Thursday, April 2, 2015

Publish or Perish

Aside from the dreams of landing an academic position immediately after the doctorate, the other aspiration many doctoral students have is for their thesis to be published as a monograph. I am speaking from a humanities background, and do acknowledge that different fields have differing publishing aspirations such as in science where one may expect to publish multiple articles from the thesis. However, in the changing landscape of the academic publishing business, how feasible is it for students to get their thesis published?

A colleague in humanities directed me to this link which discusses whether supervisors advise students on placing an embargo on their thesis:

This embargo allows students to delay the electronic release of their thesis for a number of years, which helps entice a publisher to accept their thesis, since it is not yet available in any other format. With respect to advice, this is not something that my supervisor has ever mentioned to me, but conversely, it is not something which I have raised with her.

However, I have attended numerous workshops on the issues of publication, both for monographs and journals, which has helped to solidify my post-PhD publication strategy.

Firstly, I agree with publishers who do not want to accept theses which are or may soon be available free online. This may seem counter-intuitive to someone who does want to publish her thesis as a book! I think one of the key things to remember about publishing the thesis as a book is that a publisher wants different things than your supervisor or examiners. Therefore, your thesis probably shouldn't be published verbatim as a book. Extensive revisions to suit the needs of a wider academic audience or the publishers interests should significantly alter the thesis such that there is enough of difference between the book and the thesis.

Secondly, the monograph is not the be-all of academic publishing, and a few well-placed articles stemming from the thesis may have more of an impact than a niche monograph. The same goes as before, the articles will not just be copied and pasted from your thesis (at least, it should not be!); rather, it should be altered and adapted to suit the journal. 

Thirdly, your thesis is not the only publishable output when you reach the end of the doctorate, and showing a variety or range will boost job opportunities where publications are vital! Likely, throughout the course of your PhD there are bits and bobs which you couldn't use in your thesis for one reason or another. Turn it into an article which is divorced from your thesis! You may have a monograph and two articles, but if they are solely based on your thesis you may find yourself pidgeon-holed or accused of not having a range. 

Variety is key for academic publishing, along with a flexibility to adapt your thesis for the needs of publishers and new audiences. Stubbornness and an unwillingness to branch out from the confines of your thesis topic will negatively impact you in the long term.

As an example, here is my (very ambitious) post-PhD publishing strategy:

Published/In Publication Process
  1. Article [loosely based on a thesis chapter] - published
  2. Book chapter [collaborative interdisciplinary chapter based on the text I use in my thesis but not using specific thesis content] - awaiting proofs
Planned Publications
  1. Monograph [loosely based on my thesis, but with substantial changed for a more general readership]
  2. Translation [collaborative English translation of the text I use in my text - possibly incorporated into the monograph]
  3. Article [completely new article on 12th century medieval physiognomy, moving away from my thesis text]
Yes, this is highly ambitious, but the point is of diversity and collaboration. The collaborative book chapter works with archaeologists, zooarchaeologists and archaeobotonists showing an interdisciplinary spirit and revealing the ability to adapt and speak to different academic audiences. And while I do plan on publishing my thesis eventually, I am working with another on a joint translation to boost the prospects of publishing. 

When it comes to publish or perish, we put too much pressure on ourselves to do it all alone - try a collaborative approach! We also can be too stubborn in our appraoch, refusing to change the thesis or branch out from the thesis focus!

Be bold, be collaborative, be interdisciplinary, be flexible, and be realistic!

Remember, very few people will ever read your thesis in the form you submitted it in. Therefore, the more people who can access the original electronic version the better - more dissemination of you and your work. And if you change and adapt your thesis to meet the demands of the academic publishing market, then the issue of embargo should be moot! It will no longer be a thesis you are pitching to a publisher, but a clear academic marketable book targeted to the right publisher!

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