Writing is hard: it a complicated and complex process that many of us grapple with, especially when writing theses and dissertations. For some, the issue is acquiring the ability to turn thoughts into words, for others it is struggling to overcome writer’s block, and for others still it is finding the time to engage in writing while navigating busy, complex lives (Aitchison & Guerin, 2014).
Writing for publication, on the other hand, is a whole other matter. Even though writing a thesis or dissertation requires some level of approval from your supervisor(s) and your committee, it does not come with the same type of scrutiny that accompanies peer-reviewed pieces of writing. Overheard in hallway conversations, mentioned in classes, or talked about by more experienced colleagues, junior scholars are introduced to “Reviewer Two,” who represents everything awful about academic publishing. Perhaps because anonymity is common in academic publishing, and in turn can limit accountability, Reviewer Two writes comments that are unkind, unhelpful, and unconstructive.
The first time I submitted an article for peer review I had no idea what I was doing. I recall googling a) what a response to reviewer comments letter was, and b) how to write one. At the time, I wished I had received more formal mentorship around academic publishing because the process was so outside of my understanding. At the same time, I know I could have asked my supervisor…but I did not. This may be because I prefer to learn things by doing them, or it may be because I am stubborn and self-reliant.
Years have passed since then.I have submitted and been rejected, and I have submitted and been accepted. I now know better what reviewers are looking for. Reflecting recently on the criticisms I was given in the last three articles I submitted for publication, I realized that my doctoral program did not explicitly teach how to write for peer-reviewed scholarly publications. In my MA program, the final assessment for a combined undergraduate/graduate class was to collaboratively publish an undergraduate academic journal: this exercise appeared to be an anomaly among colleagues whom I informally surveyed.
Knowing that my own experiences are anecdotal, I did what anyone else in my position would do: I solicited help from the internet. More specifically, I created a poll on Twitter asking if other graduate students had been taught to write for publication.
Of the respondents (n = 103), 78% had not received instruction while 22% had. By no means academically or scientifically rigorous, the poll—in addition to discussions with friends and colleagues—confirmed my assumption about the role of academic publishing in graduate-level coursework.
The disconnect, as Melonie Fullick (2015) explained, is that tacit knowledge is necessary in order to succeed in graduate school; yet not all students have the same experiences or ability to gain this knowledge. Here, publishing requirements and expectations are tacit knowledge that students are expected to have as part of the hidden curriculum. This means that despite the “publish or perish” expectation of academia, students are not likely to have any of their coursework devoted to understanding or succeeding in academic publishing. Students are expected to figure out how to publish on their own—if they do not, it is their problem.
Though I cannot offer anything concrete or tangible to fix such a systemic issue—other than suggesting that faculty members consider making some changes to their graduate course delivery—I can propose a way for graduate students to gain experience and knowledge in publishing. My recommendation is that graduate students attending Canadian faculties of education consider submitting to the Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education/ Revue canadienne des jeunes chercheures et chercheurs en éducation (CJNSE/RCJCÉ).
The publication is an online, open-access, bilingual, non-masked, peer-reviewed journal that is run by and for graduate students attending Canadian faculties of education. Sponsored by CSSE/SCÉÉ through the Canadian Committee of Graduate Students in Education/Le comité Canadien des étudiants diplômés en éducation (CCGSE/CCÉDÉ)—the graduate students’ caucus—the journal will celebrate its tenth year of publication in 2019.
As the 2018 (English) Managing Editor for CJNSE/RCJCÉ, my role is to assist junior scholars to learn about the processes involved in publishing. Like other journal editors, I find peer reviewers for manuscripts and then make a decision (Accept, Revisions Required, Revise and Resubmit, Reject) about the submission based on the reviewer comments. CJNSE/RCJCÉ is also unique in that authors are guided by peer and faculty mentors, who are a critical support in helping graduate students succeed in academic publishing.
The mentorship available from CJNSE/RCJCÉ is, from what I understand, not found anywhere else. Think about it in terms of getting a manuscript accepted: once you have something published you have an idea of what reviewers and editors are looking for, and you can replicate that in your future work. In turn, you can pass these skills on in a more formal capacity when you are asked to review a manuscript or a conference abstract. You can also share what you have learned with friends and colleagues. CJNSE/RCJCÉ is about building up junior scholars so they can assist other early career scholars in meeting their goals.
For more information, please check out the CJNSE/RCJCÉ website or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Danielle E. Lorenz
Department of Educational Policy Studies,
University of Alberta
2018 Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education Managing Editor
2017 Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education Associate Editor
Aitchison, C., & Guerin, C. (Eds.) (2014). Writing groups for doctoral education and beyond: Innovations in practice and theory. London, UK: Routeledge.
Fullick, M. (2015). Hiding in plain sight: Challenging the unwritten rules of academe. University Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/speculative-diction/hiding-in-plain-sight-changing-the-unwritten-rules-of-academe/