I am often asked by students and early career researchers, how can I have a successful research and publications career? And what tips can you give me? These questions are asked as if there is some magic formula to follow which, if got right, will lead to academic success.
I reply in all honesty that there is no one path to follow, that I entered higher education almost by chance some forty years ago after six years teaching in further education, and that sometimes it is wise to go with the flow rather than try too hard.
Sometimes this response satisfies but sometimes it triggers more frustration. But there must be some tips you can share, I am asked? So, I have scratched my head and have come up with a few.
First, focus on enjoying the present and what you can do well, rather than the future and some seemingly impossible goal.
When this comes to writing for publication, choose a journal whose standard matches what you are capable of. At the end of my PhD I never aimed for the top level journals I later published in: my first few papers focused on some of the more straightforward aspects of sociology and psychology and appeared in the Nursing Times. I was happy doing that and learned a lot about writing simply and clearly – in a style quite different from aspects of my PhD.
Second, never write an article and hope to find a journal in which to publish it afterwards.
Choose your journal before you hit the keyboard, and style what you have to say accordingly. Journals differ immensely in terms of their expectations – content, approach, paragraphing and style. Make life easy on yourself by selecting a publication you stand a reasonable chance of getting published in, and not the very best journal in the field (no matter how good you or your supervisor thinks you are). That way, you’ll probably enjoy the rewards of success early on, progressing to more difficult journals later.
Third, writing should be an enjoyable and social process, not a painful, lonely and individual one.
Write with others: with your supervisor to begin with (assuming they are happy to help you and you get on well together); with another more experienced member of the research team; and/or with someone whose work you like and who you met at a seminar meeting or conference.
Finally, don’t rush – you have your whole life ahead of you.
Don’t be impatient for success: it can reflect badly on you. Try to cultivate a broad and balanced approach. Success in academia nowadays means having a wide range of skills as well as a specialism or two. So try to stay mindful, centred and calm – success will likely come your way in the end.
Peter Aggleton is editor-in-chief of two Taylor & Francis journals: Culture, Health & Sexuality and Sex Education. He is Scientia Professor of Education and Health at UNSW Sydney, Australia and holds visiting professorial positions at the UCL Institute of Education in London and at the University of Sussex, UK.