Academics are constantly faced with the overwhelming pressure to enter the commonly tread cycle of publish, get grant, publish, get grant… This publish-or-perish mentality perpetuates the idea that to continue doing research, you need to keep publishing, preferably in high-impact journals.
While there is an element of truth to that, as the entirety of academia relies on the process of peer review, there is also an aspect of this mentality that cultivates negativity and can be counterproductive. Publishing is not the only destination for your research – let’s talk about this.
Rejection is not the end
A large contributor to the massive stress and anxiety that researchers experience in the publication process is rejection. Fortunately, rejection is not the end of your article’s journey, and in fact, is quite simply part of the process. Journal rejection is not necessarily a comment on the standard or quality of your research, but more often than not is simply a case of your work not being a good fit for that particular journal, or perhaps not being quite developed enough yet.
Take rejections as a learning exercise and use them to get to better know journals you might submit to, so that your next submission is more successful. [Learn more here about how journal rejection can be beneficial: How to handle (and even benefit from) article rejection]
There are routes to impact beyond the impact factor
Publication is of course a necessary component of academic research, as it is the most accepted means of presenting your work. However, impact factor is by no means equivalent to the impact of your research, even though the terms are often conflated.
Impact factors are a metric by which the overall impact of a journal is measured, as determined by a calculation considering the number of articles published and the number of times these are cited. [Learn more here about the impact factor: Understanding the SCI and the Impact Factor]
The impact of your work is an immeasurable concept, due to the myriad ways your work is and can be impactful. Public lectures, magazine articles, podcasts, blog posts, outreach activities… the list goes on. Every single activity you undertake to communicate your research is impactful and adds to your work’s impact. Think about that the next time you are unable to publish your work in a specific academic journal.
Know that trends are changing
The system is set up for researchers to require publication for further funding and consideration for new positions. However, the trend is changing, as there is a more widespread appreciation of other routes to assess the impact of your research.
Focus on the joy of research
Don’t forget that conducting the actual research is also an exercise in personal development. This means that other takeaways, i.e. other than publication, also merit consideration as a meaningful output of your work. As a researcher, you are constantly adding to your arsenal of specific and transferable skills, and the process of learning is never-ending. This is one of the major draws of being a researcher. So, try to enjoy this aspect as much as the outcomes and successes.
Of course, publishing is part of the job, but perhaps you can think of publishing as simply ‘part of the job’, rather than the central, most important component of it. This way, you can enjoy the work as you go, likely making you a better researcher as you do.
Don’t completely disregard publications, but try to slightly deprioritise them in your mind as being the be-all-and-end-all criterion for your career and progression. Your work is still contributing to the overall body of knowledge in your field. So, don’t be too disheartened if you occasionally hit a dry spell or a bump in the road.