Advising Your PhD Students About Publication

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In these days of cutthroat competition for academic posts, PhD candidates can spend a great deal of time worrying about how best to position themselves in the job market. It’s not uncommon for applicants to lectureship posts to present themselves with several publications already under their belts – even if they are still PhD students. But there are several considerations that supervisors should bear in mind when faced with a student who wants to pursue a publishing agenda early in his or her career. 

1. The PhD is non-negotiable…

Gone are the days when an exceptional candidate could be appointed to a lectureship before the award of his or her PhD. Granted, it may occasionally happen that a person applies after submission but before actual award, and is appointed to a post on the assurance of the viva examiners that the award is in the bag – but in the vast majority of cases there just is no two ways about it: to get a lectureship, you must have a PhD. In fact, it is probably also the case now that to get a teaching fellow post, you must have a PhD. So as a responsible supervisor, it may be incumbent upon you to gently remind your student of this.

2. …So priorities are important

Given that the PhD is an entry-level requirement for an academic post, students should be encouraged to assess their priorities when considering building a publication record. Ideally, students would be advised to allow for a year after the award of their PhD in which they focus entirely on publishing articles, and on building a credible plan for revising their thesis as a book and landing a contract with a reputable publisher.

3. But others are publishing around me!

However, many PhD students will be driven to publish regardless, not least because they may come under great pressure from their peers and market perceptions to publish. So it is worth talking to them from an early stage about the academic publishing market, the realities of peer review, and in particular, the impact agenda (for UK universities). Students may also need some guidance on identifying publishers with reliable peer-review standards and those who do not.

When it comes to the actual content of articles, you may also need to provide a helping hand. PhD students rapidly become experts in handling large amounts of information, and not surprisingly, when faced with writing a short piece, often feel the same need to demonstrate a comprehensive mastery of the field as they are doing in their PhD. Supervisors can therefore be helpful in encouraging a clear and specific focus in an article publication.

Supervisors can also play a useful role in helping students work to specific journal styles, and in guiding them through the submission process, including helping them to re-write articles in response to reader’s reports, and in some cases, helping them handle outright rejection.

4. What about editing?

Editing opportunities may be a different matter from articles, and can arise organically out of a PhD student’s wider engagement with his or her subject community (through organizing or participating in a conference, for instance). Editing can be an excellent way for a PhD student to understand the scholarly demands of his or her discipline, to build connections with other academics, and to acquire a well-regarded publication – all without disrupting his or her thesis-writing schedule to any great extent.

5. So what’s the difference between a PhD and a book?

This question can baffle even the most brilliant PhD student, largely because it is a distinction that becomes clear over time, and with experience. A PhD thesis is obliged to demonstrate a thorough awareness of the field in which it operates, for instance, whereas a monograph will, ideally, work from the basis of assumed knowledge about that field. And of course, a thesis is written for examiners; a book for a wider public, with commercial considerations in mind.

An advisor can play a critical role in guiding students in the tricky path from thesis to book publication, and in helping students negotiate their initial steps in the world of publishing – but bear in mind that, for students considering academic careers - the PhD should always come first.

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