Habits for Successful Academics

Excuse me. Did I hear you right? Did you say you didn’t get a doctorate to write papers so that you can get grants so that you can do research an influence your field of expertise? I suppose that isn’t the shocker of the year.

At one of the events of this year’s taste of science Festival a speaker clarified for the audience that researchers don’t write papers for themselves. They do it so that they can get the funding they need to make that research meaningful. It was a statement that resonated with me, almost as much as a comment by a professor who later confided to me that Ph.D. programs do not teach teachers how to teach.

Mind. Blown.

While some people enjoy the process of writing and discovery and telling their story of those findings through the written word, there are so many people that view that finished research product as a necessary evil. Sometimes that scholarly article is even more frustrating than the study itself! Then there are revisions, rejections, and unanswered questions thrown back at the authors as a result of that pesky little PDF.

Writing impactful papers is tough. We get that. There’s no one answer to clear away the frustration, no button to make your colleagues’ opinions disappear, and no spell you can cast on journal editors to make acceptance easy. However, there are a few things that you can do to help make your research life just a little more balanced and clear. Hopefully there will be one or two tips below that can save you a strand or two when you fell like pulling your hair out.

1) Take time away from email each day.

We’ve all experienced that week where we open the inbox on Monday morning and then before you know it you’ve worked sixty hours that week and all you can think of is the things you need to accomplish next week. We complain about it. We rely on it. We spend too much time on it. Email communications are important, but chances are you already know you won’t get to all of it. Ask yourself what the real impact will be if you go dark for an hour or more during the day. All those message will be waiting for you when you get back and you’ll have those sworn hours away from the tapping fingers of colleagues and students to accomplish tasks that require more focus and action.

2) Save your ideas immediately.

If scientists had post-its in the shower, who knows what problems might be solved by now! Fleeting strokes of brilliance are too often followed by head scratching “what was that thought I had earlier?” Don’t assume you’ll remember anything later and don’t count on the person sitting in the passenger seat while you are stuck in traffic to remind you later. Write down your ideas and breakthroughs immediately. Go the extra mile and add an action point that you can take to help achieve or prove your point.

3) Track your sources.

Remember when citations were called a bibliography and they were the last step to writing your paper? It’s always placed after the paper, so it might make sense contextually to write the citations after the paper. That mentality ends here.

Having the printed version of the paper somewhere on your desk does not count as tracking your sources. Write the citation to your sources in the appropriate format as soon as you choose to incorporate it into your work. Manage the in-text citations as you go. Be diligent about citing your sources!

4) Reread your work.

Rereading isn’t just for spelling errors. We know, you have spell check for that. Read for content and context. Do you remember everything you said? Especially the things you wrote during that all-nighter, or worse, the day after the all-nighter? Check that your thoughts are organized that that you points flow from one to the other. Are you making assumptions that the readers know certain things? Did you add extraneous data that you found during the study that doesn’t contribute to your thesis? Edit. Edit. Edit.

5) Keep up with other studies.

You have your hands full with your study, but remember to come up for air or you’ll miss out on opportunities. Be aware of any other ongoing studies that might contribute to or conflict with your own study. Note any chances for collaboration, or alternative methods of collecting data that might enhance your own work. Ensure that you are studying the right factors and that you are considering your problem from all perspectives, which can become difficult when you are so close to the work.

6) Go interdisciplinary.

Just because your expertise is in one field doesn’t mean your work is worthless to another discipline. Are you an expert in computer science? Explore the repercussions of your study in human interaction. Is your work in biology? How does it affect ethics?

We’ve always seen the value of cross-posting papers between subjects. This is why SSRN allows papers to be shared in up to twelve eJournals. A completed research paper almost always has at least one complimentary area of expertise. Make sure your work is discoverable to all potentially interested parties.

7) Share with a broad audience.

This is the 21st century. Don’t limit the circle that your paper is able to reach. If you’ve published the article, check the agreement for the right to share the pre-published version. If you’re trying to get publicity for a study, or boost credibility as a researcher you need to share broadly. We’ve always found that this is one way to increase the impact of your paper.

Go forth and write your research! By cultivating good, healthy habits you’ll be ready to share that paper sooner than you might think is possible. When you are ready to share, you’ll be able to enjoy the success that savvy academics enjoy.

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