely in or entirely out of the university. But mostly through talking to friends, some in similar situations and others with no connection to higher education, about these questions and why they troubled me. If we want academic careers after we finish our PhDs then, inevitably, we have to make some sacrifices. If we want to be employable then we, at least to some extent, have to make choices that fit the imperatives of institutions within which we seek employment. But if we’re doing this because we care about it then we need to constantly ask ‘why?’ at every stage. We need to be clear that we’re doing what we do because we CHOOSE to rather than because we’ve internalized a set of perverse imperatives which actively erode the values that motivate us. We have to continue to look for alternatives to passively reproducing the demands of neoliberal academia. Otherwise I fear we’re going to look in the mirror twenty years from now and wonder what the point of it all was.
Julio E. Peironcely is a PhD student in Metabolomics and Chemoinformatics at Leiden University, The Netherlands. In his free time he writes for his site juliopeironcely.com about his research, academic life, social media, and lifestyle design. You can follow him on twitter @peyron.
This is the second part of two that reviews the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, providing academic advice for PhD students and post-docs. To view the first article and the helpful tips it provides, follow the link here.
Now that you control yourself, start working with other people and get the most of it. How can we collaborate? How can we convince them to join us?
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
This sounds a bit business-like. You should seek for partnerships that are mutually beneficial, where both parties benefit after the interaction.
If no win/win can be achieved, realize that a no-deal is a perfect compromise.
For PhD students and academics: Are you a theoretician? Seek for an experimentalist and propose to collaborate on a project (and agree on the other of authorship in related publications). See it as a project that without the other person could not be performed.
Does somebody want you to process a lot of data and do some statistics? And they don’t plan to add you as co-author? This is a win/lose situation that should be answered with a “no-deal”.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
This chapter is not only about listening, but to listen using empathy. Do not rush into offering solutions when somebody is presenting a problem. Let them finish, make the effort to understand the problem at hand. If you do so, they will reciprocate with you.
Using empathy means putting ourselves in the perspective of the other person. Do not try to filter what they say with your own assumptions and way of thinking.
For PhD students and academics: Coming again to collaborations between theoreticians and experimentalists. Try to understand how the other person’s thoughts compare to yours in key topics.
Your approach to science might be different. Your timing as well. Maybe you care more about interpretation of results while another person cares more about describing a solid methodology. You might be data-driven and the other person hypothesis-driven. In any case, see what are the other person’s fears and hopes before exposing yours.
Habit 6: Synergize
Use trust and understanding to maximize the output of a group. With careful communication, leverage the differences of the individuals in the group, so the product is much larger than the sum of the individuals.
Identify in others what’s in them that is beneficial for the group. As well, you should detect what it is about them that sets you back so you can work on adapting yourself to that.
For PhD students and academics: In a large collaborative project you might find young motivated PhDs, busy supervisors, retired experts, and other people. Instead of getting frustrated, try to maximize what they have to offer: like the energy of the PhD students, the network amplification the supervisors, or the experience of the retired guru.
Next, use your empathy skills to minimize the effect on the team of what you don’t like: the chaos of the graduate student, the busyness of the supervisor, and the same old stories by the retired expert.
It is not enough to work once on each habit and forget about them, in fact, it is a lifetime effort. Think of it as an iterative process, that you should evaluate and repeat every now and then.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Here, the author makes reference to habit 3 and encourages you to identify those things that might be keeping us from our goals. Step back, take a break, and decide what to do to renew yourself. It might be getting healthier by doing some exercise, meditating to clear your thoughts, or even re-write your mission statement.
In any case, schedule time to perform those activities that will keep your whole system running in the right direction.
For PhD students and academics: Senior scientists the sabbaticals. Since you are a PhD it might still be early for this. What you can do is to join a short side project, in order to try something new, recharge your motivation batteries, and collect new ideas.
You might want to
The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People is a bit of a philosophical book; sometimes even religious. Despite this, it can be applied in many areas of life and it can definitely help PhD students and academics to organize themselves better. If used correctly, the learning’s in this book can help you to be more effective and motivated. At the end, you will create new habits, in a natural way.
WRITE MOST OF YOUR ARTICLES FOR REFEREED JOURNALS. Papers presented at meetings get you funds to be a world traveler. However, even if refereed, conference papers don’t really count for tenure, promotion, or salary raises.
REUSE THE LITERATURE SEARCH FROM YOUR DISSERTATION. If you conducted a thorough literature search for your dissertation, you will never need to do one again as long as you write in the same area. If you write in an adjacent field or on an adjacent topic or want to include the latest reference, your cycle time for the literature search is much, much shorter. Remember too that your students or graduate assistants will perform some of the slogging that needs to be done.
A few weeks ago I indulged another of my slightly off-the-wall passions by heading to Glasgow for a Yes gig. Progressive rock (at least the softer side of this movement) is one of my ever-growing interests. Before discovering these bands I only listened to classical music in the assumption that only poor musicians play rock. How wrong I was! I am always amazed by the dexterity, talent and incredible musicianship of these performers and, even as they get older, their commitment to creating challenging music. For these guys are risk takers. They do not hide behind G,D,C chords or 4/4 time signatures; their music is dangerous, unpredictable and exciting. Through all the perils of tough tempos and impossible lyrics, they strive for excellence while being aware that such risks might necessarily mean that perfection is impossible. As always, I find it inconceivable to disconnect my work from my passions and began to wonder how we might incorporate a level of risk taking into our daily academic lives.
It is certainly important to develop this strategy in teaching. Safe teaching, trudging over well-worn ground is as dull as it sounds. Risky teaching (exploring new methods of learning, asking students for feedback, incorporating new material on to the syllabus, making lectures more interactive) is exciting, though, of course, fraught with danger. Imagining the classroom/lecture hall/studio as a space of exploration, experimentation and constant learning on both sides of that artificial student-faculty divide transforms our teaching style.
PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL WHILE TRAVELING. You can publish your research findings in a journal after you presented a paper about them at a conference. Be careful, however, not to present creative initial speculations and hypotheses, that you are not yet ready to publish. They can be stolen by unscrupulous members of your audience.