Tuesday, April 20, 2010
How to publish, or: No seriously, how to publish?
There are many unspoken rules to abide by as a PhD student, but one trumps them all: publish, publish, publish. Gone are the days when people committed four years of their lives to write a tome, only to spend a further 6–12 months condensing it into publishable chunks. As ‘thesis by publication’ becomes the normative standard, we are expected to write up and submit papers throughout our PhD. But how can we maximize our chances of getting published? As someone who has received my fair share of rejections, this naturally is a question I am keen to answer.
Recently I attended the national social psychology conference and got some advice from the experts. I attended a postgraduate workshop on publishing given by Professor Shinobu Kitayama, editor of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. He summarized what he saw as the qualities of good empirical papers: they make a substantive advance to the literature (i.e., are novel and interesting), have a clear theoretical story, with data that are rigorously (and appropriately) analysed. Naturally, you need good data to get into top journals, but Professor Kitayama’s point seemed to be that you can get away with a lot by telling a good story – it’s up to you to make people interested in your topic (even if you lost interest ages ago) and want to read more.
I think this is great advice, but as a social scientist I’m interested in actual data. I attended another talk by Dr. Nick Haslam who has analysed the publishing strategies of successful and unsuccessful academics. There were some great pearls of wisdom in this talk, like the fact that there is a non-linear relationship between being first author on a paper and academic success: having a minority of first-author papers is beneficial career-wise, but too much solo publishing is actually detrimental. The same goes for publishing in teams: a bit is good, but you shouldn’t always be one of many. Perhaps most interestingly, he found that quantity of publications predicts impact better than quality. So the message is to publish lots, not necessarily to publish well!
I feel a little better informed now than when I started, but the answer of how to publish is still elusive. What you can do is maximize your chances by following advice from people who know–your supervisor, other academics, and your peers. Look at the programs of the conferences you attend; you will always find roundtables, workshops, and seminars devoted to this topic. I find this sort of comforting; it just goes to show that no one really has it all figured out. There’s no magic formula you can follow to get published, but if anyone figures it out please let me know!
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