When I started working at the academy, publishing felt like a closed loop that I didn’t know how to break into. But at the same time, I wasn’t focused and delved into my research, I lacked confidence, and I was more aware of the gaps in my knowledge than my strengths.
Over time, my perception has changed, and my goal here is to try to think about and share what I’m doing now as part of my writing and research habits that I didn’t do in my early career. Here are eight things I wish I had done differently when I set out.
- Do an honest self-audit. Most of us are very good at muddiing the waters when it comes to self-knowledge. But it’s important to know who you are and also to understand your strengths and weaknesses. This may include asking others for their candid assessment, but it may also be an opportunity to challenge your own assumptions.
When I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I was pretty confident that I was one of the smartest people in the room. I knew everything I should know – and perhaps more – the way undergraduates often do. When I graduated with a Ph.D. Six years later… Well, let’s just say that by then I’ve revised my position. I replaced my early confidence with a sneaking sense that I somehow slipped through the cracks and will likely get caught as a scam at some point.
Of course, neither extreme does reflect an accurate sense of who I was then or who I am now. Both are disfigurement, but they are disguised and come with a series of self-defeating behaviors. That’s why you should conduct an honest self-audit for each of your strengths and weaknesses or get the people closest to you to help you do so.
- Find home scientists. The most important step I ever took to put my research profile on the right track was finding an academic home: a community of scholars who help me be productive. It took me a while to find it, but I eventually identified a peer group that was key to my development. I didn’t think of those in the group as peers at first, because they seemed so grounded, cultured and distant. I was totally upset one day when someone took me aside and told me how much they enjoyed my new article. They treated me like a colleague even when I wasn’t (really).
You can join colleagues in your department or organization if it is healthy and productive to work with them – the right environment for you can be an intimate writing group. In practice, however, it is best for developing researchers to find a group that offers you career opportunities outside your comfort zone (via conferences, journals or newsletters) and perhaps writing or research partners if these are a good fit for your specialty. When I found my name, I discovered to my astonishment that those names I had only seen on the back of books in the library were and still are people full of laughter, as well as incredibly kind and generous with their time.
- Start small, and think big. Set small goals to start with, and get in the habit of becoming productive. For example, professional groups, if they have an associated publication, often call in for book reviewers. The bar is often not unusually high to post those reviews, and it can be a great practice for more writing. It also makes you read and evaluate current criticism or content that you can design your work on. In addition, you have a clear definition Something to write about. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, success in this field can break the mystery surrounding publishing.
The jury may still be out on some people on the value of the conference offer, but I’ve found that a lot can be said about it. It’s a relatively low-risk environment and a relatively accessible opportunity for most faculty members (certainly much easier than publishing in a peer-reviewed journal). If you are lucky where you live, you will be able to connect with many like-minded scientists. Think of conference papers as building blocks toward publication.
Early in my career, I treated conference papers and publications as separate areas. Nowadays, I try to be more assertive in my writing. I see conference papers as runs and thought experiments. With these papers, I am happy to start writing before I have a clear idea – I will write to find out what I do and what I don’t know. And while turning a paper into a publication isn’t foolproof, I usually design it to meet the expectations of the journal I finally plan to present.
- Target your writing. I usually have an idea of where the piece belongs when I start it, and I try to adapt my writing for that port. I’ve found that you’re more likely to turn your conference paper into a publication if you have a clear sense of the specific journal’s audience, the general length of the articles, the type of criticism you’re publishing, and the academic conversations about the topic.
I also try to write and think about sequences: a kind of blockchain, if you will, where conference papers lead to publications that lead to chapters on something bigger. What I no longer do is write speculatively without a clear sense of where I want to go.
- Become a business leader. If I can get multiple results from a bit of ip, then I consider myself very lucky. I like to think I’m in good company. Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent It was published as a book, of course, but before that he sold the rights to the series to an American magazine. After that, he sold the translation rights and rewrote the novel as a play, which was then performed and republished. Once he extracted everything he could from the project, he sold the same 3D manuscript to a collector in the United States.
Think about how you can use and repurpose your business. Even if you can’t get a peer-reviewed publication, think about how you can turn it into a service project within your organization through a seminar or public lecture.
- Learn how to finish – and start over. At a certain point, you have to put an end point at the end of the piece. This is easier said than done. in a depressing place the beach, or the beachWritten by Albert Camus, one character spends the entire book revising the opening sentence of his novel, fearing that struggle for right wordor the correct word. It ended with a great sentence. It does not end with a book. However, besides knowing when to stop, you also need to be willing to burn your favorite sentence into a piece — the once-cool one that danced on the page but was so distracting.
One of the things I’ve learned to accept is imperfection, and I no longer invest as much ego in my writing. I also enjoy working with editors, who often bring a much-needed fresh set of eyes to writing that authors are sometimes oblivious to errors in when they read. I especially enjoy working with editors who make me seem smarter than I am.
- Practice saying yes (and sometimes no). You should have a clear sense of your institutional responsibilities and expectations within your school or department when you assume these responsibilities. You should also be careful, however, to avoid the often overwhelming amount of work that high-performing faculty members attract. Part of our job is to provide space for reflection, and our organization has an obligation to us to help facilitate this. If we are not vigilant, we will lose that space – and our scholarship, too.
So, when you need to, don’t be afraid to say no (thank you) to excessive corporate responsibilities while saying yes to opportunities that fit within your research agenda. It may be unwise to rise to the heights of Jim Carrey-ish, but practicing the simple art of saying yes to possibilities and opportunities can be transformative. You can later see if and how you can deliver.
- Accept the rejection. Of course, one of the things you have to be willing to go through is rejection. I used to take it personally, but I don’t anymore. Ironically, I received a rejection that made me so happy, because it was insightful and informative—even, at times, optimistic.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are actively peer reviewing in your field (again, a great experience in your publishing journey), remember what it feels like to present your own work when you think of others.
In the end, doormen are important in our profession. They don’t always know as much as you necessarily know – and they certainly make mistakes – but they are essential to keeping us honest and responsible, and they are instrumental in our professional growth. Respect the work they do, and keep doing yours.
In conclusion, while this gruff young man still smiles at me in the mirror from time to time, I realize that I am no longer wired the same way I used to be when I started. However, the really different thing is these mental habits that make up my scholarship journey, and anyone can master them.