With the support of Royal Holloway Departmental Researcher Development funding, this year’s Landscape Surgery programme includes a series of six sessions on ‘Communicating Research’. In the first of these, our meeting of November 1st focused on the theme ‘publishing your PhD’. Chaired by our new Lecturer in Social and Cultural Geography, Cecilie Sachs Olsen, the discussion was led by two returning ex-surgeons: Amanda Rogers and Justin Spinney.
Amanda, now Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Swansea University and a member of the Landscape Surgery group as MA student, PhD student and post-doctoral fellow from 2002-2012, reflected on publishing from her ESRC funded PhD on ‘Geographies of identity and performance in Asian-American theatre’ (completed in 2008). This included journal articles in Cultural Geographies, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Geography Compass and Journal of Intercultural Studies, and a contribution of materials and ideas to her monograph Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity and the Geographies of Performance (2015, published in Routledge’s Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies series).
Justin, now Lecturer in Human Geography at Cardiff University, discussed publishing from both his Cultural Geography MA dissertation on landscape and the cycling of Mt. Ventoux (completed in 2003) and his ESRC funded PhD on ‘Cycling the city: movement, meaning and practice’ (completed in 2008). These publications include chapters in edited collections on Cycling and Society, Geographies of Rhythm and Mobile Methodologies (co-authored with Katrina Brown), and journal articles in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Urban Design, Geography Compass, Environment and Planning A, Mobilities and Cultural Geographies. Justin confessed that he is still preparing a final piece from his thesis on courier cyclist film making, provisionally intended for Visual Studies.
Reflecting with honesty and generosity on their experiences, Amanda and Justin generated a thoughtful discussion about the many different ways they had ended up writing through their PhD work. Insights included:
- Have a road map, but make it yours: It helps to develop a publication strategy and plan, and to keep revisiting this during and after the PhD. Don’t assume there is one template for how you should publish, though do take advice on how best to disseminate your work from supervisors, examiners and other mentors. Develop a publication strategy suited to your own materials, audiences and ways of writing and working. Not everyone publishes from their PhD in the same way and that is okay!
- The journey continues: Whilst pressures to show an ability to publish during the PhD have increased, it’s helpful to think of the PhD as a body of work that can be published from for some time afterwards too, often running alongside other new projects.
- People matter: The role of people and professional relationships in supporting and directing publication was a recurrent theme. It helps to recognize publishing as a social process, whether that be peers and mentors advising on how a piece reads, PhD examiners and supervisors seeing the potential contributions to be made by one’s research, conference audiences giving you a sense of what they find interesting in your work, conference session organisers soliciting papers for journal special issues, or editors and referees guiding on clarity of purpose, analysis and expression.
- It’s emotional work: Publishing your research can pose emotional challenges: from nurturing and channeling the confidence of knowing one has something to say to the determination sometimes required in navigating review processes. That emotional work is something everyone has to do; it isn’t just you!
- Publication is communication, and communication is a two way street: Publishing involves seeing your work as others might see it; understanding how your work intervenes in existing research conversations and agendas; and identifying the best outlets and places to make those interventions and to reach your desired audiences.
- Engage with audiences but be yourself; as a form of communication, publishing your work means balancing the need to engage with audiences in terms that they can understand and value with the need to maintain what is original and distinctive about it. Practically, this balancing act is often at play when looking to revise publications based on reviewer and editorial comments. Review processes usually provide excellent advice, but often you cannot do everything suggested. Rather than seeing reviewers as judges passing sentence better to think of them as expert readers providing advice that you can weigh up and work with to improve your writing.
- Less can be more: Particularly journal articles and book chapters often require a tighter focus than a PhD chapter or even a MA dissertation. Justin reflected on how translating his MA dissertation into a journal paper during the first year of his PhD involved focusing it down on to just one of the three main themes his dissertation had been exploring (kinaesthetics). Amanda noted how her ethnographic materials from her PhD require a very different handling when working on articles with typical guide length maximums of 8,000 words.
- A PhD is not a book, but it may become one: A PhD thesis has different generic requirements than a monograph, but some theses can become books, and others lay the foundations for books later on. A PhD thesis has to demonstrate original materials and ideas that make an original contribution to knowledge. A monograph has to work as a coherent narrative, addressing an identifiable readership in a way that makes commercial sense to a publisher. Comparing theses and the books that emerged from them may be a topic for another landscape surgery session!
- Communicating more broadly helps with publication: Giving conference papers, organising conference sessions, writing research blog entries on issues that your research engages… all these help to form ideas, see potential contributions, develop social networks. All help with the work of producing publications. Usefully, these many other forms of research communication feature in later Landscape Surgery sessions this year, so we will report more on those as the programme progresses!
Finally, as current Landscape Surgeons we extend our sincere thanks to former surgeons Amanda and Justin for giving up their time to come back to (a redecorated!) 11 Bedford Square to talk with us. It was greatly appreciated.
Katy and Huw