Publish or perish? Advice on academic publishing

Publish or perish?

Why and how to publish? These are questions that countless new researchers agonise over as they progress their academic careers. So just how do you tackle this daunting process?

One of the most important things a graduate research student can do is become established as part of the wider academic research community. One of the most influential ways of doing this is by getting your work in print. Publishing the results of your research plays a crucial role by raising your visibility; boosting your academic career prospects and securing further funding.

Competition for academic positions is fierce, and publishing is a good way of selecting those students who stand out from the crowd. The publishing process itself is difficult, so it follows that being able to publish demonstrates you know what you are doing and that you have the potential for advancing your field.

Publishing your work will also provide you with a source of feedback from the people who read your papers and it forces you to refine your ideas, positioning them within the context of the current state of research in your field.

As Dr Catherine Armstrong, a widely published lecturer in modern history at the University of Loughborough says, “On a personal level it is very satisfying to see the results of your hard work going into print and being read by academics and students. Your aim is to encourage the dissemination and discussion of your research and one of the best ways of doing this is by getting your work published.

“Another key reason to publish your work is to improve your career prospects. This is especially true of those at the bottom of the career ladder… Having your work in print is key to achieving a strong research profile without which you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to secure an academic job,” she adds.

So, will you publish or perish in this highly competitive world?

Definitely publish…

But what do you publish and where do you publish it?

Book reviews

Don’t overlook the book review. This is one of the easiest ways to get published in the first instance, and you get a free book into the bargain! Almost every academic journal has a reviews editor who is sent a large number of books by publishers. The reviews editor will want to find willing candidates to review them for that journal.

If you find it difficult to get on reviews editors’ lists, visit the websites of journals you’re interested in and contact the reviews editor directly with a very short résumé and an offer to review. But remember, write a review about a book that you are enthusiastic about; don’t begin your fledgling print career by slagging someone off!


As a junior academic, another good way to get into print is by offering a paper at a conference for which the proceedings will be published. If your paper is accepted, presented and receives a good response, then you might be invited to submit your paper for publication. But be aware, it can be a long process.

You could start off by offering one of those smaller, self-contained bits of work that got you some very good marks, a piece of work that attracted your supervisor’s enthusiasm, or a paper that was particularly well-received at a seminar (Present around the World anyone?)

The best chapters of a PhD are often worth developing into independent papers and can be used later to contribute to your fantastically well-received book!

A slightly more prestigious path is to have an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, either online or in print. Again, the process is a long one: you submit your article to the journal editors and it could be up to six months before you hear anything. During this time your article will be read by referees who work for the journal who are generally experts in your field. Once accepted, your paper might require some changes. Even when finished it may then be queued to appear in a journal several issues in the future.

Consider online journals also, which often reach larger audiences and enter major databases (think Inspec!) and search engines. There could be several advantages to publishing online, such as shorter time delay from submission to publication. There is also a much greater capacity for images, audio and video.


Getting a first book published is a real challenge for many academics. Dr Catherine Armstrong advises that: “Your supervisor and colleagues in your department are the best people to guide you through it. Some supervisors co-author books with their protégés although this is not possible in all fields. Certainly they will have contacts in the publishing world that they might advise you to approach first.”

In academia, a scholar’s published work is known as a monograph and is likely to emerge out of a PhD thesis. Dr Armstrong adds that some publishing houses solicit references from your PhD examiners so it’s good to get their support and advice before taking the plunge.

Return to E&T Magazine’s Students and early career later this week for further practical advice on getting published.

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