To Publish or Not to Publish during your PhD

I recently had a coaching call with a PhD student who is just starting out and he asked me about my thoughts on publishing during the PhD.

The advice that I was given when I started my PhD was that if I wanted to continue in an academic career after my PhD I should aim to have one or two articles published in peer-reviewed journals by the time I finished. That was in 2009.

It’s gotten even harder to get an academic position now and the job market is fiercely competitive so anything that you can do to differentiate yourself at this stage will help.

If you are not pursuing a career in academia, the decision to publish is up to you and the way you want to communicate your research in whatever medium you choose. 

While the focus should be on completing the PhD on time, I recommend aiming to publish up to three articles or having them in the pipeline by the time of submission.

For those pursuing an academic career path, it’s important, however, where you publish. You need to publish in international peer-reviewed journals. You should generally not publish in collected volumes – that is edited proceedings of conferences – and non peer-reviewed journals. Avoid these and don’t be coy in saying No.

Find out what are the best journals in your field and aim for these. Establish first contact with an editor by writing an email to him/her telling them you would like to contribute an article on X and would this be of interest for the journal. Get their Author Guidelines and Style Sheet and stick rigidly to what they require. Your submission will have to EXACTLY adhere to their guidelines and Style Sheet. Submit to one journal at a time.  

If you have some teaching experience, up to three published papers, and your PhD thesis which can be turned into a scholarly monograph you will position yourself well in the academic job market. Everything after that is networking.

I recommend reading William Germano, From Dissertation to Book (Chicago, 2013) on how to revise your PhD thesis into your first monograph and Anthony Haynes, Writing Successful Academic Books (Cambridge, 2010). Both are excellent. Every PhD student should buy a copy of Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. It’s indispensable.

I would also recommend that you think of your PhD dissertation as your first book and write it in such a way that it will not take too much work to turn it into your first academic book. This is not easy to do, but it may save you a lot of time later if you can pull it off.

I looked at the PhD thesis of my supervisor and his first published book and they were exactly the same. His supervisor had given him sage advice to write it as though it were his first published book – which it indeed became. Again it helps to model your work on a similar book in the field. Pick the best in the field and model them.