Completing the PhD publication triple

Some great news this week! Dr Susan Kay’s third paper from her PhD has been accepted for publication by Applied Optics. Entitled “Sun glint estimation in marine satellite images: a comparison of results from calculation and radiative transfer modeling”, it nicely shows the impact of choosing different models for the sea surface elevation and slope when predicting sun glint. In response to the notice of publication Sue said “It’s great to see that last bit of PhD work finished. Now I’d better get writing about marine ecosystem modelling!” which is her current research at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

I’ve been one of Sue’s PhD supervisors, alongside Dr John Hedley, and it’s wonderful that she’s had three papers published. There is always an expectation that PhD students will produce papers during their studies, on top of writing up their PhD. However peer-reviewed publications aren’t easy to achieve, more and more papers are being produced but scientists only have limited time to act as reviewers. The consequence is that journals are tending more towards a straight forward acceptance or rejection, rather than longer supported revisions processes. Over the 20+ years I’ve supervised students, some have published several peer-reviewed papers whilst others have not managed to get one accepted. I never achieved a first-authored one during for my own PhD.

I think the differentiating success factors in getting publications are writing up research that is novel (rather than incremental), maintaining self-belief in your work plus a small measure of luck. Many times has a paper been rejected, only to be accepted by another journal after revisions, but for a PhD student the rejection can be a very disheartening process; especially if it’s their first paper.

Therefore if you get rejected, don’t be down-hearted. Use the valuable reviewer feedback to look at the paper with fresh eyes, and give careful thought on where to submit. A lower-ranked journal can be better for a first PhD submission; especially if the research is still in the initial stages of development. Believe in your work, believe in yourself and send the paper out again and do this over and over until you get it accepted. You never know you might get three papers published like Sue!