Thoughts on Sole-Author Publishing as a Graduate Student

Academics, Publications

I was really excited when, for the first time, in late 2012 I got to see my name in the author byline of a journal article. Coming into my fifth year of graduate school, I was feeling behind. Colleagues were earning prestigious, national fellowships and I was still struggling to get my feet under me analyzing dissertation data. I needed a boost. Since then, I have finished two more manuscripts that are currently being revised under “revise and resubmit” requests of the respective journals and completing a fourth, smaller essay. In sharing these accomplishments with a professor, I was urged to contribute my thoughts on the process with a wider audience. That is you, my dear readers.

Being in the humanities and social science fields, there do not exist the same sort of frequent, collaborative authoring opportunities as seem to be available to life and physical science graduates who are constantly part of a professor’s lab (of course, not being in a life or physical science anymore, this may all be perception rather than reality). There are research groups if you work for a professor with a large enough grant and certainly three years worth of graduate student research positions taught me a lot about collaborative grant reports and conference presentations, but none of these have yet led to publications due to the long-term nature of the research.

I realized that if I wanted to begin publishing that I would have to go it alone.

I have been very lucky to take a variety of seminar classes across my two main fields of study that allowed me the opportunity develop pieces of research that could be metamorphosed into publications. Obviously, not everyone takes advantage of such an opening, but if you are searching for that next seminar paper, think for a minute about choosing a topic that will really excite you and be new to the literature conversation (or at least extend and enhance the conversation in some way) in some way.

So, when the professor mentoring me through my research on the Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County (1924), urged me to publish the resulting paper, I decided to just try and see what happened since I’d been wanting to learn the process anyway.

I narrowed down some journal choices and talked about them with a couple different professors before deciding where to submit. After receiving my first round of clarification questions and editing suggestions, I saw that there was a whole new process that I had to learn in translating the work into a good journal article. But I took the time and found the experience rewarding.

Sharing our hard work with the outside world is, I believe, a psychological process. I remember seeing a tweet awhile back linking to the LSE impact blog and an article by Helen Sword who urged, “when you are 80% happy, kick it out the door”. This resonated with the experiences I had – I felt my research was strong and I felt the paper was good, though not perfect, and opening the work to criticism by submitting it did produce anxiety. My positive and supportive experience with the journal editor of my first publication took some of the fright out of the process, however.

I am not a brilliant writer. I still make grammatical and spelling errors. Usually I am too close to the work to realize when I’m being too dense (don’t worry, reviewers will point this out to you and allow you to fix it!). But, I want to share the things I am learning because that is so much of what the research process is about for me – finding out something I didn’t know before.

In the end, getting started down the path of successful publishing of research comes down to letting go of that fear enough send your writing to a journal. Literatures are built because many people find the same thing exciting enough to research – and all of them began with a just a few people in the conversation. Have the courage to know that someone else will find your work as interesting as you do.

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