Assistant Professor, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
Depending on your institution's guidelines, you will either finish your PhD by having a number of papers accepted for publication, or by writing a "big book"-style thesis.
This post is entirely aimed at those of us who spend months on end delivering a thesis of several hundreds of pages. We might be overly proud of having our baby finally sent out into the world, but then it will dawn upon us: the majority of researchers would prefer to read a 10-page paper about a more specific part of this research than plow through our 400 pages of labor. The only one who would ever want to read through it all and spend an entire week making sense of your thesis is a fellow PhD student….
And thus, for most of us "big book"-thesis-writing-and-publishing folks, we'll need to revisit all our material again after publication of the thesis, and turn it into a number of journal papers.
If you are lucky enough to get into a post-doc position that is fully research-oriented, you have all the time (or at least, you might think you have) to write your papers. If you venture out into the industry, you'll have to do it in your evenings and weekends.
Regardless of the time constraints, it's still extremely valuable to take the step of turning your dissertation into journal papers. Two years past my thesis defense, I'm reaching the end of this process (with a number of papers published, a number in review and a few more to write). Below are some of my observations on the process.
1. Plan for it
After you graduate, life is going to take over. You might be changing jobs, moving to a different place/city/country, and these papers might start to slip to the back of your mind. Take some time while your dissertation is still freshly printed, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which chapters or subchapters would serve as a good journal paper?
- Which journal should I submit my work to?
- How much time do I think I need for writing this paper?
Then, start planning paper by paper. I’m keeping an overview in a Google docs spreadsheet with the papers, the journals I want to submit to, and the tentative self-imposed deadlines. My goal is to produce six new drafts per year, but some months are entirely filled with dealing with reviewers’ comments, delivering research reports with new work, or teaching duties. I typically give my co-authors (maximum) a month to send their feedback. The feedback is usually limited, so I might need just a morning to make a few changes, and then submit. I plan to start writing the next paper (or replying to reviewers’ comments and reworking the manuscript) whenever the draft of the previous one is done, so that I create a constant stream of writing, revising, sending to co-authors and submitting.
2. Enlist some good co-authors
Now that you have -hopefully- worked well with your thesis committee members, and implemented their advice to deliver the final draft of your dissertation, is there any part of your research that particularly benefited from their input? If you are planning to write a paper on this topic, consider inviting this committee member to be a co-author.
Writing with authors other than your supervisor will improve your writing, and is typically well-received in most fields. Publishing with different authors shows that you can work across research groups and universities and that you are ready to reach out into the world.
3. Remember that not all papers are born equal
Some papers will roll out from your dissertation in just a few writing sessions. For other papers you'll be sweating and sighing as you try to force a piece of research into a stand-alone narrative. Don't get mad at yourself or your work - just accept this fact as it is. And if the frustration becomes too much, head to the gym, grab some chocolate or do whatever typically relieves your stress.
Have you published several papers from the work in your dissertation? How did you organize this, and what advice would you like to share with me?
Image Credit/Source:Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock
The University of Nebraska Press does not consider unrevised dissertations. Considerable differences exist between a dissertation and a book, and even the best dissertation will need to be revised before being submitted for publication. Most commonly, scholars seeking to publish their revised dissertations will need to do the following:
Eliminate or drastically reduce the “review of scholarly literature” section. While it may be a standard feature of dissertations, such a review is superfluous in a book. You are no longer writing for your committee in fulfillment of degree requirements; you are writing as an authority on your chosen subject matter.
Pare down your notes. Most dissertations have roughly twice as many notes as necessary. Again, you are now the authority. As such, exhaustive notation is overly defensive, not proof of sound scholarship.
Eliminate discursive notes. If the facts or details in a note are important, incorporate them into your text; if not, delete them. Too often, notes become places to park extraneous information. Resist that temptation.
Likewise, pare down and streamline your bibliography.
Weed out scaffolding. Many dissertations are highly structured: authors might begin each chapter with a statement of what is going to be argued and conclude with a statement of what has been argued, or they might divide each chapter into excessive headings and subheadings. Recast your manuscript to improve its narrative flow.
Cut, cut, cut. At every possible turn, tighten your prose. Sharpen your argument. Eliminate irrelevant detail. Trust your readers to remember previous content. Repetition and wordiness only weaken a manuscript.