How to get published during a PhD: Building your academic CV

In May 2019, INTERACT held a Trainee Summit in Saskatoon, where members of the research team, including experienced researchers, trainees, and staff hosted workshops and boot camp sessions for the trainee team. During one of the sessions, mentors shared their tips for beginning an academic career and getting published. The process can be daunting: You want to know the publishers’ expectations, the mistakes to avoid and the winning strategies to optimize your chances of getting published. They had a lot to say. Here’s what they shared with us.

Image for post
Image for post
Blue sky and white board sessions: Moments during the INTERACT Trainee Summit in Saskatoon

Identify Potential Journals

Who do you want to address? Policy makers, practitioners, scholars, the general public or a mix of these audiences? Where are they located? If your research concerns Canadian cities and policy makers, think about Canadian journals first.

Long-term impact factors (five-year vs one-year impact factors) are good indicators of the impact and reach of the journal. As impact factors can vary across disciplines, look for other metrics of journal’s evaluation or classification in your field. There are many sources listing these metrics including rankings of journals based on total citations or impact factors. Looking at journals in the top half of those ranked lists will give you a good idea of their impact. You can also look at journal’s acceptance rate to guide your decision[1].

You need to know the time frame from submission to publication. Especially early on in your career, when you need to publish quickly, a journal’s publication cost, frequency or possibility to publish “online first” will help you decide between multiple journals.

Consider new journals and formats. Many new journals are looking to publish innovative ideas and non-traditional format articles, for example, Transport Findings, which focuses “on short, clear, and pointed research results”. These journals might even allow you to reach a broader audience than the classic ones. However, be careful since there are many new predatory journals. The best way to know if a new journal is legitimate is to look for familiar researchers’ names in the journal’s editorial and scientific board, and to ask your University librarian. They are the real experts of periodicals and journals in your field and will be of great help in identifying good journals for your publication.

Have a list of 5 journals to which you want to submit your manuscript. If you have many research interests or your work crosses into multiple fields, consider having more than one list. Rank the journals in your list(s) in order of importance. If your paper gets rejected from the first one, submit it right away to the next one on your list. If you wait too long before resubmitting, you risk forgetting about your paper or getting caught in too much (probably unnecessary) editing. Keep the required manuscript formats in mind. If you write a 5000-word manuscript for a specific journal and you get rejected, you’ll have a lot of editing to do before submitting to your next choice that only publishes 3000-word papers. You could also consider taking advantage of special issues, although these often take more time between submission and publication.

Image for post
Image for post

Be Polite: Write a Good but Concise Letter to the Editor

Write the letter to the editor as if reviewers were to read it — because they might actually read it depending on the journal you’re submitting to. Even if the journal does not require one, write one. It is not only courteous and thoughtful, but it can help convince the editor to send it for review. It is also a good way to summarize the main point(s) of your work in one paragraph, even in one sentence.

Your letter should fit in one page. Convince the editor in one paragraph that your manuscript is relevant, advancing research in the field, and that it should be published in their journal. Ideally, explain how your article is addressing a specific gap identified in some of their previous publications.

Do not mention that you are a PhD student. When writing an article, professors, students, candidates or fellows are all authors. There is no good reason you should mention your position unless it is specifically required by the editor or the journal.

Image for post
Image for post

Write your manuscript!

Of course, the best way to get published is to actually finish a manuscript. Here are a few things you should keep in mind while writing.

Your title, abstract, and keywords are very important. Remember that librarians and researchers will use them. Whether it is for classifying your work into a database, suggesting it to potential readers or deciding to include it in their literature review, they are the first thing that will be consulted. To help you choose them, look at keywords used in other articles on the same subject. Consider choosing Mesh words that are high up in the hierarchy, so your paper will be more frequently visible in search results.

Start with your results tables or figures (if you have any). They are the easiest parts to describe along with the methods section. Then remember that the results should address your main objectives. You should find it easier to write your introduction and build your case knowing exactly what’s coming in the next sections. You’ll be left with the hardest parts -discussion and conclusion- which will be easier to write at the very end. Don’t forget that you are telling a story. Make your story interesting and enjoyable to read. Lastly, don’t forget disclosures, detailed contributions, and acknowledgements.

At the beginning of your academic career, try to seize as many opportunities as possible to share the fruits of your work, whether as part of your thesis or as part of contributions to work of others. By doing this, you’ll expand your skills and become more familiar with the publishing process. With these tips, you have everything you need to maximize your chances of being published quickly in peer-reviewed journals. Hopefully, the publishing process is a little less mysterious to you. If you still have questions, seek advice from people around you or contact journal editors. You may be surprised at the help they can give you.

Thank you to Nazeem Muhajarine, Martine Shareck & Ehab Diab who shared their tips to demystify the process of publishing articles. Nazeem Muhajarine is a Senior Editor for the Canadian Journal of Public Health and Graduate Program Chair in Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. Ehab Diab is an assistant professor in the Geography & Planning Faculty at the University of Saskatchewan. Martine Shareck is a Banting postdoctoral fellow at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Gabrielle Rancourt is a Doctoral Student at Université de Montréal’s École de santé publique, with a background in psychology. As an INTERACT Trainee, she focuses her research on measuring and understanding well-being in cities.

[1] For more sources of information on this question, visit the Research Guides from the University of Michigan Library, the Journal Finder from Elsevier, or the SciRev website to learn about other’s experience with the review process of a journal.

Written by

CIHR-funded research team harnessing big data to deliver public health intelligence on the influence of urban form on health, well-being, and equity.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store