Between. Reflections on a year post submission (part 1).

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I submitted my PhD thesis for examination just over a year ago, on 12 August 2015. Since then, I’ve taught on several courses, completed more job and fellowship applications than I can count, submitted work for publication and organised several events. Yet the period between ‘finishing’ the PhD and getting a postdoctoral or permanent position is an awkward one, and the best way forward is often unclear.

Whilst advice abounds on how to do the PhD itself, and there’s plenty of articles, blogs, and even books on how to land a postdoc or job, the tough bridge between PhD student and a full-time postdoctoral researcher or member of faculty, remains comparatively neglected. Today’s blog post is the first in a series of three in which I’ll discuss my experiences of being between’, and how I’ve dealt with what can be an exhausting and difficult time. I’m starting with a general discussion of the importance of ‘keeping busy’, before turning to how I’ve developed my publication plan.

Keeping Busy

I personally enjoy being busy. I’m most productive when working on several projects at once, and I was worried that on finishing the PhD I’d fall into an abyss of having nothing to do. I was accordingly proactive. Going into the 2015-16 academic year, I signed up for teaching, I submitted abstracts for conferences, and I organised several events – a disciplinary conference and a research seminar series – each of which served to give structure and purpose for the upcoming year. I also maintained a master ‘plan of action’, which I used (and continue to use) as a reference point for what I wanted to achieve each month, thereby avoiding the procrastination that comes with deciding what to do next once one thing is finished. For those of you interested in creating this kind of document, Dr Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In has written several posts on how to draft a five year plan. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t engage in so many activities that you feel overwhelmed, and that you ensure that you still have plenty of time for what I’ll discuss next: publishing.

Publications

Needless to say, publishing your research is one of the most important tasks you’ll undertake as a researcher of any position, but particularly as an early career researcher for whom publications are crucial for landing a job. It’s partly these pressures that can make the post-PhD period so overwhelming, so my advice would be to set yourself achievable goals that you can approach in manageable chunks, as opposed to conceiving of your publications as a monolithic body of books and journal articles. Perhaps the most difficult thing to manage at this stage is juggling working on publications with teaching commitments, and there’s no easy way around this. Writing requires the monetary support that teaching (or any other paid employment) provides, yet the preparation required for teaching detracts from the time that could be spent writing. Maintaining the balance is what’s important. Some more general tips for working on publications are as follows:

  • meet with your supervisor or your academic mentor to draft a detailed, realistic publishing strategy – this can be helpfully tied in with the five year plan discussed above.
  • use tools that actively provide structure to your suddenly structure-less academic life, such as Wendy Belcher’s wonderful book, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks
  • look out for relevant call for articles from journals – this can be a useful foot in the door for getting something published, as you’re not approaching editors ‘cold’ with the topic of your research, but instead responding to something they’re already looking for.
  • focus upon the REF and on producing REFable research. It’s important to make the most of your precious time by producing written content with the highest REF impact, meaning books and articles published in high quality journals.
  • ask colleagues to look at a book proposal, and to share their own – I’ve been incredibly lucky in that many colleagues and friends have commented on my book proposal, which I’ve just submitted for review with a press. Although there are many excellent articles on how to write the book proposal available, in my experience nothing beat reading actual proposal examples.
  • keep a rolling list of potential publishing venues, including potential presses that would suit your monograph, as well as journals where your shorter articles might be placed.

Next week, I’ll look at the importance of an institutional affiliation, with reference to acquiring continued teaching experience and organising events, both of which have been crucial aspects of my post-PhD life.

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