Ever since I started my research career at Horizon I knew that I wanted to make contributions throughout the PhD process. I have my name attached to two papers as a result of my previous work in education, however, I wanted to go through the process of writing papers and getting them to peer review and (hopefully) accepted.
Firstly, I have to confess that I wildly underestimated two things. The first being how difficult I would find writing academic research papers; and the second, how lengthy the peer review process is for journals. Although I could have submitted works to conferences (and I did), with my work sitting at the intersection between health psychology and human computer interaction, I was struggling to find conferences where my work on privacy fit.
From my first study, my supervisors and I identified two papers that could be made out of it. To this end, I started to draft these papers in early 2019 (one on privacy and another on social media use by online health communities) whilst looking for potential journals to submit to. The study was qualitative and rich with interview data, so I struggled to write robust papers without including lots of supporting quotes. It ultimately meant that my papers were going to be a bit longer than I would have liked. It also meant that the journals, with a respectable impact factor, were limited.
In May 2019 I had a paper accepted at the Digital Economy Network Conference which encouraged submissions of interdisciplinary works. The feedback was extremely helpful, but unfortunately the conference was cancelled and my paper was consequently not published in the proceedings. I decided that this paper could be reimagined for a journal. “Towards understanding how individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease use contemporary social media platforms for health-related communications” was submitted to the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior in September 2019. I was ignorant, to say the least, about the submission process and the requirements for a cover letter and other various documents. I did some research on what a cover letter to a journal editor should look like and I shared mine with my supervisors for review before pressing submit.
In April 2020 I received reviewers comments which outlined how the paper needed some adjustments to clarify the purpose of the study. I was relieved with the feedback because I was more concerned that perhaps there would be some more pressing issues with the study and its outcomes. Taking the comments on board I made changes to the paper; I rewrote large sections pertaining to the research focus, as well as defending why qualitative interviews were adopted.
In the next part of the process, I had to make detailed responses to the reviewers’ comments, outlining what I have changed. In all honesty I was not aware that I had to do this until I was reuploading the paper to the system. I have learned that for next time, I should reflect on my changes concurrently with making them so that I can make this process more efficient.
In mid May I returned my revised manuscript and by mid-June I received a notification of acceptance! I am so thrilled to have my first paper accepted at a prestigious journal before submitting my thesis. I now await confirmation of what volume it will be featured in…
Overall I would definitely recommend that PhD researchers try to get their work peer reviewed. Having people review my work was really scary, but necessary to make sure that ‘good’ research is being published. Ultimately I am going to have to face two reviewers face-to-face who will be reviewing and commenting on my entire PhD thesis. Having at least some experience and practice in defending my decisions and accepting constructive criticism I think will really help me, not only to produce a more refined thesis, but also better prepare me for the viva process.