Everyone—from wide-eyed first graders to grizzled newspaper reporters—likes seeing his or her name in print;this is true whether a name appears as a byline or as a series of loops on a crumpled piece of finger art. Graduate students are no different—they, too, get a rush from reading their name on top of a journal article or other published piece of academic writing. But beyond the emotional rush that comes with authorship, there are other reasons why it’s a good idea for graduate students to publish their work. Publishing can help students land postdocs or tenure-track faculty positions, enhance the status of students in their field of study, and boost job prospects, especially in fields outside of academia.
In this post, Graduate School of Arts and Sciencesstudents and alumni, as well as a student from the computer science graduate program in the School of Engineering, share best practices for getting published and why all graduate students—regardless of their career aspirations—should publish their work.
Have an Out-of-Body Experience
What do Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis; Like Father Like Son starring Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains; and Rob Schneider’s The Hot Chick have to do with getting published? More than you might think. In Kafka’s book and the two films, each lead character assumes a different form—Gregor Samsa is transformed into an insect-like creature, Cameron takes over his father’s body, and Schneider becomes, well, the title says it all. Following each transformation, the characters see their world in a different light. The ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” can be crucial to publishing research or other graduate student work.
“If your work is being peer reviewed, it’s best to think about how you would review the paper sitting on your desk,” said chemistry graduate alumna Ashleigh Baber, G11, who works at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and has been the author or coauthor of twenty-two papers based on her graduate research. “What would you have questions about? Are there sections in which you’d need more convincing? Thinking like a reviewer helps address important issues before a paper is even sent out for publication (or sent to be published).”
“Graduate students should read articles from journals that may publish their work,” said Daniels, who has published or copublished four journal articles. “Students should also learn the style of the journals, not so much the writing style but more of where the emphasis lies. For example, is the focus of the publication on research methods or on novel scientific discovery? Being able to answer a question like this will help make the publishing process that much easier.”
Learn to Juggle
Jon Freeman, apsychology doctoral student with twenty-five authored or coauthored articles to his credit (and whose recent work was featured in TuftsNow), believes that having many projects going on at the same time is essential for both getting published and maintaining your sanity.
“I think it helps to be working on multiple and diverse projects at the same time,” he said. “After working nonstop for a week on a manuscript dealing with topic X, many people need to take a break and they stop working altogether. But another alternative is to switch to a second manuscript you’ve been working on. This second manuscript could deal with topic Y, which is at a different level of analysis, uses a different methodology/technique, or deals with a different topic entirely. Working on multiple projects helps keep me fresh, interested, and more productive.”
Embrace Rejection (Or at Least Be Okay With It)
No one—from a contestant on American Idol to a point guard driving the lane—likes being rejected. But in the world of publishing rejection is par for the course. Erin Munro, who earned a master of science and Ph.D. in mathematics from GSAS in 2008 and 2002, respectively, stresses that “just because one journal rejects you it doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. Pay attention to the comments of reviewers and keep trying.”
Added Jon Freeman, “Graduate students will get rejected a fair amount, and that’s normal and to be expected. Their work can be very personal; it’s their blood, sweat, and tears. In many cases, students can become disheartened very quickly from journal rejections and this can derail them from continuing with the work and revising it. But eventually graduate students develop a hard shell and they tough it out. Feedback from reviewers can actually be very helpful and lead to exciting new research questions.”
Also, if rejection is getting you “down,” you can follow the advice that Kyna Hamill, a lecturer in English and the Core Curriculum at Boston University, received.
“All the work and energy that goes into research papers for a class should not go to waste,” said Hamill, who earned a Ph.D. in theatre history from GSAS in 2006 and wrote three book reviews and edited an anthology of dramatic scenes as a student. “My father-in-law, who was a law professor, gave me some great advice. He said, ‘once you send your work to a journal, have an envelope ready to mail to the next place so you can be prepared if you get rejected.’”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Anyone who has tried to learn a musical instrument, memorize the lines of a play, or hit a golf ball even remotely straight knows that the most important thing (besides talent) is practice. The same can be said for getting published.
“The more you write, the easier it will be to coherently explain you work to an audience,” said Ashleigh Baber. “Also, have a peer review your writing and get constructive criticism on it before you give the paper/journal article to a mentor or supervisor. A peer’s fresh eyes can evaluate a paper differently than someone who has been working on it for days, weeks, or months.”
Noah Daniels agrees with the importance of perfecting the craft, and has specific advice for students in science-based disciplines.
“The most important thing is to start writing early,” he said. “In the sciences, it is common to spend a lot of time on algorithms, techniques, experiments, and then hastily throw together a subpar manuscript. If graduate students start writing early, it will not only help with planning, experiments, and the analysis, but it will also lead to a much stronger paper in the end.”
Think of Everything (Or at Least Try To)
There are few graduate students who have submitted a paper for review and haven’t—while on the bus, watching T.V., or tidying up the house—remembered some detail or information they could have added. While it’s impossible to include everything, a well-thought out plan will ensure the important information is included.
“It’s important to have a clearly defined project/scope for the paper,” said Erin Munro, who published an article based on her graduate research and is a postdoctoral fellow at Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Center’s Lab for Neural Computation and Adaptation. “And if a graduate student is copublishing a paper he or she should play an active part in the writing and reviewing of it.”
And even if a student has no plans of publishing (at least not in the short term), it’s never a bad idea to prepare for the possibility of doing so at some point.
“I published an article about a service-learning experience I had,” said Jacqueline Bresnahan, an occupational therapy graduate student who published an article in OT Practice Magazine. “But I didn’t decide to write the article until my service-learning was over. In retrospect, I wish I had taken photos to document the experience. The magazine would have loved to have photos of the group I co-led, but I never thought to take any.”
Just Do It
In the end—whether one is studying the humanities or the sciences, the arts or the social sciences—each and every graduate student should consider publishing.
“Even if you don’t pursue a research career, many hiring managers will look favorably upon a serious publication record and for a startup company this record can be a significant benefit when it comes to getting hired,” said Noah Daniels.
Jacqueline Bresnahan, on the other hand, felt that it was “important to share my unique learning experience at Tufts with the occupational therapy community, and the article helped spread the reputation of my department as a high-quality educational program. Additionally, it was inspirational to see that my voice could be heard within my professional community. I don’t necessarily have the loudest voice, but I do have many ideas worth sharing and it was wonderful to see that there was a medium through which I could be heard.”
By Robert Bochnak, G07, senior writer/communications manager, Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences
Are there any best practices for getting published that we missed? Want to share your thoughts on this blog post? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.