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Careers Café

You’re going to need publications


If an academic career is in your plan, you will need to get published. A PhD may be a necessary qualification, but it isn’t enough.

The reality is that even in small universities, research matters. A lot of university teaching has been casualized – sessional positions proliferate, many of them occupied by people with PhDs.

The vast majority of secure positions involve research. Hiring committees are looking to enhance the research activity of their departments and institutions. They are aware that the funding situation requires more grant funding of individual researchers.

The primary evidence of research potential is publications.

  • Past experience is the best evidence they have of future performance.
  • Peer-reviewed publications indicate that peers in your discipline have judged your work to be of acceptable quality.
  • Your publication record is an important factor in your ability to secure grant funding.

Publishing for validation is not very motivating though. In fact it can be paralyzing. With so much riding on your publications, you can find it hard to judge when an article is good enough to send out for review.

Publication is about communication.

Publication is how you get your ideas and knowledge from your brain to the brains of other people that need this knowledge. (HT to Margaret Atwood for that definition)

You have research findings, conceptual developments, or theoretical contributions that make important contributions to debates in your field. You may also have contributions to make to interdisciplinary debates or to debates in cognate fields. Your research may be important to public debates, policy, or practice within a particular area.

Because you also want it to validate you in a hiring process, focus on the people in your discipline who need this knowledge first.

What is your contribution? Put aside the introduction and lit review and try to make your argument clear.

Then clarify who cares about this, what they are saying, and how your contribution fits. This will frame the literature review part of your introduction. It also helps you figure out where to submit the manuscript.

Where is this debate happening?

Whether the topic of your paper fits with other content in the journal is a criterion. List three journals that are publishing work related to the article you are writing.

Rank those three journals (perhaps with the help of your supervisor or mentor). Submit to the best one first. The response you are hoping for is “revise and resubmit”.

Peer-review isn’t just about gate-keeping. Good journals provide reviewers comments. Those comments will help you improve your work.

When you get a response, consider the comments and any direction the editor provides. Consult with your supervisor or mentor. Either revise and resubmit to the same journal, or submit the paper to the second journal on your list.

The process takes time. Reviewers are busy academics. The review process can take months. After you submit an article, move on to the next one. You have more than one contribution to make.

Good luck!

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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