How To Get Your Work Published As A Graduate Student

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So, you want to go to grad school? Keep reading.

As a graduate student, you are encouraged to do other activities other than those associated with your course work.

This can include extra-curricular activities, volunteering, or working part-time.  However, it is also suggested that you work on expanding your curriculum vitae.

“It is valuable for graduate students to publish as early and often as they can. Not only does it assist in the pursuit of scholarships, it will also help with future job prospects.”
Chris Andersen, associate professor, University of Alberta

Other than presenting at an academic conference, you can also submit papers for publication in academic journals to enhance your CV .

This is especially important if you are contemplating applying for a PhD, since the competition for spots in a PhD program is even more intense than at the masters level.

Additionally, if you plan on pursuing the path of academia as a profession, you will need proof of your scholarly abilities when you are applying for post-docs, which is assessed in part by what is found on your CV.

I spoke with Chris Andersen, an associate professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, who is also the editor of the Aboriginal Policy Studies journal, to get his opinions  on graduate students getting their work published and how to do so.

Q. Why should graduate students submit papers to academic journals?
A. While the “publish or perishcliché has probably been overdrawn, it is nonetheless valuable for graduate students to publish as early and often as they can. Not only does it assist in the pursuit of scholarships, it will also help with future job prospects.

Less instrumentally, its also a valuable exercise to engage in because it requires graduate students to come to firm conclusions about the literature they read and to position themselves and their arguments in light of such literature. Finally, it provides an entry into one of the primary duties of an academic – publishing – and begins a training process that they will engage in for the rest of their professional lives.

Q. What does a great submission consist of?
A. No one thing makes a great submission. However, we ask our referees to examine the extent to which the article makes a substantive contribution to scholarship, theoretical understanding or specific debates of interest to the readers of the journal. Likewise, given the audience we’re pitching the journal to, the writing should be relatively non-technical and be of interest to practitioners.

Manuscripts that are interdisciplinary and address emerging issues or areas are looked upon favourably, especially if the author demonstrates a clear command of their field of interest and positions their arguments within a literature (or literatures).

Q. What is the peer-review process, and why is it done?
A. We employ a “double blind” peer review process, such that our authors never know the reviewers, nor vice versa. Peer review is important because it assures rigorous but fair examination of the article that rests primarily on the validity and strength of the argument – as gauged by other knowledgeable individuals within the field – rather than the personalities of its author (or reviewer).

Given how invested scholars are in their particular fields, differences of opinion will emerge regardless and it is up to the editor to make a final decision – however, it all begins with the peer review process.

Q. Who can students ask for help in submitting a paper to the journal?
A. I’m not sure all editors would be willing to help, although personally I have no problem helping students.

Usually, the student should talk to his or her supervisor, a favourite professor (other than the supervisor) who seems approachable, and even other students who have already published.

Important: attend as many of the PRO seminars on professional development and grant writing (presented by many universities) as these give numerous tips and pointers that may prove valuable to getting their confidence up for a first submission.

Q. What should a graduate student do if their submission gets rejected?
A. “If at first you don’t succeed…” The main thing to keep in mind is that no matter how good you think your manuscript is, rejections can occur for any number of reasons. Two common ones include the editor deciding it’s not the proper fit for that particular journal (and may encourage you to submit elsewhere) and reviewers finding that the manuscript has potential but that the analysis is still a tad immature.

From the student’s perspective, the main thing to keep in mind is to use every review as a learning experience. Some reviews will feel unfair, others simply puzzling – but there’s something to be gained from calmly and dispassionately absorbing the critiques and positioning your argument in light of them (and don’t feel you need to change them simply because a reviewer disagrees with them – however, what you will need to do is position your arguments in light of those critiques).

Most importantly, if you feel strongly about your arguments and analyses, do not give up!

Q. Is there anything else you think graduate students should know about submitting papers to academic journals?
A. If you’re going to take your submission seriously and to increase your chances of success, speak to a senior professor within your department who “knows the ropes” and get him or her to read your paper and make comments on it (being sure to explain which journal you’re planning on submitting it to).

Likewise, if you write an essay for a class, make sure to talk to the instructor to ask him or her how you can make changes to the paper in pursuit of a peer-reviewed publication. They’re often the best positioned to give substantive feedback because they understand the broader context within which you positioned the paper.

If I could give one piece of advice to students: the decision to submit a manuscript is much more daunting than actually submitting it. That said, make sure you give yourself every chance to succeed by submitting as high-quality, journal mandate-relevant and as “clean” a copy as possible.

So, you want to go to grad school? Click here to read more.Photo credit: day 167 by Rachel on Flickr
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