There are so many things relevant to academia that I had no idea about until I got to PhD level – and one of those things is publishing a research article.
So, you have a hypothesis, you plan detailed experiments to test this hypothesis and then you complete all your planned experiments (as well as the experiments that you didn’t realise you would also need). You start analysing your data and you start to answer your research question. But how do you go from this stage to actually writing up your research paper?
Well, if I’m honest, I had no clue – honestly no idea at all up until about 6 months ago. But, I have found that my undergraduate psychology training, where we’d have numerous research reports has definitely helped the process – as the structure of most journal articles is very similar to my psychology reports.
I started to write up my first research publication just before Christmas. My supervisors and I had looked over the data, started to get an idea of what the story was and discussed that I should start to write up what I’d found.
I’m not at the end of the process yet, but I’m getting to the full draft stage so thought I’d tell you a little about my experience of the process so far.
It takes so much longer than you think – Prior to Christmas I booked in weekly meetings with my supervisors about the paper and I naively thought I’d have a full draft ready by the end of February. Beth did not have a full draft ready by the end of February. But that’s totally okay, as I’d never written a research paper before I had no idea how long the process would actually take – so my advice would be to have a timeline and then add a couple of months.
You will always think you can improve the paper – Every time I think that I’m ready to send a draft to my supervisors and my lab group I always find more things that I can add in to try and enhance the story. This is also something that happens after most meetings about the paper. I think this is totally natural and I guess that’s why you have drafts and do edits but I can imagine I will always think that I could do more – and I guess a skill that I’m learning is knowing when to stop.
Publishing can be expensive – Before starting my PhD, I had no idea that it cost you, the researcher to publish your work. How is it that journalists and novelist’s get paid to publish yet in academia we have to pay the journal? This is probably a conversation for another day but yeah, I had no idea that you had to pay. This is why it’s important to have conversations with your supervisors before you start writing. Talk about the journal you want to submit to – does your paper fit with the journal and do you have the funds to submit there?
Manage your expectations – As a PhD student I really want to get at least one first author paper published before I finish. However, writing the manuscript and submitting is only the first part of the journey. Once submitted your paper is no longer in your hands but will now undergo the peer-review process. Will It be accepted, rejected or will you need to revise and resubmit it? You have no control over the decision and you also have no control over the amount of time it can take. So, when I do finally submit my paper (which I’m sure will be a while) I’m going to remind myself that I need to manage my expectations regarding the overall decision and how long the whole process will take.
Schedule in writing time – As I’m currently in my 2nd year of my PhD I am pretty bogged down with experiments – this means that I don’t always find lots of time to focus on writing up my paper. I noticed that a couple of weeks ago I was not finding enough time to get much done on the paper. So now I schedule in writing time – I personally have more focus in a morning so I’ve scheduled in specific times in the mornings for me to focus on my paper and I’m really hoping this will help with my progress.
During my undergraduate degree I honestly had no idea that I would be at the stage I am now, writing up a paper for publication and being on the way to submitting it. So, when I find the process stressful (which is often), I try and remember back to those days – where this was something I could have only dreamed of.
Beth Eyre is a 2nd year PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career.
You can follow Beth on Twitter Follow @bethsbrainbites 
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