PUBLISHING IN ACADEMIA: REFLECTIONS FROM A ’24TH GRADER’
I remember my thoughts as I walked into the book exhibit at a conference in London last summer: “Can I just snuggle amongst all the books?” That may sound a little ridiculous, but I’ve always loved being in settings where I could learn and read, particularly libraries and bookstores. As a child, even before I was old enough to go to school, I spent a lot of time in the elementary school library waiting for my mother to finish her shift. I would peruse the books, covered with beautiful illustrations or funny cartoons. Having picked one, I would wander over to the bean bags in the slightly secluded tree house structure in the middle of the library and sit there reading for hours. Conference book exhibitions give me the same feelings. I wish I had enough time to just peruse the books and spend time with each one, snuggling on a bean bag. However, this particular trip to the book exhibition was different—I had my own appointment with a book press.
I walked in to meet with a representative from the publishing house regarding the potential publication of my yet-to-be-written dissertation. Because I was presenting a paper at this conference, I had received an email from the publishing house and set up a meeting with them to discuss potential collaborations. I wanted to ask all the questions I could about the process.
Here, I will make a confession: I have spent almost my entire life in an academic setting, but I know next to nothing about publishing in academia. Ever since kindergarten, I have never stopped being a student, except during sporadic summer internships or work to finance my degrees. The 2018-2019 academic year marked the completion of the ‘24th’ grade for me. I have earned multiple degrees, engaged with various fields, and reached a stage of education where I create knowledge that expands what others know about the world. I have received grants and fellowships to conduct research internationally and presented my work at conferences in the United States and abroad. But I know little about the nature of publishing or how to formally disseminate my research within the academic community in a way that advances the body of knowledge in the field.
Despite engaging in this exercise on a daily basis, many students have no idea what goes into creating a real publication in a scholarly journal or book rather than a graduate course paper.
It is perhaps ironic that if there is one word hanging over our head throughout our graduate degree, it is publishing. In college and graduate school, we are expected to read multiple types of publications each week, analyze them, and incorporate them into our own writings to build on the shoulders of those working before us. Despite engaging in this exercise on a daily basis, many students have no idea what goes into creating a real publication in a scholarly journal or book rather than a graduate course paper.
And yet we have to successfully publish in order to succeed in academia. Publications are becoming a requirement in many disciplines in order to even be considered for academic employment. Conversations around the pressure to publish have begun in academic circles: What is the point of academic publishing? Is it to further knowledge or to secure and maintain academic legitimacy in the eyes of peers and institutions (e.g., Kirchherr 2018)? When does the pressure to publish become too great for students and researchers?
In the current academic landscape, graduate students and early career researchers are being diagnosed with higher rates of depression and anxiety from the pressures of academic pursuits (e.g., Flaherty 2018). With the academic market only becoming more competitive, students who publish their research before graduating have a significant edge. Thus, additional training and mentorship guiding graduate students and early career researchers on preparing scholarly material and navigating the publishing process is essential for our success and well-being.
When I made it to the correct book counter at the exhibition, the publishing representative was friendly. I remember vividly her blue eyes, brown curly hair, and slightly rosy lipstick. She extended her hand and asked if I was her next appointment. I told her that I was a PhD candidate, that I wanted to learn about the process of publishing a book after finishing my dissertation, and that I was not sure what would even be pertinent to ask—I mean, I wanted to be honest! Having completed a PhD herself, she knew precisely what I meant. She told me that I wasn’t alone; it was normal for graduate students to be mystified by the publishing process. She spoke about the role of sections on methodology, literature review, and theory in a book, and explained that it was ideal to find a niche that the publishing house specialized in, or a special upcoming series that would best fit my research. I can’t express how amazing it was to sit down with someone who gave me guidance for disseminating my work.
And perhaps that’s the problem: one doesn’t have enough time to both write and publish between the other responsibilities necessary for a graduate degree.
Publication. This word has worked itself into my everyday vocabulary: What sort of publication will I make my dissertation into? What kind of work can I produce and submit before my dissertation is complete? How do I even think about a publication with a dissertation looming over me? Will I ever publish at all? In my mind, publishing has become this elusive being that is constantly avoiding me, or perhaps I’m avoiding it. Between my field research in Morocco and now the pressure to finish my dissertation, I just haven’t had time. And perhaps that’s the problem: one doesn’t have enough time to both write and publish between the other responsibilities necessary for a graduate degree.
As I write my dissertation, I continue to have publishing on my mind—not just ensuring the publication of my dissertation, but also making the most of all the tools available to scholars to make their research accessible. I am fortunate to have received personalized advice from the representative at the book exhibit at the right time. But additional resources and spaces are sorely needed to provide tailored guidance for maximizing the impact of the incredible knowledge and data generated from graduate research. Integrating the work of publishing into our research training early on would even make the process enjoyable, as opposed to inducing stress as we scramble to finish our dissertation on time. After all, why wouldn’t we enjoy creating works that allow our reader to curl up in a bean bag and be immersed in our thoughts for a few moments? Until we incorporate productive programming into graduate and early career research training, publishing will continue to be a mysterious—yet inescapable—stressor for those carving their academic paths.
Flaherty, Colleen. “Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students.” Inside Higher Ed. March 6, 2018. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/06/new-study-says-graduate-students-mental-health-crisis
Kirchherr, Julian. “A PhD should be about improving society, not chasing academic kudos.” The Guardian. August 9, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2018/aug/09/a-phd-should-be-about-improving-society-not-chasing-academic-kudos
Erin Gould is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UC Riverside. She conducted her ethnographic fieldwork with young storyteller performers in Marrakech, Morocco, focusing on the transformation and innovation they bring to their practices while considering how an element of haunting contributes to the image of storyteller in contemporary Morocco. She is currently writing up her dissertation in southern California.
You can find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.