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Career Advice

The benefits of peer-review publishing beyond the tenure-track

We don’t have to convince academics of the merits of publishing – but what about the rest of us?

BY NANDINI MAHARAJ | JAN 14 2020

In the course of completing a graduate degree, students may be keen to dip their toes into the world of peer-reviewed academic publishing. Building an established record of publications could make all the difference for someone who is attempting to secure grant funding or find a job in academia. However, for those of us considering a career outside of the professoriate, the very notion of publishing in an academic journal may not seem worthwhile or relevant.

Why then should we concern ourselves with peer-review publishing, a feat that requires considerable effort and yields marginal rewards outside of academia? For one, the very act of submitting our work can help build momentum. After completing a piece of writing, that momentary feeling of accomplishment can quickly give way to nagging thoughts of being judged and having others criticize our work. Putting ourselves out there means that we might be rejected. In such instances, the resolve to try, try again (i.e. resubmit our work) builds resilience, helping to keep those nagging thoughts at bay. And in between crushing rejections, we may find positive responses and small successes can help keep that momentum going.

Going through peer review can also help us critically reflect on our work. When we submit our writing, the words are fixed on the page, at least for a time. We are forced to make decisions about what to include and what to leave out. If that is proving difficult, help can always be found by sharing your writing with peers and colleagues, and seeking wisdom from instructors and supervisors.

When receiving feedback from a journal reviewer, we are compelled to respond to their comments (whether we agree with what they say or not) when resubmitting to the same journal or making a new submission to another journal. Responding to a reviewer’s comments forces us to take a critical stance on our work.

In the event that we are successful in having our work accepted for publication, we might also consider that these publishing credits are not simply lines on our CV. They serve as a timeline and record of the work we have accomplished while toiling over a thesis or working on a research project, both of which have milestones (e.g. completing a literature review) that often go unrecognized.

For future employers, having published articles can be an indication of our ability to meet deadlines, pay attention to detail, communicate well, and work as part of a team – if submitting with co-authors. When submitting as a group, effective communication is needed to develop a cohesive narrative – one that aligns with the journal’s format and style and seamlessly integrates the tone and voice of individual co-authors.

Our publication record may also serve us during our graduate training by helping secure scholarships, grants, or awards. In my experience, having a few publications under my belt marked the turning point in obtaining funding in the third year of my doctoral degree.

Beyond the above considerations, there are also humanistic reasons for publishing. Most importantly, when conducting research with real-life human beings, there are ethical obligations to consider, well beyond informed consent and confidentiality. We have a duty to make our findings accessible to others. Study participants can definitely benefit from reading the results in an academic journal. They can then judge for themselves how well the findings resonate with their experience, gaining insights that have relevance to their daily life. As well, they can see how being involved in research contributes to the advancement of knowledge in a particular field. Non-academic publications have the advantage of appealing to a wide audience and in a timely fashion.

Another reason to consider publishing in an academic journal is the opportunity to reach new audiences. Researchers may be called upon to give their expert opinion for a news story. Research citations may also find their way into mainstream television shows, blog posts, and social media, thus expanding the influence of academic research. For example, I once had an opportunity to serve as a guest on a podcast which seeks to make science more relatable to different audiences.

Aside from the general public, academic research plays a vital role in the teaching and training of emerging scholars. Instructors regularly assign journal articles as recommended or required reading for their students. Similarly, participating in the preparation and publication of a manuscript not only helps researchers develop skills in project management but also provides an occasion for mentoring between senior and junior trainees. This spirit of mentorship can cultivate a research community that strives for collaboration, quality in peer review, and synergy among researchers with similar interests.

Nandini Maharaj is a health research development officer for the support programs to advance research capacity in the vice-president, research & innovation office at the University of British Columbia.

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