The pressure on researchers to publish their work, especially at early career stages, has become increasingly acute in recent years. This is because academic publications are still (fortunately or unfortunately) a key benchmark for gaining tenure, passing annual appraisals, securing grant funding, and surviving government research assessment excercises.
Our objective at Charlesworth Knowledge is to help early-career researchers (ECRs) achieve their potential as writers whilst seamlessly navigating the publication process. One concept that we find is very useful to discuss during teaching and workshop sessions is the issue of why people want to publish their work. It’s important to think about this because motivations (and therefore what is expected from the publishing process) vary greatly between researchers and tend to be especially dependent on career stage. Considering the different reasons authors, reviewers, and editors want to see work appear in peer-reviewed journals can help us become more efficient in our respective roles and understand those working in other parts of this process.
I use a story to illustrate this: I worked with an eminent scientist early in my career. Now, this person is very well known in his field and has enjoyed a very successful research career, publishing papers in high-profile journals and winning funding from many sources. Once I asked him why he liked to publish papers; what was his motivation? He told me that he wanted to make sure that he left a scientific legacy for future generations and that his name would be remembered. He said that in 100 years, all that would remain of his research would be his publications. This is certainly one clear motivation for publishing scientific work. Other motivations might include getting a piece of research out (i) to establish a research area or claim a research idea, (ii) to demonstrate a collaboration with another group involved in the research, (iii) to enable a funding application to be made for an international grant (for example, to use international facilities), or (iv) to meet a requirement of a current grant that is supporting the work.
There are a number of other drivers that motivate academics to publish their work, apart from purely selfish or scientific reasons. ECRs might be required to publish their work in a high-impact journal (in English) in order to be awarded their MSc or PhD. Others at early career stages (postdocs, or those newly hired to academic positions) might need to publish in order to have a better chance to gain the next grant, secure or apply for tenure, or be promoted. Top universities look very carefully at research outputs when considering their academic hiring options; in particular, they look for high-impact publications (as indicated by journal reputation and citation metrics) as well as money raised in grant funding. It is also the case that pressure on academics to publish often eases later in one’s career once full-time employment or tenure has been secured (although tenure review processes are also becoming more common internationally, and semi-annual research assessment exercises, like the UK REF 2021, still place great emphasis on peer-perceived publication quality). Senior-level researchers might therefore focus more attention on managing rather than writing and publishing. They might appear as a co-author on papers that their grants have funded, although the papers may have actually been written and steered through the review process by more junior members of their team.
Successful publishing skills can certainly be learned, but these do need to be tailored by providers to different career stages. Our team can help: why not get in touch for more information about the services we offer? At Charlesworth Knowledge, we know that it’s always possible to write a research paper and get it published; one important question is why publish in the first place? The answer to this question will vary depending on career stage as well as from person to person and country to country.