Publishing for Historians

It was one of those workshops I’d signed up for weeks in advance, and then proceeded to forget about completely until a couple of days beforehand.

I did the obligatory wheedling – did I really want to go now? I only really want to see such and such a panel. Is it worth it…

Well, yes. Yes it was.

Once I got over my whingeing I’m really glad the Royal Historical Society and the Institute for Historical Research had decided to run this workshop.

You get introduced to publishing from day one of the PhD, but often beyond the ‘this is something you absolutely must do’, you hear little else about it.

Well this workshop broke all that down for you. I had no clue what was involved in producing my first monograph. Now I do, and really, that particular journey starts now. And publishing isn’t just about specialised niche journal articles and turning your doctoral thesis into a book, no no. The panellists all had different perspectives, different areas of expertise and this opened my eyes to a whole host of new ways to approach getting different pieces of work out there.

Those experienced with the REF and REF panels, un-demonised the whole thing when it came to doctoral candidates and early-career researchers and our often limited publication records. We had a publisher on hand who gave us their perspective and what they were looking for (which does not begin and end with your supervisors). Maybe it could be an idea to approach journal editors with an idea first, to see how they react? And what about deciding where to publish? Look at the editorial boards – do you recognise any names or faces?

I also discovered some of the ‘myths’ about publishing. In terms or the humanities, really impact-factors are a really poor way of testing the relevance and importance of your work. They’re more a measure for the sciences. Apparently someone else had heard that co-authoring was bad practice for historians. I know, it was news to me too, but the panellists were quick to shoot that one down. Speaking of bad practice – only send your article/book/conference proceedings etc to one publisher at a time. The time and effort it takes for publishers and their review boards to go through a piece of work demands this courtesy, at least.

And, something I don’t think postgraduates hear enough of to be honest, you have power in the relationship between publisher and researcher. You can decide whether you’re work is being reviewed or published in a reasonable time-frame. A reviewer’s comments aren’t gospel and get into that dialogue with them and come to some kind of agreement.

All in all this was a seriously informative day, full of stuff we postgraduates get introduced to, but that are never fully explained to us. I no longer balk when I see ‘REF’ scribbled or typed or stamped anywhere, and I feel far more relaxed as I step forward and continue to develop my publishing record.

The only issue I had – and in one way it’s a minor issue and in another way it’s not – was the almost-assumption that you would use a post-doc position to fund your first monograph. Like it’s that easy to get one. They did go on to clarify that publishers don’t look for you to be established within a university in order to get published, but realistically how else are you going to afford it – even in most cases with Open Access publications?

Post-doctoral positions: research associates, teaching associates etc, are not that common these days, and the competition for them is fierce. I love what I do. I have went above and beyond for what I do, well aware that academia is not a 9-5 leave your work at work type of job, especially in the early stages when you’re trying to gain a foothold. But even so, with my publishing, continuous professional development, my participation in public engagement events, my development of future projects to attract outside funding (which I can’t apply for until I’m finished the PhD) am finding it quite difficult to ensure a position come my (expected) submission date.

A minor blip in an otherwise helpful workshop, however. The University of Glasgow’s Simon Newman and all the panellists did a great job, and if you get the opportunity to go to this next year, I’d take it.

 

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