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Writing and Publishing - balancing the thesis, papers and me

 I'm writing this following an excellent workshop at the RGSIBG Postgraduate forum's 2022 conference.

Phil Emmerson and Sarah Hall presented and led discussion around the strategies and challenges of publishing papers as a PGR.

It was great, really supportive, and made me feel absolutely nauseous

I dedicated a chunk of time whilst on Covid lockdown to getting a paper written that was based on the data from my MSc research and further interdisciplinary research conducted for my PhD.

It took a year of the paper being submitted and resubmitted, to the same two reviewers, undergoing significant revisions, until the paper was finally rejected. The process, alongside the fact that my personal details had accidentally been sent to the reviewers (and my subsequent panicked guesses about who they might be and how important they may/may not be in my future career) had a huge impact on my confidence at the time. 

Having put the paper to one side I had tried to consider other options. However, I've struggled with a few areas:

  • I particularly want to write with co-authors, and for some reasons I really struggle approaching other researchers to ask if they would be interested.
  • I've started paper ideas, and noted down journals of interest but never got as far as actually looking at journal submission.
  • Despite significant support from my supervisors and in particular my institute director I can't work out / focus a new direction for the original paper. I haven't looked at revising the paper recently and to be honest I don't think I've 'looked' at the paper at all.

I asked a couple of questions in the workshop, and the answers given were really supportive, reflective and constructive. They pointed out some clear strategies and ways of approaching the review process which were really useful, and all things that I did. As they said, following all of these steps doesn't necessarily mean the paper will be accepted, but it does mean I did everything I could do.

This workshop should not have made me want to cry.

I really lack confidence in my writing, I've even got a label (mildly dyspraxic) that I can handily wave when things are going wrong. I know I can write well in certain circumstances (I write a real page turner of a report), but my academic paper writing experience has created a big ol block.

Looking back at my list of challenges, non of them are material. They all involve me stopping before I've got underway with anything. The classic, if you don't jump you can't fall scenario. 

Now I do have the genuine difficulty of time constraints and commitment to my thesis. I really want to get this thesis done, but I'm battling the rising panic that I'll never publish anything. I'm clearly blocking myself from trying, whilst also having the realistic block that my thesis might need to be prioritised.

So, reflecting on the feedback from today I'm going to try a new approach.

  1. I don't have to do this on my own. Yes, I've discussed this with my supervisors, but that's not the same as asking for help or advice from a peer group. I don't have to approach people with a paper and pen shoved under their face - but starting these conversations will help me network and may help me find groups of co-authors for the future.
  2. Prioritise what I want. Not what I want to write, but what are my top three reasons for wanting to publish. Then I can think about what, where and whether I want to publish, and if that's even academic.
  3. Cutting myself some slack. If all I achieve is getting my thesis done (?!?) I'll still have written a thesis. If I never write an academic paper it doesn't mean I can't write or that I'll never write again. It's very difficult to let go of something that went badly, without feeling that you're quitting because it went badly. 
I hope that this may be some help to others attempting to navigate this process, and I'll update this post with my decisions and experiences as I go along. For now, I need to get back to the thesis edit.

With my sincere thanks to the PGF_RGSIGB team, and Phil and Sarah who definitely had no intention of making me cry, and have significantly helped me structure my thinking on this