Tips on Publishing in Graduate School

Yesterday I gave a little workshop about publishing to some graduate students (as part of Washington University’s Future Directions in Genetic Studies Graduate Training Workshop).  Here is a list of tips:

1. Make a personal web page.  It’s the cheapest and easiest way to advertize yourself to the world.  Post your picture, affiliation, bio, CV, publications, research interests, and teaching interests (including syllabi).  Your website is your introduction to the professional community:  treat it like an interview to the world.  Avoid too much personal information and frivolous pictures (at least before you get a job that you are happy with).  Consider using a free service such as Google Sites.

2. Are you most interested in research or teaching?  What you should publish depends in part on your professional goals.  If you are looking for a teaching job, a few publications of reasonable quality might help.  If you are looking for a research-oriented job, the publications that will help the most are high profile ones (articles in prestigious journals).

3. Invest in your writing skills.  Two classic sources that you should own, read, and consult are The Elements of Style, by W. Strunk, jr. and E. B. White, and On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.

4. Make a list of online resources on publishing.

5. Book reviews and encyclopedia articles are good experience but they won’t get you a job (or tenure).  Feel free to do a few of them, especially if they are in visible places (top journals, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  But don’t let them take much time away from your own work.

6. To have a reasonable chance of having a paper accepted by the time you go on the job market, submit at least one year in advance.  To have a good chance, submit more than one paper.

7. Where you publish is at least as important as whether you do.  Articles in top journals are big plusses, articles in ok journals are plusses, but articles in other journals may be considered minuses by members of a search committee.  Make a ranking of journals in your area.

8. How your paper will be treated by the journal (and how long it will take for a response) is more important than the quality of the journal.  Before deciding where to submit, consider acceptance rates, average response times, and whether a journal is likely to give helpful feedback upon rejection.  Consult the philosophy journal wiki and any other source of information you can find.

9. Look for special opportunities, such as calls for papers and special issues of journals that invite submissions.  If your paper is in the desired area, your chances of acceptance might be higher in those venues than in a regular journal submission.  The easiest way to be invited to contribute to editorial projects is to meet the people who are editing them and convincing them that you have something worthwhile to contribute.  So go to conferences, present your work, and meet others who work in your area.

10. A term paper or a dissertation chapter is usually not ready for submission.  It takes a lot of work to develop a paper into a publishable piece.  Revise, get comments, and then revise again.  Repeat as many times as needed.

11. A paper is more likely to be accepted if it responds to the current literature.  Make sure you know and cite the latest publications on your topic.  Frame your paper so that what you say and the way you say it hooks onto recently published work.

12. When is a paper ready for submission?  When the best people working in that field think it makes a contribution and it’s publishable.  If you have direct access to such people, ask them for help.  If not, consider emailing them your paper.  Or ask the best people you can find:  people who work in that field, experts in neighboring fields, graduate students working in your paper’s field, conference audiences.  Consider emailing some emerging young faculty working on your topic, especially if you cite their work:  They have an interest in seeing their work cited in print, so they are more likely to give you helpful feedback, even if they don’t know you, than the superstars.

13. Before you submit:  Make sure the paper is spell-checked, grammar-checked, and generally polished.  Few things are as irritating for a referee as devoting time to a paper whose author didn’t bother to remove typos and other trivial errors.

14. Be happy if your paper gets a “revise and resubmit”.  Revise your paper and make sure you address all of the referees’ comments, even if you don’t entirely agree with them.  In addition, write a separate document in which you go through the referees’ comments one by one and explain what you did to address them.  If you think a comment is completely wrong, explain why in the most respectful way.  Then resubmit your paper together with your response to the referees’ comments.

15. Rejections are a natural part of the process.  Anybody who submits nontrivial work to philosophy journals gets rejections.  Consider that Wittgenstein submitted the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to many publishers and they all rejected it.  If you receive feedback on your paper, study it carefully and revise your paper so as to prevent anyone from making the same criticisms (whether fair or unfair).  If you received no feedback, ask yourself whether the paper might have weaknesses that can be remedied.  If yes, revise the paper before sending it somewhere else.  If not, submit it immediately to another journal.

16. Blogs can be useful or a waste of time.  It depends on the blog and how you use it.  Reading blogs may help you find out what people are doing and talking about.  Posting on blogs won’t be enough to make you a famous philosopher, but it may help you advertise your work, get feedback on your ideas, and meet people interested in your area.  Find one or two good quality group blogs in your area and consider becoming a contributor.  If there is no good quality group blog in your area, create one.

Update [8/21/08]: There is an interesting discussion of related matters following an article by Thom Brooks on this topic.

4 Comments

  1. Bryan

    Hi Gualtiero,
    Thanks for taking the time and effort to post such a helpful set of suggestions. Im aware this isn’t the first time youve posted such helpful comments, especially for those of us still in Grad school, and just wanted to let you know that they are appreciated.

  2. I should give a word of caution with number 12: while most people are nice and trustworthy, academia is a very competitive field, and unfortunatelly there are many cases of stolen ideas and articles…

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