Publishing as a PhD student

Our blogpost today comes from Alison Mayne. Alison lives near Falkirk and is a doctoral researcher at Sheffield Hallam University.  Her PhD study explores women’s perceptions of wellbeing as they craft alone but share to social media. She has published in conference proceedings for Futurescan 3: Intersecting Identities 2015, a journal article in Craft Research 7 (1) and a chapter for Digital Sociologies (Policy Press).  You can find details through her Orcid ID. 

‘I have enough to do, are you kidding?’

Publishing before your PhD is completed does sound a little scary.  However, I think there can be tremendous benefits. Primarily, it is a way to demonstrate that you are ‘research active’ – that dreadful REF phrase – which could mean a favourable view when applying for post-doc or research / teaching opportunities when you are done.  There are other elements to consider too – writing something seen by others can help to firm up arguments, clarify your thinking or just investigate ideas you are exploring without being tied to the direction of your thesis.

‘Seriously, I have enough to do!’

Perhaps you do.  If you are in the midst of writing up, formulating an article for publication might be a distraction and you would be better off planning to deconstruct your PhD into potential articles once you have passed.  You might even work through this whilst you are waiting for your viva, as a useful way of looking at your findings afresh.  The journey from submitting an article – through reviews and revising  proofs – can take anything up to a year, so be sure you want to commit that much time to it (I had no idea).  Try creating a zine or blog about your work for a while, to experiment with alternative ways of getting your work ‘out there’.  Certainly I would suggest that if you feel you are spinning enough plates as it is, now is not the time:  Your physical and mental health should come first, always.


Publishing offices of The Suffragist, c.1916. Via Wikimedia Commons

Making it work for you

In order to maximise the benefit of publishing, firstly consider a few suitable journals with your supervisor (and don’t even think about this without their support).  Which audience do you want to see your work?  Which disciplines do you want to align yourself with? Who are your academic ‘people’?  Secondly, think about ways to match up other tasks you are undertaking.  Giving a presentation or paper at a conference?  Use it to construct a clear argument on an element of your research and craft into an article for one of your target journals.  Don’t miss out on chances to submit a formal article in conference proceedings, or perhaps there is a special journal issue for conference papers.  Trying to crystallise your methodology chapter?  Explore it in the format of a journal specialising in your chosen approach.  Keep an eye out for serendipitous calls for chapter submissions in edited volumes.  Be brave – email named journal editors with your ideas and you may be surprised at their enthusiasm.

The Review

Hilarious and appalling stories abound about reviewers (and why is it Reviewer 2 who is always so vicious?), but this is often in a blind setting for conferences.   If you have had an email conversation about an abstract with a journal editor, you should have a clear idea that your work resonates in some way with what they want for their publication.   They have a relationship with you and want to support you in providing something of worth – it’s not in their interest to just be mean.  Many people give up after receiving review comments, but if you can, deal with them coolly and honestly… even if your pride takes a bruising.  They have, after all, being doing this for longer than us, which is why they are editing a journal and we are not.   Review comments are not needlessly picky – they are probably making useful points about clarity in method or firming up the direction of an argument.

I would recommend putting on your big pants and dealing with each review comment in a systematic, even slightly detached manner.  If you want to throw your laptop at the wall, step away and tackle it after a decent break.  If there are review comments you are unsure about, talk them through with your supervisor or trusted mentor.  However, also remember that you are the author: If the review comments seek to send you down a path that is in contradiction to what you want, you can provide an explanation of why you won’t be changing something… perhaps you just need to express your point with more precision.

Some Caveats

Sending your work out into the wild can make you feel pretty fragile.  If you have a punishing review, it can make you doubt yourself (and we probably already have enough of that) so take this on if you are feeling… if not strong, at least well-supported.  Another consideration is that thinking your way into writing something other than your PhD, the writing of it and the aftermath of resettling your brain back into thesis-mode all takes time – make sure you are happy to afford it.  Is writing for publication worth it or is it an earnest procrastination which puts off the ‘proper’ work of the thesis?

Article Afterlife

Listen to me now… register with Orcid ( which will provide you with a unique identifier linking to your published work.  (An Orcid ID is likely to become mandatory for the REF and increasingly they are expected on funding applications.)  It’s no use slaving over work which no-one sees, so put the ID on your email signature and Twitter profile.  Work to publicise what you have done – shamelessly call in favours for promotion, send it to academics you admire (and have cited… they’ll adore you), deposit it with your institution for REF.  You never know where these contacts could lead you.

I think it is worth the metaphoric / literal sweat and tears.  I *might* have a bookshelf space for ‘my published works’ – on tricky days looking at it gives me confidence, both to finish what I am doing now and to trust that other items will join the shelf in the future.  I am certain that, whatever happens next, having published can only be a bonus.


Keep space on the bookshelf for your ‘published works’

To find out more about Alison, her research and her publications, see her blog or follow her on Twitter: @newbiephd.





2 thoughts on “Publishing as a PhD student

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s