Academic and professional journals are edited and published with specific target audiences in mind. Journals are divided according to major disciplines or fields of research. And, within the major fields, there are a vast number of journals that deal with specializations and particular areas. These journals approach specialized areas or research according to very specific guiding topics, outlooks, theories, and philosophies in which academic and professional research and practice are pursued.
There are journals in the fields of science, mathematics, language, the humanities, medicine, and many more. There are now in publication literally hundreds of academic and professional journals, written in dozens of languages and fields. This article has in mind both current PhD students as well as those interested in or considering applying for and entering a PhD program, wanting to gain a clearer idea of just what such journals are and their importance in the life and work of the PhD student.
An Ocean of Information and Opportunities
Academic and professional research is so vast and diverse that this article can only sketch out the main ways in which journals impact the pursuit of doctoral studies. However, there are some common themes across disciplines and professions that highlight the place and importance of academic and professional journals as one pursues a PhD. In terms of research and discovery, scholarly presentation and accountability, and as a means for getting one’s own ideas presented publicly in early publications, journals are a key link between moving from student to scholar in academic and professional settings.
This article offers information on:
- The key traits and purposes of academic and professional journals;
- How journals provide key resources in getting a handle on the most important topics and questions being pursued within a given field;
- Some of the best places to begin researching for the right journals;
- And the importance for PhD students to publish in journals and how to choose a journal for publication even before they’ve finished their doctorate.
Within an academic discipline or professional field, a key way for scholars, both young and seasoned, to enter into the stream or streams of their profession is through reading and publishing in journals. This is because of the function that journals have across the disciplines and professions as publications that offer the most recent and (often) advanced theories, research, and discoveries in a given discipline. Moreover, there is a built-in quality control mechanism in academic and professional journals that helps ensure only original and sound research is published. In academic and professional journals, as will academic publishing in general, order to be accepted for publication, articles submitted to a journal must meet rigorous standards in terms of research, originality, argumentation, and clarity of presentation.
Key Traits of Academic and Professional Journals
Specific and Advanced Target Audience
Academic and professional journals are often published by university and/or academic presses. As academic or professional, these journals are not intended for popular or even semi-popular audiences, seeking general knowledge on a given topic. (Although there are some exceptions to this general rule.) This means that academic and professional journals are edited with other academics and professionals in mind. This often leads to very specific and technical forms of language and argumentation.
Short and Focused Studies
Instead of publishing book-length studies on a given topic or theme, journals, normally published two to four times a year, offer a venue for scholars to present shorter studies to their fellow experts in the field. Although some journals are interdisciplinary and publish articles on themes and topics from a wide variety of fields of research, most journals tend to focus on very specific areas. For example, to take the field of medicine, there are a wide variety of journals that focus on very specific areas within the fields of research and practice in medicine. In terms of medical case studies, we find the Journal of Medical Case Reports. If one is interested in internal medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine is a place to both look for research as well as publish one’s own studies. This kind of distribution of general and very specifically focused journals is common to all academic and professional fields.
Who’s in Charge?
Journals are commonly set up with a general or primary editor in charge, who bears ultimate responsibility for the articles appearing in the journal. They are almost always recognized as established experts in their field. General editors assemble teams of associate editors as well as advisors to ensure the highest standards of academic and scientific rigor in the articles and studies that their journal publishes. Boasting respected editors, associate editors, and advisors, academic and professional journals focus on publishing original research and findings.
This means that articles published in a journal will either be new discoveries or advance, in new ways, current research and technique/s. As one can easily guess, there is a lot at stake in accepting an article for publication in an academic journal. Is the research presented in the article truly original? Does it advance, challenge, or change our current understanding? Does an article truly represent and adequately argue the data and conclusions it contains? These are some of the key questions that editors of academic and professional journals must answer in the affirmative if rigorous scholarly and scientific standards are to be maintained and the field truly advanced.
Because even the most seasoned and respected experts in a field of study or profession cannot master every or even most of the topics, arguments, and information in their field, they must depend on additional experts in order to help them carry out their editorial tasks and maintain high academic and professional standards. This is where another essential characteristic or feature of academic and professional journals comes into play. This is called “peer review.”
Peer review refers to the process under which every article submitted to an academic or professional journal is evaluated by those with expertise in the very topic on which an article is written. Peer reviewers are contacted by the editors of journals and asked to provide blind reviews of articles that are under consideration for publication. As experts with specialized knowledge, the editors of a journal can have a high degree of certainty that academic and scientific rigor is maintained in the article that is being reviewed. And, since the peer reviewers do not know the names of the authors whose articles they’re reviewing, greater objectivity in analyzing the quality of the various submissions to an article can be expected.
What does all this have to do with Ph.D. students? If one attempted to provide all the ways in which academic and professional journals are important for Ph.D. students, we would end up with a very long list. However, there are four core reasons why Ph.D. students should be interested in and interact with academic and professional journals.
Growth in Knowledge of the Field
First, PhD students are seeking the highest degree in their given field. Because of this, they are expected to know about the best current research in the field. Journals are a key place for deepening and expanding one’s base of knowledge in an academic or professional discipline. Journals serve as the primary medium through which scholars present their most recent research. Thus, journals will give PhD students an idea of the most important figures in their area of study or profession.
Exposure to Important Topics
Second, journals will help PhD students find their own voice as researchers and professionals. This is because journals publish studies on the most important and current topics, at the most advanced levels. This means that not only do journals provide general and specialized knowledge to PhD students, they also help to point out the most important topics being studied and discussed. It is often through a consideration of current academic and professional discussion that PhD students discover remaining questions arising out of these discussions. These include topics that still need to be addressed, challenges that can be brought to existing research, and ways to improve existing research.
Learn from the Best Examples
Third, journals strongly impact PhD students in the areas of their own research. Here we are not talking about the PhD students’ increase in knowledge, but, rather, how research, rigorous and scientific argumentation, and academic or professional writing is actually carried out by professionals. An article published in a journal will have met the standards demanded by the process of peer review. This means that the author’s gathering and organization of information, argumentation, and writing itself is of such a quality that it merits publication. Through exposure to such high-quality examples of research and writing, PhD students can gain a greater knowledge and understanding of what constitutes quality research and writing. PhD students can then develop ways in which to integrate the good research and writing practices of their peers into their own research and writing.
The Shortest Path to Publishing Your Own Research
Fourth, journals impact PhD students because they often serve as the fastest and most efficient way of getting their own work published. Academic and professional journals can be excellent venues for “breaking the ice” and getting that first publication. Often, doctoral students will have a brilliant insight into a topic or theme that is sized for an article-length publication but isn’t developed enough for a book-length study. By successfully publishing in a respected, peer-reviewed journal, the doctoral student has proven the research presented in their article passes the standards of scholarly rigor. This is a big confidence boost for young researchers looking to make their mark in their field and establish a strong CV.
When Should I Start Thinking about Publishing in a Journal?
The earlier PhD students publish, the better! Getting your research out there, and having it pass through the scrutiny of peer review, will sharpen your research focus as well as improve your method of research and argumentation. And, once your article is available to other experts in the field, your insights and discoveries can become part of a broader conversation. Challenges and clarifications from those who read your piece will further assist you in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your own research and argumentation.
There is another advantage to publishing in academic and professional journals early on in your PhD career. Early publication will help get your name and work known to possible future employers. These articles will help you expand and solidify your CV by demonstrating your potential as a researcher or practitioner in a given field. In this sense publishing in academic and professional journals will provide the double benefit of establishing scholarly and professional credibility while at the same time providing for future employers and peers a glimpse into your academic or professional potential.
There are so Many Journals! Help!
Now that we’ve convinced you of the importance of journals for both research, credibility, and potential employment positions, a couple of questions arise. The first question is how do I find academic and professional journals? The second is what journals should PhD students try to publish in? Let’s take these two questions in order.
Ask Your Advisors and Mentors!
With the hundreds of academic and professional journals currently in print, it can be overwhelming to new PhD students in merely trying to locate and identify quality and reputable journals. Here is where academic advisors, electronic databases, and good old Google come to the rescue. As a PhD student, you will have access to seasoned scholars and professionals in your field of study. Pick their brains about choosing the right journals for your field in general as well as the specific topics you’re interested in researching. Your academic advisor is often the first and best resource in finding just the right places to look for journal articles that might be helpful to you and your development as a scholar.
Become Familiar with the Electronic Databases Your Programs Offers
Every quality university or college will provide access to a number of electronic databases. These databases are searchable and provide access to academic and professional journal articles across the spectrum of fields and doctoral studies. These services are usually provided through your university or college library. Commonly, new PhD students will go through an orientation at the beginning of their studies that will explain what databases are available, and how to access use them successfully. Finally, the Internet is also a great resource for both discovering journals and articles that might be of use to you in your research. A basic “key terms” search in a quality search engine will often produce several good leads in terms of journals and article titles. If you’re interested in older research Google Books is an excellent resource for discovering old journal articles and older journals that might no longer be in print. Google Scholar is an excellent free resource that provides information on academic publications as well as their current impact amongst other scholars in the field.
Seek Advice about Choosing the Right Journal for Your Article
The second question of just what journals to publish your research through is more difficult. This is because some journals are more prestigious than other journals. While publishing in a prestigious journal article will certainly improve your CV and providing greater credibility to both your research and your potential in your field, it’s much less likely that new and budding scholars in a PhD program will have developed the skills and polish necessary for their work to be published in prestigious and highly competitive journals. Also, the more prestigious journals, are very competitive and tend to have a longer editing process. This means, for example, that if you submit an article for publication in a prestigious journal in the second year of your PhD studies, you might not receive word of your article’s acceptance or rejection for publication for two or three years. If your article is published, the wait was certainly worth it. However, if your article is not accepted, you will have potentially lost a good amount of time in which your article could’ve been published and your ideas are given exposure through a less prestigious journal. And of course, even less prestigious journals still have an editorial process that takes time.
Weigh the Risks and Benefits
So, while there is a great reward in getting your first article as a PhD student published in a prestigious journal, there are risks involved, which involved both time and the likely success. On the other hand, less prestigious journals provide a greater likelihood of getting your article published, and published sooner, but don’t measure as highly, oftentimes, in terms of improving your CV and establishing personal credibility and brought exposure of your research. Here, again your academic advisors will be very important in your process of evaluating what journals you are going to submit your articles to. Through their experience and broader acquaintance with your field of study, your advisors will be in a better position to evaluate the quality of your work in comparison to the various levels of journal prestige and be able to offer helpful guidance in making a practical decision of just where to submit your articles for publication.
As one can now see, academic and professional journals hold a very important place in the life of PhD students. They provide a vast amount of advanced and specialized knowledge, they provide limitless examples of successful and meaningful research, and they are important avenues for spreading and testing one’s own research. For any PhD student, or those considering entering into a PhD program, academic and professional journals are a central aspect of success during doctoral studies and beyond!