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Publishing During a PhD

Written by Ben Taylor

Getting published during your PhD can be an extremely rewarding experience, allowing you to gain a wider audience for your research along with some valuable experience of the peer review process. While not usually a strict PhD requirement, successfully submitting your work to an academic journal could help prepare you for postdoctoral opportunities or other early career roles.

This page will give you an introduction to the options for publication during a PhD, explaining how it works differently in the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences and STEM subjects.

Why should you publish during a PhD?

Publishing articles and papers during your doctorate can be a great way to boost your academic CV and increase your profile. If you plan on building a career in academia or applying for postdoc positions, publishing numerous articles during a PhD could well set you apart from the competition.

It can also be an incredibly rewarding experience, knowing that the academic community considers your research to be worthy of publication and consideration by other scholars. Finally, publication is a great opportunity to engage with the academic community in your discipline and connect your work with other research in your field.

How many papers should you publish during a PhD?

There isn’t necessarily an average number of publications that you should aim for as a PhD student. In the UK it’s not a requirement for research students to be published while completing their PhD. However, in some countries – particularly North America and Asia – publishing may be a condition for finishing a PhD.

In STEM subjects based around laboratory work it’s more common for PhD students to find their research published as part of a collaborative effort with their supervisor and / or other colleagues within their research group. In AHSS, most articles are written by a sole author and the competitiveness of journals can make it relatively unusual for someone to be published during a PhD.

Can you publish in academic journals without a PhD?

Yes, you can publish in an academic journal if you don’t have a PhD. Your work will be subject to the same rigorous peer review standards as someone with a doctorate.

Publishing during an Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences PhD

While the nature of STEM research means that PhD students are more likely to find publication as a co-author or part of a collaborative team, AHSS scholars usually publish articles as the sole author, which can make publications harder to come by.

However, there are still plenty of ways you can gain publications as a AHSS student, each with their own advantages for your academic career. We’ve listed the main publishing routes below.

Peer-reviewed publication in a journal

Getting an article accepted by an academic journal is one of the most prestigious kinds of publication you can gain as a PhD student. This is because of the rigorous peer-review process, which involves two or more specialists taking a close look at your work and deciding whether it’s worthy for publication. Peer review is usually carried out ‘blind’ which means that you won’t know who your appointed reviewers are, and nor will they know who the author of the piece is. This ensures that all articles – including those by PhD students – are judged entirely according to their academic merits, not the profile of their author. The process can be a lengthy one though, sometimes taking several months.

If you are published in a peer-reviewed journal, it’s a sign of the relevance, authority and quality of your work, and you should be rightfully proud of yourself. It’s also something that you’ll be able to refer to on your academic CV when applying for postdoc opportunities and job positions.

Your supervisor will usually be able to advise you on whether your work is suitable for submission to an academic journal. Papers are normally in the region of 5,000 words, so it might involve reworking the draft of a dissertation chapter or even part of your Masters thesis.

Book chapter

Another publication option is to write a chapter for an edited book on your research specialism. Book chapters don’t normally go through as rigorous a peer review process as a journal article would (instead, selection is usually down to the volume editors), but still make an impressive addition to your CV.

Having a good academic networking can come in handy when it comes to be invited to submit to edited volumes. For example, if your supervisor or one of their contacts / colleagues has been asked to edit a collection of articles on an area that has crossover with your research specialism, they may ask you to contribute a chapter to the book. In general, it’s useful to keep your ear to the ground for potential opportunities that might come about as a result of your department’s publishing schedule.

Book review

In addition to original research articles, most academic journals also carry reviews of recent work in their field (such as monographs, edited collections and so on). Writing these book reviews might be one of the simplest ways to get published as a PhD student. If you get in touch with the reviews editor of an academic journal and introduce yourself / your research specialism, they may ask you to write a short (normally 1,000 words or so) review of a book that they’ve been sent by a publisher.

You’ll then be sent a copy of the book in question, some review guidelines and a deadline. It’s a good idea to read previous reviews in the journal to get a feel for the tone of voice and style. Although book reviews aren’t necessarily subject to the same peer review standards as an article, they can be a great way to understand what’s happening in your field and begin to get your name about as an academic. You’ll (normally) get to keep the book/s too, which is nice.

PhD by publication

Not to be confused with publishing during your PhD, a PhD by publication allows people to be recognised for a portfolio of previously published work. This means that a PhD can awarded to well-published authors without them having to write a new thesis. You can find out more in our full guide to the PhD by publication.

Publishing during a STEM PhD

If you’re studying a PhD in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM), it’s less likely that you’ll be published as a sole author of a paper.

Instead, you may be named as a co-author or multi-author of a publication, along with your supervisor or the laboratory team you’re working collaboratively within.

As is the case with AHSS academic journals, anything you submit to a STEM journal will be subject to a scrupulous peer review process in order to ensure its quality.

Publications depend on the nature of your research and whether you’re working with a new or existing dataset / methodology. If you’re devising something new, you can expect to take longer to get published. If you’re working within a larger laboratory, it’s more likely than you’ll be published as a multi-author on a particular research project. Working closely with your supervisor will often lead to a publication as a co-author.

Another publication route for STEM PhD students is via conference proceedings (AHSS students can also be published using this method). Conference proceedings form a record of what happened at an academic event, with details of the presented papers and research. If you present at an academic conference during your PhD, it’s worth bearing in mind that it can also present a great opportunity for publication in this way.

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Last Updated: 25 July 2023