How many times has someone asked you “what do you do all day?” or “what’s your day like?” or “tell me about your day?”.
Most PhD students, postdocs, and academic faculty spend hours at the bench doing research, recording, and analyzing results that will either confirm or reject a hypothesis. Additional hours are spent lecturing or teaching labs. One of my colleagues told me that he liked to take one day at a time, but that recently they had started ganging up on him.
Getting to the point, however, publishing your work is as important as conducting it. I’ll leave you to find the hours for getting that accomplished, but I’ll take some time to write about publishing research – from my own perspective.
Why publish? Maybe the most compelling reason is that if you don’t, no one except you and your potential coauthors will know what you’ve been doing.
The old warning was “publish or perish”. In academia that means “take care that the tenure track isn’t a dead end”. It seems that with increasing number of science PhDs finding professions outside of academia, the tenure track has changed to a career path. In other words, you have more choices of what to do all day than were previously available. That means when you publish your research it’s more important than ever to consider the audience – whose attention you want to attract, and what aspect of your work do they need to know about.
So now, think about the “least publishable unit” of your research (more about that later). For the moment, think about a collection of experimental results that is sufficient to either confirm or reject a hypothesis and then consider the methods that were used to obtain those results. That’s pretty generalizable. Just about any journal and their readers will expect and appreciate much the same description.
What next? Think about “information flow” starting with the context or background of your research–that is, the rationale and objective. Another way of thinking about this is “what is known” and “what this was designed to add”. That information, included in the Introduction of your publication, and the significance of the results you obtained, included in the Discussion, will not always be generalizable. Those two sections will most likely differ depending on the audience that you are writing for.
So, here’s the message for today: take an hour or two to think about what you do best right now – defining and solving today’s problems – and then deciding how the description of “what this adds” might best be positioned to attract the attention of professionals who work at the destination of your career path.