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.
Katherine Reekie is PhD2Published’s new Science Correspondent and she has recently joined Twitter as @katreekie.
Anyone who has ever read a scientific research article will be familiar with the somewhat formal and impersonal writing style in which they tend to be written. Adapting to reading this kind of prose can be a challenge. The way they are written can be very different to the informal style which tends to be used for most other forms of modern communication, and it is this “scientific style” which is in part to blame for the reputation of scientific articles being complicated and hard to understand. But how about writing it? It is unlikely that most people will have been required to write in this style before they are an undergraduate student, and even then it may only be for a project report in the final year. There is often no formal training for this kind of writing, and the degree of assistance provided can vary greatly. I know from my own experiences of editing undergraduate reports that one of the things which can be difficult to get across is the need for a specific tone and format, which is often in complete contrast to anything the student has written before. Adapting to this way of writing can also be one of the hardest parts of writing a PhD thesis or journal article, as it is something that scientists often pick up as they go along, rather than being taught.
So can the “scientific style” really be defined? It must be emphasised that the way in which research is reported tends to be guided by convention rather than anything else. In general, the tone is impersonal and devoid of opinion, factual and often highly technical. Scientific reports are intended to be functional, and the way in which they are written is designed to emphasise the facts without distracting from them with the use of flowery language.
In this post, regular contributor Claire Warden offers her top tips for giving excellent conference presentations. She is Lecturer in Drama at the University of Lincoln where she has been working since 2010. She blogs at www.clairewarden.net and tweets as @cs_warden.
Here in the University of Lincoln’s drama department we are approaching our first performance fortnight of the year: a chance for students to showcase their talents and explore new methods. Currently I spend Thursday mornings amid a sea of robots, fake blood and apocalyptic visions as we rehearse a version of Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. In recent days I have been thinking a little about the way we ‘perform’ as academics. Our performance ability is particularly tested at conferences and, in this my third short meditation for PhD2Published, I want to consider the way we perform at these events.
For as a postgraduate I remember being taught about archives and writing journal articles and the need to develop a workable bibliographic system, but I cannot recollect ever really learning about conference presentation. The assumption, I imagine, is that it must come naturally to anyone considering an academic career or passionate about their research. Anybody who has sat through long days of conference proceedings will know that this is far from the case and, though I do not claim any real expertise in this area (I am the presenter whose Powerpoint didn’t work at my first major international conference as well as the panel chair who introduced a colleague with the wrong university affiliation), I have been considering what help us ‘performing arts types’ could provide to colleagues in different departments. So, below are my top tips for excellent conference presentation and, for those of you balking already at the thought of a drama scholar at the helm, I can promise that there will be no exuberant jazz hands, no actorly hissy fits and I will not call you ‘darling’ at any stage…
PREPARE AN “ELEVATOR SPEECH”. Throughout your PhD studies, your professors grounded you in your discipline and taught you all the caveats and disclaimers that must accompany your scholarly research. Then, in the dissertation defense, and afterwards, for example when you seek a job, you will be asked to succinctly summarize your work and what it means. Imagine that you are attending a national conference. You step into an express elevator on the 45th floor of the building, and push “lobby”. the only other person in the elevator is, say the senior Federal policy maker in your area of interest, for example, the National Endowment for the Humanities or the President’s Science Advisor, or the chair of the department you really want to interview for a job. He or she says that they heard that you completed an important dissertation study. S/he explains that s/he would like to know about your research, but,given a packed schedule, only has this elevator ride to learn about your work. What do you tell them?
Luc Reid is an author and blogger specializing on habits and motivation found in recent psychological and neurological research. Visit his website for more writing tips, or his Amazon page to see his work. You can also follow him on Twitter (@LucReid).
Having done the preparatory research or critical thinking for a paper, article, or book, it would seem as though the hard part should already be over. The rest is just putting things you already know or have available into words, something we all do regularly throughout the day. When we enter into the realm of writing, however, often new obstacles appear as though out of nowhere. By understanding these obstacles, we can gain a new ability to clear the path to successfully completing the work.
Below I’ll describe the six most common obstacles to successful writing along with tactics for getting past them.
Why are you doing this project in the first place? Is it something for which you have enthusiasm on your own, or are you doing it because you feel you have to, because a colleague has railroaded you into it, or because you think it’s what someone in your position should be doing?
We all are sometimes faced with projects that we wouldn’t take on if it were entirely up to us, and typically it’s harder to find motivation to complete this kind of work. To improve focus, motivation, and enjoyment for these projects, it helps to list out our personal reasons for getting the project done, along with reasons for not doing it.
It’s important that the reasons we list are our own. For instance, if a senior colleague invites me to collaborate on a paper, my reasons for accepting might have little to do with my colleague’s reasons for inviting me, and could include “cultivate a professional relationship with my senior colleague” and “learn from collaborating with someone whose work I admire.” My reasons for being reluctant might include things like “Will delay work on my own project” or “Have differences of opinion with prospective co-author.”
Once reasons are listed out clearly, it’s easier to make a conscious choice to accept the drawbacks and to pursue the advantages—or to realize that the advantages don’t outweigh the drawbacks and so choose not to pursue the project at all.
Lack of belief
Whether for logical or emotional reasons, it can sometimes be difficult to believe on a gut level that a particular project is even possible. Belief can be undermined by past difficulties; by a long-term pattern of fearing failure; by hesitation about tasks that are new to us; by lack of support from family, friends, or colleagues; by organizational problems; or in other ways. If these concerns aren’t addressed, a continuing lack of belief that the project can be completed will sap enthusiasm and focus, sometimes to the extent that the project fails for that reason alone.
While the factors that can contribute to lack of belief are too numerous and substantial to address here, the essential task when belief is an obstacle is to recognize the reasons for lack of belief and to bolster belief by other means. Some ways of doing this include talking with supportive friends and colleagues, talking to someone who has completed the same kind of project in the past, putting in additional organizational effort, and visualizing a successful result.
Anxiety about the quality of the result
In the same way that it’s sometimes difficult to feel confident that a project can be completed, people are often impaired in their efforts by worries that the end result will reflect badly on them. Sometimes this can be a result of feelings of unworthiness, unfamiliarity with some of the subject matter or tasks, unsupportive comments from others, high stakes, and related pressures. As with lack of belief, it’s important to get clarity on the reasons for any concern about results and to marshal resources that increase confidence. It can also be helpful for this kind of concern to find a person or group who can review the work before it becomes widely available and can either allay concerns or offer constructive criticism.
Inability to focus
If you’re committed to the project and fairly confident that you can produce good results but still have trouble focusing when you sit down to write, your distractions may be internal, environmental, or both.
Internal distractions often include conflicting priorities or lack of a specific identified task to do next. It can help to set aside a specific block of time during which you have decided your writing project is the most important task. If concerns about other things that need to be done arise, a reminder to yourself that you’ve already considered doing other things and have chosen this as the most important task can sometimes help. If you find yourself stopped by not knowing exactly what to do next, shift into organizational mode: identify the tasks and sections involved in your project and put your efforts into ordering and clarifying them. While this kind of structure isn’t always needed, it’s very often much easier to work from an outline or task list than from a pile of notes.
To minimize environmental distractions, try to choose a place to work where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. A library or coffee shop may in some cases be a more productive choice than home or office, both because people are less likely to interrupt you and because you have fewer of your own distractions available.
In many cases it can be helpful to find a place to work where you don’t have ready access to the Internet, although admittedly this is becoming less and less possible over time.
Trouble finding the time to write
Writing is often not assertive in the way other tasks can be. Meetings and scheduled events have time frames during which they automatically occur. Preparation, for instance for a lecture or presentation, tends to have deadlines. By contrast, writing deadlines, when there are any, are often far enough in the future that the project can be delayed much longer than is reasonable or effective.
Finding the time to write, then, requires creating shorter-term deadlines or generating ongoing enthusiasm for the work. The latter approach is especially useful: by visualizing the benefits of completing the work or taking even a few minutes to dwell on the aspects of the project that are attractive to us, we can create situations in which it’s natural and pleasurable to work and make progress. In terms of creating deadlines, it can help to enlist the assistance of someone who is willing to take a look at the work before it’s due for feedback. Another useful technique is to spend time at the very beginning defining tasks and milestones, with deadline dates for each milestone.
Lack of enthusiasm
Natural enthusiasm for a project is one of the strongest means of creating the will to write, so it’s unfortunate that this is often in short supply. Lack of enthusiasm for a project can point to emotional conflicts of the kind described earlier in this article or can simply be an unavoidable feature of work that’s necessary but not a particular favorite.
Some techniques for generating additional enthusiasm include
· Visualizing positive results
· Identifying a specific element of the project you’re looking forward to
· Reflecting on the impact of doing the project well on your career as a whole
· Reviewing the reasons you want to do the project in the first place
· Talking with someone who shares some of your interests having to do with the project
· Identifying changes or additions to the project that could make it more attractive
While there are any number of factors that can adversely affect willpower and drive, the underlying deception is that whatever mental state we’re in now is the real or permanent attitude we’ll have toward the goal we want to achieve. In truth, our mental state is subject to many influences that are under our own control, so that a state of confusion, pessimism, or dread can be replaced by one of focus, anticipation, and satisfaction.
REVISE PAPERS QUICKLY. As an author, you don’t help through time to publication if you take a long time between receiving reviews of your paper and submitting the revised manuscript.
This post is by Michael C. Munger, chairman of political science at Duke University, a position he has held since 2000.
Most academics, including administrators, spend much of our time writing. But we aren’t as good at it as we should be. I have never understood why our trade values, but rarely teaches, nonfiction writing.
In my nearly 30 years at universities, I have seen a lot of very talented people fail because they couldn’t, or didn’t, write. And some much less talented people (I see one in the mirror every morning) have done OK because they learned how to write.
It starts in graduate school. There is a real transformation, approaching an inversion, as people switch from taking courses to writing. Many of the graduate students who were stars in the classroom during the first two years—the people everyone admired and looked up to—suddenly aren’t so stellar anymore. And a few of the marginal students—the ones who didn’t care that much about pleasing the professors by reading every page of every assignment—are suddenly sending their own papers off to journals, getting published, and transforming themselves into professional scholars.
The difference is not complicated. It’s writing.
Rachel Toor and other writers on these pages have talked about how hard it is to write well, and of course that’s true. Fortunately, the standards of writing in most disciplines are so low that you don’t need to write well. What I have tried to produce below are 10 tips on scholarly nonfiction writing that might help people write less badly. Continue Reading »