Publish or Perish! – Publishing during your PhD


Publish or perish is a catch phrase thrown around academia in this day and age of performance based research funding (PBRF). Is it too early to start publishing during your PhD? Easier said than done and I have to confess I did not publish during my PhD so I am probably the last person who should be advocating the benefits of this. With the benefit of hindsight I wish I had published during my PhD. I could have written at least one of my papers during my thesis.However the reality is at the time I did not have the confidence or the ability to do this. It was not until after my PhD examination that this hindsight registered and I kicked myself for not backing myself.

My PhD was on how water flows around bends in rivers and the coastline. In rivers the spiral flow patterns around a bend causing erosion of the outer banks and around curved headlands on the coast. This same flow pattern causes up-welling of nutrients supporting marine life. Iwi and hapū have rivers and coastlines in their rohe so my research physically connects to some of the issues of these areas.

Back to publishing and definitions. There is ‘thesis by publication’ where you do your PhD by publishing two or more papers. They become chapters of your thesis with an introduction and conclusion and that is essentially your thesis. Then there is the traditional thesis narrative that includes data and findings from your publications. Either way the essence is you have your own peer reviewed literature in your thesis and to me that is the important bit. Your work has stood up to the rigours of peer review prior to the PhD examination. If your work has already been peer reviewed, particularly in international journals, it gives your PhD examiners very little wriggle room. Often peer review involves at least two independent anonymous reviewers and an associate editor.

Where to publish, everyone and every piece of work is different so I will cover myself by saying the proviso “for me” ideally is to get into the best possible journal in terms of ranking that you can get your work in. If you get rejected, go to the next most suitable one. Part of publishing is rejection and if the reviewers are helpful they will provide some useful critique of your work. Think of it a way of getting an exam before your exam. Often both the supportive reviewer(s) (those that don’t reject your work) and the rejecting reviewer(s) will provide useful suggestions to improve your manuscript. Watch out for predatory open access journals not belonging to any particular academic society. For my few international publications I stuck with society journals.

Having a supervisor that is supportive and even better has a culture of involving their students in publications is a great help. Some research groups share publishing as their modus operandi. Publishing as part of your PhD is a good move career wise. It puts you on the front foot when applying for academic positions. I have seen PhD candidates appointed into tenure-track positions prior to completing their PhD due to their publication record. Some are gaining publications from their Masters degree.

The alternative to publishing during your PhD is to write your thesis and publish afterwards. If you have the luxury to do this without having to work all good, but it can take a long time if you are working post PhD. I took a year for my first publication, two more years for my second and another year for my third PhD paper. But then I might just be a slow writer…….this blog has taken a few days of 2 finger typing.​

He pūhoi te ōkiha, oti he mānawanawa te whenua.

The oxon is slow, but the earth is patient.

Here is to your successful publishing be it as part of your degree or once you are done. We look forward to reading it because we need more good research out there in the world, challenging and decolonising the academy and Indigenous research spaces. All the best!

Pete Russell (Ngāpuhi)

6 comments

  1. My 2 finger typing is not flash either. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on publishing, I think it is a disadvantage career wise to not publish during your thesis writing. But working and studying hardly gives me enough time for the thesis, so it concerns me that I am not likely to publish till after I am done. Congrats on your publications too Pete!

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  2. As someone who is doing a thesis by publication, I think something that needs to be highlighted is that this way has its downsides too. A full thesis is a rich story of your journey, there is a lot of you that gets to go into the thesis. Unfortunately, this exciting and fulfilling part of the writing tends to get left out when writing articles for publication. I have had rejections for an article that could have been a finished chapter by now. The pressure to publish is an added stress to the process.

    I am not advocating for either way – I think that is a personal choice, and like Abi explains above, that is often dictated by outside life. As the saying goes “a good PhD is a finished PhD”, and congratulations on finishing that part of the journey!!!

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  3. Nga mihi Pete. I can relate to your story as I too did not publish during my PhD and, after completion, was up against other lecturer applicants who had been encouraged to publish. Once you become an early career academic time is tight time to write can be harder to ring fence.

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  4. Kia ora Hinekura. Aē so true, the only time I had to write my first paper was after hours. Since becoming the MAI coordinator, I got some writing time in the form of writing days and retreats.

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