Charly Leblanc Webpage

PhD Candidate in Physics

How to publish: a guide for PhD students

January 09, 2022

Ok, so you finally have the results that you were hoping for. Now, what to do next? 

1) Choice of journal

First, you need to decide with your advisor(s) where you want to publish your article. Depending on the journal, there will be a limit of the number of words for the article, or the abstract, or even a limited number of pages... In some journals, you will get appendices or supplementary material(s). And it would be best if you kept these limitations in mind when you write the draft.

How to choose a journal? Well, it depends on many things:
  • Accessibility: do you want your work te to be open-access or not? I'll explain later that there are other ways for your work to be accessible to everyone.
  • Fees: it can sound like a joke since we already pay to read some articles, but you pay to publish in some journals. It can be pretty expensive, but don't be afraid; talk with your advisors, sometimes there is a budget for that.
  • Impact factor: this is a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year. Whether it is an excellent way to judge a scientific work is not the subject here. Your early career will probably depend on it, and you should not neglect it. Nature is an example of a journal with a high impact factor.
  • The reputation: some journals are well known and have been established for decades. In my field (Physics), Physical Review has been in publication since the 19th century. Some Nobel prize winners were published in it (A. Einstein and R. Feynman, to cite a few). If you publish in those journals, your work will be considered very serious, even if the impact factor is not very high.
  • The format: as I said, the format limitations could be significant in some journals. Can your results fit into two pages? If so you might want to consider a letter. Or do you have so many results that your article can't fit into four pages? It would be a shame to put 2/3 of your results in the supplementary material. Consider a journal with no word limits. 

2) Preprint time

After submitting your work to the journal,  there is a lot of things that you can do to give the article the attention it deserves, even before it is published!
  • Open-access: at the same time you submit the preprint to the journal, you can submit it to an open-access repository. This is good for two reasons: first, science should be accessible to everyone. Secondly, it allows the scientific community to see your work before the publication of your article, which can sometimes take a very long time sometimes (2 years is the maximum for me, but I know it can be way longer). If you work in Physics or Mathematics, you can submit it in arXiv. If you work in Biology, you can submit in bioRxiv.
  • Social media: you should share your preprint (with a link to your arXiv) on everything you can think of: Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, your website... Everything that allows the preprint to gain some visibility. 
In the journal procedure, there are some steps. First, the editor can refuse your preprint. In this case, you will need to choose another journal and format the draft following the journal requirements... This could be very time-consuming so try to think very carefully about the right journal to begin with. If the editor accepts the draft, they will send your work to other scientists in your field, called reviewers (anonymously), to examine and judge the draft. After some delay, the editor will contact you with the response of the referees. The usual responses are:
  • "I refuse the paper because...": do not lose hope, correct the mistakes that are mentioned, and try another journal.
  • "I could accept the paper with major revision": you will need to work a lot on your paper to get it published.
  •  "I will accept the paper with minor revision": good news! It would be best to change some minor things and know that your paper will get published.
  • "Paper accepted": good job, you can relax. 
You should be afraid of reviewer #2

3) Published time

After some delay, the editor will send you an email with the DOI of your paper. A DOI (Digital Object Identifier) is like a permanent ID of your paper. Now it is sharing tiiiime ! 
  • First, put your paper on Orcid (I explain here what Orcid, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, and a lot of other things are)
  • On Twitter, a short message explaining why this work is important. You can start a thread if you want to explain a little more.
  • Put a link to the DOI and abstract of your article on ResearchGate.
  • Add the article to your website, to your CV up to date...
Some things are automatic. For example, Google Scholar will automatically find your DOI and your article. Some journals will put the article in your Orcid themselves. It is time for you to start a new adventure!