Getting on the publication ladder: DocLinks early career scholars share experiences

janet-remmington-docklinksWe are all too familiar with the now clichéd phrase ‘publish or perish’. In the world of academia, so much seems to depend upon that thing called the Publication Record – jobs, funding, research projects, career advancement, peer recognition. But getting onto the publication ladder during, or after, a PhD can be a daunting leap.

At the publishing session of the vibrant DocLinks Summer School in Helsinki, which brought together doctoral candidates from across Europe and Africa, we focused on steps to journal article publication. We covered the preparatory paces, the various legs of the journey, the stamina needed towards the end, and the role of awareness-raising after publication. I outlined common pitfalls to publication while highlighting key ‘to dos’, including the importance of matching the paper to the most appropriate journal in the submission process. The editor of Journal of African Cultural Studies, Dr Carli Coetzee, gave insight into the journal publication cycle and the roles of peer review and revision. Dr Elina Oinas, academic coordinator of the Summer School, gave advice about structuring articles and giving each a ‘sit-up-and-notice’ way of presenting the argument or findings.

A number of students indicated they had started to publish and so here we focus on hearing from three  – Jacqueline Jere Folotiya from Zambia, Chidi Ugwu from Nigeria, and Abebaw Yirga Adamu from Ethiopia – who have made the leap onto the publication ladder, and have plans for moving on and up.  

jaqueline-folotiyaJacqueline, who is undertaking research on the teaching of literacy, first published during her Masters when responding to an opportunity for co-authorship in an encyclopaedia. The lead came from a more senior academic in another country whom she had originally approached for information. 'It was a huge learning experience... I seized the opportunity which opened doors to many other opportunities', she reflects. Writing of her co-authored articles which ensued in Psychology and Developing Societies Journal, International Journal of Psychology, and Journal of Psychology in Africa, Jacqueline acknowledges collaborations as a great way to start: 'The experience, lessons and skills you learn from being a co-author are invaluable'. She is now working on an article as lead author, while actively stashing away ideas for future publications. Jacqueline adds that 'reading articles in your field can be extremely helpful; it gives you a sense of what is expected of you'. Lastly, she advocates asking for input, constant networking, and ultimately having faith in yourself.

chidi-ugwuChidi, working on an ethnographic study of the Malaria Roll Back initiative, spoke of the role his participation in an ASAUK/British Academy writing workshop in Accra played in getting his first acceptance. With the input of journal editors and peers, he reworked the paper which had been rejected before. After peer review and then 8 months in the revision process, the article was published in International Quarterly of Community Health Education. He has since participated in a workshop organized by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and read widely on scientific writing, further strengthening his skills. He has also published in the Nsukka Journal of the Humanities, the Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business and International Journal of Asian Social Science. 'I now know the "tricks"', Chidi says, 'and I am applying the knowledge in two papers I'm currently developing'. He refers to advice from reviewers on being more succinct, which he has taken on board. Chidi has many key points to make for those setting out, including following instructions for authors and understanding that rejections are part of the 'rites of passage' of publishing.  He reflects thoughtfully that 'writing skills are cultivated through a meticulous process of learning' – not quick, easy fixes, but a commitment to long-term success.

abebaw-adamuAbebaw, busy with doctoral research on ethnic and religious diversity in universities, talks of his modus operandi with regard to publishing. He started submitting work to highly regarded local journals. It took more than a year to get published after peer review, revision, and production, proving to be a strong learning experience. He has gone on to publish in International Journal of Public Policy, International Quarterly of Community Health Education, International Journal of Community Diversity, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Ethiopian Journal of Education, and Journal of Ethiopian Higher Education. For Abebaw, resources like Academic Writing and Publishing: A Practical Handbook and Tips for Writing Scientific Journal Articles were key inputs. To those starting out, he would recommend participating in academic writing workshops, seminars, and panel discussions as ways of practising research communication. He also encourages asking for comment and feedback from experts and colleagues. Abebaw aims to further hone his writing skills and to purse the next publication while keeping in balance the demands of the doctoral deadline. He likens learning to publish with learning to swim: 'it is a matter of time and courage'.

Jacqueline, Chidi, and Abebaw are all keen to demystify the process and to encourage others along the way. They highlight how helpful it is to become familiar with the publication and writing process through reading and practice, seeking input from mentors and workshops, careful manuscript preparation, and the in-depth process of revision and refinement. As authors, we want to keep moving on and up with our publications. At the same time, we want to stop readers in their tracks and to make a lasting contribution.




Additional Resources:


Author resources on publishers’ sites such as Taylor & Francis Author Services

Last modified on 20/05/2019
Tags: Africa, early careers, PhD, students