Jenny Baker
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The Academics’ Forum: On (Hopefully) Publishing Your Dissertation

Cindy Maupin, Binghamton University

These past few months have been a whirlwind: My coauthors and I got some R&Rs back under review, we got some new R&Rs, and I submitted another manuscript for its debut into the peer-reviewed world. Although all of these accomplishments are exciting (and each represents another step closer to tenure!), the one I’m most proud of is that manuscript. As you may have guessed from the title of this column, this new manuscript is the product of my dissertation. As a new assistant professor, getting my dissertation published has been a primary goal, but it hasn’t always been easy to stay focused on that path. Today, I’d like to share about my journey, with the hope that sharing my experiences encourages other new (and future) faculty members to take those final steps towards achieving this goal as well.

The last big milestone of any I-O doctoral program, oftentimes even after finding a job, is completing your dissertation. I know in my case “the dissertation” felt like a huge undertaking, and I was so thankful when it was “over” after my dissertation defense (even knowing that publication was the real end-goal). I was especially grateful that I got great feedback and ideas during my defense from my fantastic committee members—shout out to Dorothy Carter, Malissa Clark, Nathan Carter, and Jay Goodwin—and that those ideas were primarily geared toward preparing my dissertation for eventual publication. I eagerly wrote down all of their ideas—and then hid from my dissertation for several months (I’m sure I’m not the only one!). Afterall, I was transitioning to my new job as an assistant professor at Binghamton University, and I had a lot on my plate, but of course that wasn’t the only reason for not immediately picking my dissertation back up.

After spending countless hours on the same paper that was the one thing standing between “graduate student Cindy” and “Dr. Cindy Maupin,” I needed a break. Of course, this probably sounds entirely reasonable to many of you, but it made me feel guilty. Why couldn’t I just get it under review in a month? What’s a little bit more effort? But for me, giving it some time helped me to have a little distance from my own ideas and to see things a bit more clearly, which I think has made all the difference in terms of having genuine confidence in the resulting manuscript. For today’s column, I’m going to cover pieces of advice that helped me to get my dissertation under review and (hopefully) published:

1. A Small Break From Your Dissertation Can Help Reignite Your Spark

One of the unfortunate outcomes for many doctoral students is they spend so much time and energy on their dissertation, that they end up forgetting why they even liked their original ideas in the first place. Yet, as someone who is now on the other side of things, I can honestly say how blown away I have been by the dissertation ideas I have seen doctoral students present. For instance, I recently served as an outside dissertation committee member for Elisa Torres at George Mason University (chaired by the amazing Steve Zaccaro), and not only were her proposal ideas incredibly innovative, but she was also passionate about her work’s future contributions to the field, and it showed. We need to be able to harness our dissertation proposal excitement—like what I saw from Elisa—and be able to tap back into it again, even when we’ve experienced challenges along the way. If it takes a small break from your dissertation to help you reignite that excitement, then do it! Just make sure your break isn’t too long, or it might be difficult to remember that spark.

2. Try to Think of Your Dissertation Manuscript as “Just Another Paper”

For me, this was very difficult to do. Although I’ve become very familiar with the publishing process at this point, and even somewhat comfortable with rejections, I kept holding my dissertation manuscript to an unreasonable standard. It felt like more than “just another paper”—like its eventual publication or rejection would somehow be tied to my overall worth as a scholar. However, this was only due to the additional emotional baggage I attached to it because of how important it was during my graduate career and isn’t an accurate reflection of its place in my academic career. Once I got back to revising my final paper, diving back into the data, and reframing it to better align with the mission of my target journal, I realized the steps that had to be taken to get it ready for peer review were entirely familiar and totally doable. From there, it was just executing on a plan and doing my best while remembering to hold myself to a standard of “good enough” as opposed to “perfection.” By reframing your perspective of the dissertation manuscript as “just another paper,” you can give yourself more reasonable expectations and set yourself up for success, instead of constantly moving your own goal posts farther down the field.

3. Remember to Be Proud of All That You Accomplished, Even if the Journey Has Twists and Turns

Like the saying “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” it’s totally okay (and somewhat expected) for your path to publishing your dissertation to have unexpected challenges and setbacks. The most important part though is that you work through the adversity, learn from your mistakes, and keep pushing forward. For some, your dissertation might find a home at the very first journal to which you submit it; for others, your dissertation might take a few attempts to refine and improve it before you find a perfect match. However, this is no different from the rest of the research process to which we all have grown accustomed, and once you’ve gotten started, you can let your momentum carry you through to the end. Regardless of the final outcome, the accomplishment of the dissertation itself is still an impressive undertaking and one that should continue to make you feel proud. Publication of the dissertation is simply the cherry on top of the magnificent sundae you’ve already created!

To my fellow assistant professors (or even associate professors) who have yet to go back and get that dissertation under review: I promise you it’s not as painful as you might think! You’ve already done 90% of the work, and armed with these lessons learned, I know you can do it. Plus, I’ll be here to cheer you along every step of the way.

 

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