How Professors Get their Research Published

As undergrads here at Pacific, many of us are want to complain about all the responsibilities we have. “Doesn’t my professor realize I have other things to do besides read these chapters,” one might hear from a frustrated voice in the UC. “I have work tonight, plus a club meeting in the morning!”


And these complaints may be valid: many students do, in fact, have a lot of things to do that professors are not necessarily privy to. This line of thought works both ways, however. While your professor may not have thought about the activities you must take part in for your Greek organization, most students do not hear about the work that professors must do outside of the classroom; work that goes beyond grading the assignments of their students.


One of the most important responsibilities of a professor which undergrads rarely hear about is conducting research that is published in the form of journal articles or books. Professors get certain amounts of credit toward tenure and promotion based on the research they get published, so this aspect of their job is quite important. While Pacific does not have as stringent research requirements as some other schools, Professors are definitely expected to be working on research in addition to their teaching duties.


In order to get a better understanding of the process that professors go through to get their research published, The Pacifican spoke with someone who is currently in the midst of that process, Dr. Daniel O’Neill. Dr. O’Neill is an associate professor of political science in the School of International Studies.


Professor O’Neill explained that the first step in getting one’s work published is simply coming up with an idea, and the impetus for that usually comes at conferences. In order to participate in a conference, one must finish a paper that they would then present at the conference. Professors, like students, are busy with other activities, so these conferences can serve as a deadline to get the mind churning with ideas. Conferences also generally attract many publishers, which can give professors the opportunity to find out what publishers are interested in.


Professor O’Neill personally found out how helpful conferences can be when he once presented what was basically a miniature version of his dissertation at a conference. After reading his paper, a professor from the University of Toronto recommended that he rewrite the paper into two separate articles. Professor O’Neill took the advice, and ended up getting both articles published.


After coming up with a solid idea, the next step, for both books and journal articles, would be to send a proposal to these publishers. The proposal might just include the premise of the book, or a sample chapter. The publishers will then decide whether or not they are interested in the proposal; whether they want to send the proposal to reviewers.


“If not, we call this a ‘desk rejection,’ which means you basically got rejected before it was even considered,” explained Professor O’Neill. The rejection does not necessarily mean that the idea is not worth pursuing, as publishers might suggest submitting the idea to a publication that would be a better fit for the research.


If the proposal does not suffer the fate of a desk rejection, the next step in getting published is getting one’s work sent to reviewers. All professors participate in the review process of journal articles for free, during which professors conduct “double-blind reviews.” This means that the professor reviewing the journal article does not know who wrote it, and the author does not know who is reviewing it. The process of getting a book reviewed can potentially take much longer, as publishers must find and pay professors who are willing to take on the larger task of reviewing an entire book.


In the case of a book, once it is looked over by at least two reviewers, the publisher may take a few different courses of action. It may reject the manuscript due to poor reviews, recommend rewriting specific parts of the manuscript, or only recommend minor editing changes. The process for journal articles is basically the same, but on a smaller scale. “They may suggest more robust statistical analysis, more detail in case studies, things like that,” Professor O’Neill said.


If a professor’s work has made it past this point, he or she can rest easy with the knowledge that his or her name will be on a published book or journal article. Professor O’Neill’s book is currently being read by a second reviewer, and he is confident that it will be published. “I’ve learned a lot about the book process… If this press rejects it, there is no reason to give up at this point; the book is good.” he said.


Professor O’Neill’s book takes an in-depth look at China’s foreign economic policies that are used to influence other countries, particularly those countries involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.


Professor O’Neill noted that he has already acquired tenure at the University, so he is not under as much pressure to get the book published as he otherwise might have been. “I don’t have that time pressure… Without that pressure, I can get this book published.” he said.


So while you may silently curse your professors for laying on the assignments in the middle of the semester, take a moment to remember that they are busy people, as well. In addition to teaching us, they may be drafting presentations for conferences, editing books for content criticized by reviewers, or eagerly awaiting news of the fate of the journal articles they need published to keep their jobs. Many students certainly don’t have it easy, but keep in mind that same can be said for many professors.

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