ICR Panel: Writing and Publishing for Graduate Students. Reviewed by Christopher Stampone

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 20:55

Panel: Writing and Publishing for Graduate Students


  • Michael Gamer (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Kevin Hutchings (University of Northern British Columbia)

"'Be Tenacious': Michael Gamer and Kevin Hutchings Give Grads Publishing Advice at ICR 2016"

by Christopher Stampone (Southern Methodist University)

Training graduate students to write with an eye toward publication is a trending topic in academia. In an article recently published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Devoney Looser (@devoneylooser) offers graduate students and early-career academics a window into the editorial processes that many journals follow, and shares useful and much-needed advice on how to prepare good materials that will impress “scholarly gatekeepers.” I followed up her essay with a blog-post in which I discuss the submission process from a graduate student’s perspective, and share a few anecdotes from my good—and not so good experiences—with journal editors and editorial boards. Talking informally for a panel entitled “Writing and Publishing for Graduate Students,” Michael Gamer (@gamermichael) and surprise guest panelist Kevin Hutchings literally and figuratively joined the ongoing conversation by offering fresh perspectives and important advice on graduate-student publication submissions. Three crucial pieces of advice in particular emerged from the conversation that they hosted: graduate students should “be tenacious” when considering publishing and the possible journals to which they should submit their work; apply close-reading skills prior to submitting to a journal, because journals have unique built-in audiences and (often unstated) expectations for submissions; and, most important, remember that journals are run by people who make mistakes, have lives, and have deadlines of their own to meet.

The fraught, purgatory-like situation in which graduate students find themselves can cause otherwise brilliant people to become cripplingly anxious—but Gamer and Hutchings stated that students must overcome this feeling and be tenacious. Produce excellent work, and publication will follow. Gamer noted that graduate students should remain tenacious even after suffering rejection, but also that students must learn from their rejection; Hutchings added that journal editors and those serving on the editorial board do not want to deal with burgeoning scholars who seem “unteachable,” and that editing in light of readers’ reports always yields a stronger essay that will have a much better chance with the next journal. Both speakers stressed the importance of graduate students aiming high when submitting work, as Gamer mentioned making initial strides in the field primarily through his work.

Before graduate students submit their best work to top-tier journals, however, they first must learn the stated—and unstated—rules that govern a given journal or press. Both speakers strongly encouraged graduate students to use their close-reading skills when choosing a journal. Learn the journal’s house style because both the editors and readers appreciate submissions that adhere to it. Moreover, an author’s submission should make a meaningful contribution to the ongoing conversation taking place in recent editions of the journal; read or skim four or five articles from the journal and see what issues people are discussing. Gamer stressed the importance of submitting to journals rather than edited collections, because hiring committees, tenure committees, and fellow academics hold blind peer-review publications in the highest regard; essays published in edited collections may be excellent, but they might not have undergone peer-review or, worse, were products of academic nepotism. Hutchings noted that, now more than ever, graduate students must avoid “predatory journals” that exist solely for the purpose of generating revenue for the editors. As a general rule of thumb, graduate students should submit their work to the journals in which well-established and highly-regarded scholars publish. 

After building up the courage to submit and sending an article to the right journal, graduate students must remember that they are submitting their work to people. People sometimes forget about submissions and deadlines. Gamer recommended contacting the editor or managing editor if a submission falls outside of a journal’s typical response time (check the MLA Directory of Periodicals for those guidelines, as well as for a journal’s peer-review policy). Working well with an editor is crucial to a piece’s success: Hutchings suggested that graduate students consider a revise and resubmit a “conditional acceptance,” but also that they must carefully address issues raised in the readers’ reports. Keeping in line with the idea of being tenacious, Gamer noted that graduate students revise an article and resubmit it to the editor as soon as they finish. Graduate students do not need to hold on to an essay merely for the sake of appearing careful: a well-revised article speaks for itself, and journal editors do not mind clearing their plate sooner rather than later. Gamer and Hutchings concluded their talk by offering graduate students a three-point strategy to success: “be nice, be interesting, and produce good work.”

As a way of looking further exploring this critical matter, the ICR and other professional associations might supplement talks on publishing with an actual publication workshop. A well-respected scholar in the field could show graduate students the steps that he or she took when submitting a piece that eventually reached print, including what the email to the editor said, what the readers’ reports said, the revision process that the author took, and any additional steps that the author had to take before the journal published it. A good workshop might highlight an essay that needed some revision and had to wrestle with differing readers’ reports. Graduate students go through the same process as established scholars, but not all of them understand how to proceed once in the maze. Additional guidance on the process as it really looks would further professionalize graduate students and better prepare them for encounters with academic gatekeepers. Learning the process is key to succeeding at it.