Publishing during graduate studies

Successful publications require collaborative effort between students and their supervisors

Supervisors can help students navigate the publication process and develop writing skills, as well as provide emotional support. Supervisors and students can work together to come up with a publication plan and then, when it succeeds, discuss and demonstrate how to handle comments from reviewers. Journal clubs are a useful tool for students to identify the qualities of not only research, but also writing, that may have been a factor in existing articles’ acceptance for publication.


Developing a publication plan

It is beneficial for students and supervisors to discuss expectations and opportunities for publication early in the student’s program. Consider the below points in this discussion.

  • Co-authorship between the student and supervisor, or student and other academics, and the benefits of co-authorship
  • The possibility of turning conference papers into manuscripts (if they are not published by conferences)
  • Which journals the student might submit papers to, and how to identify the most appropriate journals. Factors to consider include the journal’s:
    • target audience and circulation;
    • scope and aims;
    • speed of publication;
    • peer-review process;
    • status and reputation (e.g., citation scores, impact factor, anecdotes from colleagues);
    • formatting and style requirements (e.g., word limit);
    • conditions and policies (e.g., fees); and
    • previous publications of papers in the field, on topics related to the student’s project, and by authors cited in the student’s work.

Anticipating constructive feedback during the review process

Many students may not be familiar with the review process that occurs after a paper is submitted. Advice, examples and support from the supervisor is especially important during this time.

Some reviewers can be blunt or unnecessarily harsh in their comments. In such cases, students might struggle to interpret how they should revise or feel they want to “drop the whole thing.” Supervisors can help the student cope with any negative emotions by encouraging them to use such comments to develop a better paper, and helping them write responses to the reviewers.

Using journal clubs to discuss the publication process

If you organize or participate in a journal club (group meetings for discussion of scholarly publications), ensure that issues beyond the research are discussed—for example, the quality of writing, what makes one article more persuasive than another, choosing the “right” journals, identifying the characteristics of the journal’s particular genre, etc.

You might also consider running or attending seminars on journal article publishing. Use a panel to get discussion underway, ideally involving:

  • an editor (or someone on the editorial board) of a refereed journal in the area;
  • a practiced reviewer of papers for a refereed journal in the area (how they go about assessing papers); and/or
  • a later-year doctoral student or postdoctoral fellow who has recently been through the process of having an article published and who can provide tips.

When do you know that a paper is ready to submit to a journal? Where should you submit it?

When you are new to publishing or are working on new research, it might be difficult to know when to send a paper out into the world. Hence, supervisors are an excellent resource as the first editorial figures for graduate students. However, keep in mind that trial and error is inevitable in the process of publishing.


Publishing is crucial in academia. Publishing is key to securing funding in external award competitions, and will be essential should you choose to pursue a career on the academic job market. Yet publishing can be daunting for many.

When the TRaCE McGill project asked PhD Graduates what they wished they knew before starting their PhDs, several shared advice with the project about securing publications. One PhD graduate, Timothy Newfield, discussed how to choose the right journal to submit to, and advises current to students to:

Aim as high as you can, right out of the gate. My first article was my Master’s thesis that I rewrote and published in 2009 and I published it in a good journal, but I only submitted it to that journal. I could have aimed higher, which might have helped me land a job sooner than I did. Then I submitted my next article, in the final year of my PhD, to an obscure journal, and I only submitted it to that journal as well. That was a mistake. Now, I have my own students submit to big journals and if they get turned down, they can always submit some place else."

Questions to consider:

  • How do you decide when something is ready to submit?
  • How do you decide where to submit first?
  • How long should you spend revising it based on reviewer feedback?
  • When is it appropriate to reject reviewer feedback and submit the paper to a different journal entirely?

Supervisors may have more experience making these decisions than students do, but both supervisors and students have multiple factors to consider when it comes to publishing their research.

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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