28th June 2012: Should You Publish With Your PhD Supervisors?

I recently started working with a copy-editing colleague and a group of Victoria University higher degree students. I also advise business and law academics on their research programs. Both activities provide a reflection cycle on my PhD studies in political science at Monash University (my November 2010 PhD proposal). These experiences highlight some different approaches and research cultures at both universities.


Publishing with your PhD supervisor is an opportunity that should be explored carefully. It is the norm in some scientific laboratory work and was also the case in a Cooperative Research Centre team I was on where the professor was the lead author. In that case, the professor had contacts with industry partners and government policymakers; had deep historical knowledge of the academic field; was able to arrange media coverage and a launch; could secure research funding and budgets; and could make judgments about the analytical research product. Some of the more novel, multidisciplinary and risk-seeking ideas were never published or written up formally from presentations. A professor or PhD supervisor who is the lead author will usually call the shots.


A good PhD supervisor will help you publish in certain ways. They will provide developmental editing feedback on your draft. They will inform you about the appropriate journals to publish in; the editorial board and peer review standards; specific methods and research design issues; who the international and national experts are; and what current debates you can tap. They can explain obscure but important research administration like Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) forms and Field of Research (FoR) codes. In doing so the PhD supervisor helps to socialise you into a research community and discipline.


A PhD supervisor may also be unable to do this for several reasons. You may be one of their first PhD students and they are growing into the PhD supervisor role. They may be unfamiliar with your research questions. They may have been socialised into a different sub-discipline or sub-field. They may have gaps in their publication track record or may have changed topics. They may have signed up too many PhD students for workload points. They may have accepted a range of PhD students who are not in their specific area of research expertise and are spread too thinly. Or, they may not have kept up with these research and scholarly issues, and may be in a mid-career or late-career drift. You will sense this early on in PhD supervision meetings — and in good cases the PhD student provides renewal for the PhD supervisor. In bad cases you might change your PhD supervisor, and your university research office can advise you on how to do this.


So, preferably, do your ‘due diligence’ on your PhD supervisors before you begin to discuss publishing with them. Avoid if possible a situation where you do the work and the PhD supervisor insists on first name on the published article in order to ‘game’ the workload points system. Don’t publish in an obscure journal that no-one will read or that has a ‘pay to publish’ fee. Use social media like academic blogs in an appropriate manner to make your research more visible to others (and don’t let this detract from your research writing).


My personal preference is to either publish as sole author or in a team where the roles and name order are clearly negotiated upfront. My Monash PhD supervisors’ preference is for me to publish during my PhD and to publish alone in order to build my expertise and reputation in the field. They already have established their reputations and publishing track record, and have made specific contributions that also differ from my PhD research topic. I have already published in A-level journals without a PhD and been internationally cited. To achieve this you need exciting research questions; good research design; and to write to the standards of the ‘target’ journal or conference. Victoria University’s research culture is different and is more weighted toward PhD candidates co-publishing with their PhD supervisors.


I hope this advice helps and good luck with your PhD research.