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Publishing and Perishing as a Doctoral Student

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Brie Haupt
November 20, 2017

For many doctoral students across the globe, getting the degree is stressful to say the least. The motto of “Doing More with Less” applies not only to today’s public service, but to doctoral life. Present at conferences! Apply for grants! Participate on committees! And, of course, publish or perish! Although the emphasis on publishing varies among doctoral programs, the importance is broadcasted at local, regional and national conferences. Within my doctoral years, I attended no less than five workshops catered to students. They usually consisted of editors from discipline related journals who introduced themselves, the journal and tips with the most consistent pieces of advice being:

  • Know the journal: What is the aim? Editors? What was previously published? Submission process? Citation and writing style?
  • Edit the manuscript: Check for spelling and grammatical errors (not only in Microsoft Office!). Did you identify the study’s context? Highlight the significance and connection to the broader field? Verify the citations?
  • Patience: It takes time to find reviewers, receive recommendations and feedback, and make a decision. Understand the review process and what additional documents are needed.
  • Editors are people too: They do not work for you and the position is not their full-time job, nor do many get paid for time and effort. Therefore, any time they, and the reviewers, give to the manuscript should be respectfully considered.

The range of advice given by these editors are of course critical to the process, but rarely did I encounter published doctoral students. This leads to the most common response I receive after identifying myself as such: How did you do it? The answer is not simple, as the publication journey is complex and doctoral students are precariously balancing programmatic and professional success while transitioning from student to colleague. Before I answer the how, I prefer to ask the student “Why Not?” and their answers are the real insights. The most common response is two-fold: 1) not knowing how to identify publishable opportunities and 2) not having faculty support. As far as opportunities, start with a book review. A book review is a way to get your foot in the door and is arguably more suitable than a course paper. Having started in this way, I was encouraged to identify a book of interest published in recent years that did not already have a review published. Then, I reached out to a potential journal to determine interest and suddenly it was — submission, revision and then publication.

As for the second component of the response, the lack of faculty support is an upsetting norm for many doctoral students. Faculty members are burdened by maintaining active research and teaching loads and having a personal life resulting in many disengaging from mentorship unless it suits their agenda. I am fortunate to have two faculty mentors who made sure publishing was a part of the arrangement. For students who are not so lucky, then I suggest starting by identifying a subject to publish on. What are you passionate about? An area you completed, or will do, substantial research on? What do you want to be known for? Once the topic is identified, then it is time to find a co-author or faculty mentor. Are there faculty members in the program you feel comfortable enough to approach or perhaps a connection from a conference or published research? The conversation may not be the most comfortable; however, you can be prepared to discuss: the specific topic area, roles, responsibilities and expected time commitments.

The second most common response I receive is how to deal with the feedback and criticisms. The easiest way is to anticipate rejection. It may seem contradictory, but you will not always receive an acceptance for a submitted manuscript. It could be due to a number of reasons, such as: a) the manuscript did not fit with the journal’s scope; b) the citation and writing style was flawed; c) the manuscript was submitted to more than one journal and they noticed it; or, d) it was just not up to par. The last one is the most difficult as it is challenging to expose your writing. In addition, some reviewers fall more on the side of providing destructive versus constructive criticism. Yet, this is the true test to see if you are willing to revise and resubmit or give up.

If you receive a rejection, take some time before reviewing feedback and determining if it can be integrated into the manuscript or if there is a better journal to submit it to after revising or if there is an argument for the manuscript to be reconsidered. If you receive a revise and resubmit (R&R), do it! It is amazing how many do not. Moreover, make sure the resubmission cover letter acknowledges the revisions to showcase intentionality and commitment to the process. The last snippet of advice is to find support with other doctoral students who understand the journey, difficulties, stress and can support you through the publication process. Writing, editing, submitting, revising, resubmitting, selecting… each stage comes with its own challenges, but the choice is yours to ultimately publish or perish.

Author: Brittany “Brie” Haupt is a doctoral candidate in the University of Central Florida’s Public Affairs program, Public Administration track. She can be reached via email at [email protected].

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