Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Writers' Lab: Turning your dissertation into journal papers
This post is entirely aimed at those of us who spend months on end delivering a thesis of several hundred of pages. We might be overly proud of having our baby finally sent out into the world, but then it will dawn upon us: the majority of the researchers would prefer to read a 10-page paper about a more specific part of this research than plow through our 400 pages of labor.
And thus, for most of us "big book"-thesis-writing-and-publishing folks, we'll need to revisit all our material again after publication of the thesis, and turn it into a number of journal papers.
If you are lucky enough to get into a post-doc position that is fully research-oriented, you have all the time (or at least, you might think you have) to write your papers. If you venture out into the industry, you'll have to do it in your evenings and weekends.
Regardless the time constraints, it's still extremely valuable to take the step of turning your dissertation into journal papers. I'm in the very middle of this process (and I mean with "middle" that it surrounds myself, not that I am convinced that in X months, I'll have them all out, written and then accepted) - and so far, I've made the following observations.
1. Plan for it
After you graduate, life is going to take over. You might be changing jobs, moving to a different place/city/country, and these papers might start to slip to the back of your mind. Take some time while your dissertation is still fresh from the press, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which chapters or subchapters would serve as a good journal paper?
- Which journal should I submit my work to?
- How much time do I think I need for writing this paper?
Then, start planning paper by paper. I'm currently assuming that I can produce a paper per month or 1,5 months' period of time, besides all my other duties and transitioning to my new job. I then give my co-authors a month to send their feedback. Then, I plan another 2 weeks to implement the comments of my co-authors. I plan to start writing the next paper whenever the draft of the previous one is done, so that I create a constant stream of writing, revising, sending to co-authors and submitting.
Now that you have -hopefully- worked well with some committee members to deliver the final draft of your dissertation, taking into account their advice, is there any part of your research that particularly benefited from their input? If you are planning to write a paper on this topic, consider inviting this committee member to be a co-author.
Writing with other authors than your standard folks (typically daily supervisor and promotor), will improve your writing, and is also considered well in most fields. Publishing with different authors shows that you can work across research groups, universities and that you are ready to extended into the world.
3. Not all papers are born equally
Some papers will roll out from your dissertation in a mere few writing sessions. For other papers you'll be sweating and sighing as you try to force a piece of research into a stand-alone narrative. Don't get mad at yourself or your work - just accept this fact as it is. And if the frustration becomes too much, just head out and have an ice cream.
Have you published several papers from the work in your dissertation? How did you organize this, and what advice would you like to share with me?