Rees Quilford, PhD candidate
School of Media and Communication, RMIT University
Undertaking research is just one component of the graduate research journey. How you share that research, and for what purpose, is also a key consideration.
Many avenues exist for dissemination – conference presentations, poster presentations and discipline specific discussions offer avenues to communicate to the academic community. Forums such as the annual 3 Minute Thesis competition also offer PhD and MPhil students another way to communicate research (in a highly concise and succinct manner).
But it is publishing – be that in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters or monographs – which is the most common and highly regarded method. It is a cornerstone of the academic endeavour.
As a PhD candidate, you often hear opposing views on whether engaging with these activities is a good idea. As the academic publication process is a protracted and time-consuming process, some argue that it consumes valuable time that should be spent progressing your research project. Others argue that is a fundamental and highly rewarding part of the graduate research experience.
The requirements for a PhD vary by discipline and host institution. However, unless you are undertaking a PhD by publication then there is usually no formal requirement that you publish in order to successfully complete your PhD. However, in my experience the act of writing for publication, and the publishing process itself, can have many benefits.
A key assessment measure for PhD research is demonstrating that you’re capable of producing original research in your field. Publishing your work in a refereed journal is a major benchmark for this. It offers a strong signal to examiners that your research has legitimacy within your field.
Pat Thomson, Professor of Education at The University of Nottingham, articulates many of the key considerations around publication in her excellent piece ‘Should you publish during your PhD?’.
Thomson suggests that writing a paper can help PhD candidates to test theoretical and/or analytical approaches. Consolidating a coherent sense “self” and deciding upon a scholarly “persona” is another advantage she cites.
The fact that publication gets your research outputs and thinking into the public domain is important outcome. This process, according to Thomson, also leads to peer review and scholarly exchange. It provides opportunities to discuss, test and improve your research.
Thomson’s final point relates to the undeniable fact that publication is a prerequisite for most postdoctoral academic positions. For those looking to pursue a career in academia then building a track record of publication success can increase your chances in a highly competitive job market.
Building on the points cited by Thomson, there is the compulsion (and obligation) to disseminate research findings. If PhD research isn’t shared beyond the examination process, be that within your field and beyond, then very few people will end up seeing it. If that is the case, the impact of the research is reduced.
It is important to acknowledge that not all PhD research easily lends itself to publication prior to completion. There are instances when a journal paper or conference presentation can’t be produced from the research prior to the completion of thesis length analysis and articulation.
Obviously, the research journey also differs for each individual. What is critically important to you could be a mere afterthought to others. For many PhD candidates, articulating their research findings exclusively in their PhD thesis may be more important than publishing them in a couple of papers during their candidature. For others, publishing regularly in peer-reviewed journals and/or presenting at conferences throughout their PhD is a high priority.
While the process of writing high-quality journal articles and navigating the submission and review process requires a significant investment of time as well as plenty of trial and error. In my experience, it can be a highly rewarding and impactful part of the PhD journey.