publishing during candidature: advice from candidates to supervisors

This is a guest post by Dr Shannon Mason Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Nagasaki University and Dr Margaret Merga, Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. It presents the learning for supervisors drawn from some of their recent research into doctoral publishing. Follow their research in the space of publishing in doctoral candidature and early career here.

For a number of reasons, doctoral candidates are being increasingly provided with an option, or even an obligation, to publish their work during their candidature, and include their research outputs in their final thesis. This has the potential to benefit candidates by giving them direct experience with the scholarly publication process, as well as developing a portfolio of research outputs, putting them at some advantage in often extremely competitive academic job markets. It can help doctoral candidates meet publication expectations, while still enabling them to make progress on a completed dissertation (Merga, 2015).But, like all approaches, it comes with both benefits and challenges, and the role of the supervisor in providing appropriate guidance may be paramount.

Our research over the past several years examines the experiences of doctoral candidates as they navigate the sometimes ‘brutal’ nature of academic publishing culture. We distil some of the insights gained from our published and ongoing papers that report the lived experiences of doctoral candidates, to provide some advice for current and future supervisors and mentors.

Make sure it’s the right choice for you both

Completing a thesis including publications is becoming more common, but it is usually not the only option, nor is it the most appropriate in all cases. We advocate for open and early conversations about the different options available to candidates, where the advantages and disadvantages of each are discussed, so that candidates can make an informed decision about whether publishing during candidature suits their particular circumstances. 

While the ultimate decision should be up to the candidate, supervisors can have valuable insider knowledge that can help guide students to make the best decision, making them aware of factors such as publication bias where some types of studies are more likely to be published than others (Rothstein, 2014). This should be done as early as possible, as subsequent changes to the mode can cause difficulties for students (Mason, 2018). However, it should also be acknowledged that needs may change over time, and to be responsive the thesis may change to or from a ‘publications’ approach.   

Talk early about expectations and ethical issues 

Relationships are central to effective supervision, and publishing is one domain where the potential for problems is high. It is the case that supervisors often serve as co-authors on some or all of a candidates’ papers (Mason & Merga, 2018). This has benefits for both parties. Candidates receive support in academic writing and publishing, while supervisors are given credit for their contribution, which is not the case in a traditional thesis. However, being a co-author should not be presumed. Discussing the roles and expectations around co-authorship are paramount, and the Vancouver Recommendations (ISMJE, 2018) offer a guide to issues of contribution and author order, so that the contribution of the candidate is neither over or understated. 

Again, we encourage open and regular communication, as well as written records of key decisions. Many institutions will require the contribution of each co-author to be detailed, but even where guidelines do not require it, we would encourage transparency in this space.    

Provide moral support along the journey – they’ll need it!

The publication process is full of uncertainty. There can be lengthy waiting periods at various stages from submission to publication. Researchers at all stages of their careers experience rejection, and it is an inevitable part of the publication process. For doctoral candidates only beginning to develop their identity as a researcher, a rejection can be devastating (Merga, Mason, & Morris, 2019). This is also the same for critical reviews, even when the final outcome may be ultimately a positive result, as in a request for major revisions. 

Being open about your own experiences of criticism and rejection can help empower candidates. Having a back-up journal readycan also be a proactivestep. Regardless ,the experience will likely be difficult for candidates, particularly in the beginning (Mason, 2018). Students may need a figurative shoulder to cry on, and supervisors should ensure that one is available (though not necessarily always themselves).  

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


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