Publishing a research article

21 May

Today I met with Ken Robinson, my honours thesis supervisor in 2010 and a good friend since 2006. He’s a senior lecturer and researcher at Edith Cowan University, and has agreed to be an assistant supervisor for my PhD project. We spent most of today in his office at the Joondalup campus of ECU, preparing my honours’ research report for publication in the scientific journal “Motivation and Emotion“. This is the first time I’ve ever prepared a manuscript for publication, and I’ve never read nor heard anyone’s first-hand experience of this process before, so I thought it’d be worth a blog entry.

First of all, what is this publishing thing all about? Why would you ever want, after a whole year of gruelling, hard work to get a degree, to go back to your research and spend unpaid, precious time preparing it for publication? What’s in it for you? The fact is that most honours students never publish their research, even though it is often of extremely good quality. So, why should they bother, and, really, should they bother at all?

The first answer that might come to mind is money. However, this would only come to mind if you’re mostly unacquainted with scientific research, particularly in the field of psychology. No, you don’t get any money from publishing, in fact it’s more likely you’ll have to pay in some cases (for example, if you have colourful illustrations in your article). You’ll also have to spend hours of unpaid work to prepare your manuscript, hours that might be put to relatively more productive use. So, what other incentive could there be to publish your research?

Fame! Prestige! Worldwide acclaim and celebrity status! Perhaps an appearance on Today Tonight! You got it, that’s definitely why I’ve decided to publish my research. With several thousands of readers each month, and an average of 1.3 citations per article over the past 2 years, the journal of Motivation and Emotion is the ideal place to catch the attention of the big wigs in the world of psychology, and to start building an internationally renowned career, getting flown all over the globe to various symposia and conferences for notoriously anticipated keynote addresses.


Zombie Marie Curie

You got it, I was being sarcastic, but only facetiously. Here are the real advantages of publishing my research, for my point of view:

  1. I actually think my research is useful and can make a positive difference in the world. Yes, I know that’s rare, but in my case I actually chose the topic and I’m rather passionate about it. If I don’t publish it, it’s pretty much wasted on anyone else but me (it has given me access to a doctorate/master programme after all).
  2. I am really interested in research, and part of a research career is a research portfolio. It’s part of my CV, and will help me in the future to obtain grants for other research projects. Good research probably doesn’t need grants. Earth-moving, paradigm-shifting research definitely does.
  3. It’s a great way to learn the ropes of scientific publication. If I do end up in a research career, anything I learn now about this process will be extremely valuable for future attempts at publication.

There, I think I summed it up pretty well. The most important point is certainly the first one. I didn’t do my honours research just for the sake of graduating and getting into a Masters/PhD programme. I actually wanted to learn, test some hypotheses, and report on what I found. I’m still interested in the subject. In fact, even months after submitting my thesis, I was still running analyses, researching the literature, and communicating with the Self-Determination Theory community. I care about this topic, I think it has profound implications for psychology as a field, as well as for education.

Now, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I am at least slightly attracted by the prospect of getting some recognition for my research. I do enjoy the occasional pat on the back, and I like to know that what I do is appreciated by others. However, I try very hard not to focus on this attraction, because I feel it tends to distract me from the real benefits of what I’m doing, which benefits are hopefully less about me and more about other people. That includes my family. I am committed to my family, and I’m determined that my career will never override my family’s needs. That is part of my mission plan in life.


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