Publishing in Graduate School (Mark Peffley)

Why Publish? Don’t I Have Enough to Worry About?

We all feel ambivalent about publishing, viewing it as both a "game" and a scholarly pursuit. But most of us agree that it’s essential, for a variety of reasons. There are two types of reasons cited why graduate students, who do just about everything that faculty members do, and more, should publish.

          o The principled reason goes something like this: publishing aids in making the transition from being a consumer of knowledge to being a producer of knowledge. Most graduate students subsist as a "human sponge" absorbing knowledge and then disseminating it to undergraduates. There is an important transition to be made, however, from playing the role of armchair critic, which academics (translate, "airbags") play quite well, to that of researcher who offers oneself up for criticism from the "peanut gallery".
          o The real reason for publishing, of course, is that you have to in order to get a job and get promoted. Increasingly, job applicants in today’s competitive market are expected to have one or two publications under their belt, indicating that they are ready to "hit the ground running" at their new job with a research agenda and some experience in playing the publication game. This may seem unfair -- to be expected to do everything that regular faculty do -- teach, publish and write a dissertation, but keep in mind the long-range goal of professional training and socialization here. The hope is that as you deprive yourself of all social contact, you will fit in with a profession of social pariahs who enjoy playing the publishing game. Also, keep in mind that the idyllic small liberal arts college that does not expect you to publish is pretty much a myth these days, since, whatever the teaching load, the expectations to publish are likely to seem relatively high. All the more reason to learn the publishing game early, in graduate school.

      Where to find ideas and how to develop them for publication?

        * Research designs and course papers. Probably the best source of research ideas are the research designs and course papers graduate students write in their courses. Instead of churning out the mechanical, obligatory effort, why not find a topic you’re interested in and think about turning it into a conference paper and eventually a publication? It may come as a shock to find out that some of the best topics are ones in which you actually have an interest -- not the area that no one else has worked over because it was either too boring or required a lifelong commitment to data collection. After the course, when you have time to reflect, you might propose a conference paper to provide yourself a deadline and an opportunity for feedback. The Directed Research Paper is another obvious vehicle for an eventual publication. The important point is that there should be no wasted efforts in graduate school.
        * Working with a faculty member: another source of research ideas and font of "insider info" on the ins and outs of publishing in your field is a faculty member, who may work with you as either a co-author or an advisor on a particular project. Most faculty members are happy to work with graduate students in either capacity. However, you need to approach them, even if some of us seem unapproachable, aloof or socially inept. Faculty members are always busy and, to be honest, graduate students are not always their first priority, so you might have to pester them to make a claim on their attention. This is, of course, easier to do if you are working on a project of mutual interest -- the traditional symbiotic (exploitative?) relationship. You should be working with more than one faculty member.
        * Other sources of ideas include your colleagues, conferences, departmental colloquia, summer institutes, and so on.

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