“Publications are your ticket out of grad school”

Megan Readman, Psychology, Lancaster University (2017 Cohort)

Around 2 ½ years ago my supervisor told me, “Publications are your ticket out of grad school…it is your publications that will get you post-doc and lectureship positions” this conversation has stuck with me since that day.

I am sure we, PhD students, are all very aware that our achievements in the world of academia are often measured by our publications (and later our grant successes). Whether that’s right or wrong is another matter, but due to this many of us will continually be striving for the next publication. I must admit as a young fresh-faced undergraduate (and probably also Msc student) I naively thought the publication process was pretty straightforward in that you write an article, select an appropriate journal, submit the article and bam a while later after making some minor amendments the article is published. How very wrong I was…

With rejection rates of around 75-85% in top journals, it is no secret that publication in academic journals is a very competitive, time consuming, often disheartening process. But, seeing the work you have poured your heart and soul into for very many months in print makes all of this worthwhile.

Obtaining my first, first-author publication was a very steep learning curve and there are many things I wish I knew before embarking on the process. Whilst everyone’s publication experience is different, there are a few things I believe are common amongst all. So here are three things I wish I knew before publication…

Selecting the right journal.

After many months (in some cases years) of hard work, you’ve finally overcome the first hurdle and got to the stage where you have collected all the data and are ready to produce an article that you plan to submit for publication. Now what… where do I submit? It may be very tempting to quite logically write the article first and worry about where to submit after (I would be lying if I said I hadn’t done this before). However, in my experience (writing for a psychology journal) choosing your target journal before writing will enable you to tailor your work to the journal audience and ensure you meet the requirements of the journal (e.g. some journals have word limits. Speaking from experience it is very annoying to have to cut half of your article out due to word count restrictions).

I must admit I was very lucky in that my supervisor spent some time with me and shortlisted 4 journals that she thought would be ideal places for my paper to be published in. However, when selecting which journal to aim for there are a few things to consider:

  • Scope- what is the scope of the journal? Does your piece of work fit within this scope?
  • Relevance/audience – Does the journal typically publish work similar to the work you are preparing? Who is the journals readership and what are their interests?
  • Impact factor- now this may be discipline and individual specific, however, as cliché as it may be my supervisors have always told me to “Shoot for the moon” to aim high and if you don’t get your first choice (highest impact factor journal) we can submit to another and you will still get a great high impact publication.


From my experience, publication is NOT a speedy process. We are still facing uncertain times, which undeniably has affected the speed of the review process, however, as a whole when submitting an article for publication expect to be waiting months for review comments (I received review comments 10 weeks after submission).


This is something I was absolutely not prepared for. I’m not going to sugar coat it, submitting work to journals and getting rejections sucks, no matter how much you can rationalise it, it is a disheartening, difficult pill to swallow. However, I can assure you it is far more common than you think. When preparing this blog post, I did some digging around and found several established academics reporting that they had 5-10+ (one had 20+) paper rejections in a single year. But the main thing that came out of this digging around is Paper rejection ≠ failure. Unfortunately, as is life paper rejections can occur for many reasons completely unrelated to the work in hand. So let’s all normalize this, paper rejections DO NOT define you and DO NOT make you a failure. “You either win or you learn – it’s not a loss.”

Unfortunately in typical academic style (word counts galore), I don’t have the time to open the can of worms of addressing reviewers comments. But all in all, seeing your name out there in print as a first (or any position) author is a feeling like no other. Strive for those publications, they will come and they will be worth it.

Twitter :  @ReadmanRose. 

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