From PhD to Publication.

image1This afternoon I attended an event with the Early Career Researchers network at Edinburgh Napier University. The network is primarily based at the Business School but due to the nature of my research and who my supervisors are, I was invited to attend the networking event.

**please note, the information (below) is relevant to those in the Business School / Management areas only. Other disciplines have specific guidelines and advice on what / where is most appropriate to publish, and this should be discussed with your supervisory team within your domain. Publication preferences that can differ include journal rank and type (that you decide to submit to) as well as the positioning of the article within a journal (considering the quality of an article over where it is published, although there is a relationship between the two).**

Our speakers included (in order of participation) Professor Maura Sheehan, who is a Professor in International Management, Dr Valerie Egdell, a Senior Research Fellow within the Employment Research Institute and also Dr Debora Jeske who is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management within The Business School.

The afternoon got off to a good start and aimed to discuss the importance of publishing during and after the PhD process. The session was split into three parts, with three speakers, each giving their own perspective on publications and disseminating work, drawing upon experiences that they had had along the way. Most of the information was very relevant to me as this is what I will be aiming to do… and discussions of publications are already flowing within my supervisory meetings anyway and my supervisors are keen to get something out of the effort we are putting in.

So we began with an introductory talk of the importance of publications during the PhD and also how we could go about doing this. More importantly, we were able to seek advice from those who had progressed through the PhD journey and could give insight into the struggles by having two speakers tell us their own journeys so far.

So how many should we try and publish?

During a PhD and afterwards, students should aim (as a general guide) for at least two journal articles. If students aim for high quality journals, those of 3*-4* standard, this will benefit the student in terms of getting their work out there into journals that are highly respected. As well as this, it was discussed that potentially a book chapter (1*-2*) might be useful. This will help the researcher solidify their own knowledge and also allow further development of their own work to be discussed.

It is really important to begin looking for potential journals with your supervisory team as soon as you can. This will then allow you to set your targets to where you want your work to be in the future. For me, I can’t deal with the thought of researching for three years and having nothing to ‘show’ so will definitely be taking this advice on board.

You also need to aim for REALISTIC journals. Some journals have high expectations, certain theories and methods that they will only publish. If your research does not use this then you may need to look elsewhere. I have already had one (pre-PhD) rejection but I think we set our sights a little too high. Looking back I can see how our research did not really fit, but moreover I could not really see how we could make it better.  In this (our) case, the journal was a little unrealistic but we did not know this until we had been given our desk rejection. As a process of learning about publications I now know that research into outlets is key. You need to seek what is right for your research and more importantly, you need to see what is not. You see, by doing a little digging into what is right, you can then dig deeper into what the journal asks for, its scope and give that final push to see if you can make it.

If you do not think your research is good enough for a 3* or 4* journal just yet then don’t panic. As an early career researcher, you need to be aware that not everything fits and not everything will be published. Research is about the benefits and enjoyment for you and not just your employer, so if you feel like a journal is right (and have good reasons behind it) then fight for that journal. Publishing in a journal lower than 3* is still good, mainly because it will allow you to practice your writing skills to an academic audience. It will also enable you to disseminate your research in some form. It’s okay (it really is!!) if your research does not fit into the top journals the first time around, but the main things is that you try for the higher quality journals first of all so that you can justify why you are not aiming so high next time.

You can also look at conferences to help to get your work noticed. It is suggested that each student goes to one ‘best conference’ each year and then other conferences that allow networking to occur. By writing papers for high quality conferences, these can form the basis of the written publication, but you will never know how to get the words out there if you do not network and spend other opportunities out and about. Disseminating your research is one of the most important things in publications. Going to conferences can lead to a lot of opportunities that are just not available at home. You will get the meet other academics in the field and tell them about your research so quite often, you will gain an idea of where your publications might go.

What about publication strategies?

As a main strategy, you need to determine the focus. The story of your research will determine your outlet. Just because your research is named the same as a journal, does not necessarily mean it will fit. When you have a journal in mind, you are more likely to be successful. This is because you will try and word your work to that journal and understand what they are looking for. You will have more chance of making your research work with the journal if you do your research, not only in terms of the journal scope, but in what you are trying to say about the research you have carried out.

Often, open access journals may be the only option. This is fine! Smaller, niche journals may be the most suitable in terms of what your research offers. Submitting to this type of journal does not necessarily mean that rankings will not change. We heard one of our speakers explain that she had submitted to a journal that had increased its rankings but simultaneously one had decreased too (going down from a 3*) so you never know what might change in the future rankings.

Also, journals that are not 3* and 4* still might have impact. This is where the research comes in handy. You need to explore what impact that journal has in its field and if your research will be read. Having a piece of research in a high-impact, non 3* journal might give your more citations and views in that field than if it was published elsewhere. Impact if often measured by impact factor, and this is reflects the number of citations it has received. High impact factors let people know how many others have used an article so if impact factors are high, then these are definitely options for publication.

There is also a difference between 3*-4* journals and 3*-4* articles. Researchers need to ensure that their article is of high quality too. If the proposed publication does not meet the standard of the journal, then most likely it will get rejected. However, ensuring that the quality of the written work is high means that getting into higher quality journals may be easier, but if the quality of the writing is lower, then a rethink of the publication strategy is needed. If a high quality article is in a lower quality journal it will still be noticed if it is meant to be.

Why did I not get accepted?

There are various reasons for a rejection or a review and resubmit (R&R), and some of these are as follows:

  1. The hypotheses are not evenly distributed. You will find that a lot of people emphasise the first two hypotheses and kind of forget about the rest. Well, don’t. You need to ensure that all weight is equal between each hypothesis in terms of word count so that your final ones do not look like afterthoughts.
  2. The subject might not be right for the journals. This is where searching the scope can help. Some journals are really picky about what they ask for so if you know you do not have it then don’t submit it.
  3. Sometime the contributions are not clearly defined and this is what most journals look for. You need to be able to state how the research contributed to current research ad practice and say this in a way that is compatible with the journal. If you can explain the contributions of your paper in one or two sentences then you have it all sorted.
  4. There are also often data constraints. Some journals like certain types of data and some don’t. There may be issues with data analysis or data collection, or simply the reviewer might not understand what on earth you have done. Either way, it is important to justify data methods and techniques so if a reviewer comments, then you already have evidence to justify your choice.

What about reviewers?

Well, reviewers can be tough and we heard a lot about all of our speakers experiencing harsh reviewer comments. One thing is clear, reviews don’t always agree. One might like the article and one might not so it is all about getting things right ready for publication and taking feedback given.

Sometimes reviewers don’t tell you about ‘deal breakers’ so the things which need changing and the things which might not need so much attention. Either way, you must take reviewers comments with caution. Each review point must be addressed and if this is not changed there needs to be a reason why. It could be the case of different supporting evidence of something that the reviewer has not thought of (or has no expertise in) so be careful on how you respond and make sure it is done appropriately. Reviewers do not always read each other’s comments in your ‘reply to reviewers’. As a result, some reviewers might end up rejecting a revision because it introduces new material (and or issues), even if one of the reviewers has asked for this information to be introduced.

Don’t take reviewers comments personally – they don’t know you personally or your work (sometimes!!). Take their feedback on board and don’t make it seem like it is the worst thing in the world if the rejection comes in. Everyone gets a rejection at some point and for me this was even before I started the PhD process so I know how bad it can be to feel like you haven’t done well. What is more important is that you take a deep breath, relax and then tackle the comments head on so that when they are addressed there is some back up. Sometimes reviewers have no clue about things like advanced statistics (quite often simple statistics are understood) nor do they understand or read everything so it is about making things clear and succinct and ensuing that the reviewer can see what you have done and most importantly, why.

image1 (1)
Our PhD journey. We drew this at the research student induction in October 2015.

To understand the review process, it might help to get some reviewing experience. Now if you are like me and not at the point of reviewing journal articles then supporting conference reviewing might help. Once your work has been established you could start by reviewing papers submitted to conferences and the onto the review process of a journal. The more experience you get along the way, the better you will understand what a reviewer is expecting of you and what you need to do in order to finalise your publication.

But how will my confidence increase if I keep getting rejected?

It will, don’t worry. Getting feedback from 3* and 4* journals is key to getting things right. It just means that the article is not quite right yet. If you get feedback and not a desk rejection, it does means that the journal liked it but it also means they do not yet think it fits. You can then make the important improvements and ensure that these improvement meet the points addressed.

If things get rejected, you can also amend the paper and submit elsewhere. Addressing review comments and then getting a final rejection opens doors in terms of knowing what the reviewers felt was wrong so these can be looked at before submitting to somewhere new.

You could also address a call for papers. Calls for papers often specify what the main theme of interest is and what kind of topics – all related to the theme – are particularly welcome. As a result, a call for paper often provides very clear and occasionally more detailed instructions than is provided in the aims and purposes of some journals. Call for papers have set deadlines. The time frame reduces the risk of having to chase up collaborators for their work as the deadline should dictate when papers should be written by.

If you build up slowly form the bottom, your experience will eventually lead to a publication whether it happens first try or more than tenth try. It takes hard work, patience and dedication but you will get there in the end. It’s your reputation and your supervisor’s reputation that is on the line so they should keep you on track.

An important thing that was stressed was the use of your supervisory team. As someone new to the publication process you’re more than likely going to need help. You will need help form your supervisors to finalise that last draft before submitting and you will want to pick their brains when you get feedback from reviewers. Your team are there for support so instead of hiding away at bad feedback, use your supervisors to tackle the comments and reconstruct the article to be its best.

So that was it! It was a very informational afternoon and quite helpful for someone like me who is just at the start of her research journey. I must admit that some speakers were more well-received than others but everyone provided comments that can be taken away and thought about when looking into publications. Although I already have one desk-rejection under my belt and have just worked with my internship supervisor to submit another paper, I still need guidance in this area and will look forward to as much feedback as possible from future reviewers who wish to take on the challenge.



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