Proficient Publishing: How to write more papers without pulling out (too much of) your hair
By Dr. Destenie Nock
August 2, 2022
So far in 2022 I published eight academic papers while managing to (mostly) work between the hours of 9 am to 5 pm. In this post I share tips for paper publishing proficiency and keeping that work-life balance we all love. As a note I have high functioning anxiety, and most of the tips below are what I have used to cope with that.
If you feel like pulling out your hair with this paper writing business, please pause before you go bald. According to my grandpa, being bald is NOT fun. Breathe.
First, start with asking yourself why you want to write more papers. Some questions that may help you find the answer:
Do you have a burning desire to share your knowledge with the world, but feel like you can't get the words on paper quick enough?
Is it because of a looming graduation or a tenure case and you want to show you have made an impact in the scientific community?
Do you desire to be a super awesome rock-star researcher and everyone in front of you seems to have more papers, better research, and you feel like you have to catch up?
Note if it is the third one, then you may be suffering from imposter syndrome. For those suffering from imposter syndrome let me be the first to say, you do not need a mountain of papers to prove you are a super awesome Rockstar! You got hired to do the work because someone believed you are a super awesome Rockstar!
If you answered yes to the first two, let's dive in to three things that have helped me publish more papers quicker.
For those without a writing schedule - It's not rocket science - If you write ten times as much, you will write ten times faster.
For those leading every single paper yourself - Collaboration is king (when done with nice people that make you better)
For those who are overcommitted on the number of papers - Remember it is a pipeline not a funnel
It's Not Rocket Science - If you write ten times as much, you will write ten times faster.
One of the first questions I ask my students who have fallen behind on writing is whether or not they have blocked off time for writing on their calendar. We make time for the things that are important to us. Assuming that you are rolling your eyes because you have blocked off time on your calendar, my follow up questions are
Have you stuck to the time?
Are there distractions hindering your productivity?
Is it the time when you work best (morning vs night or before vs after a workout)?
Once I blocked off time and stuck too it, I was much quicker at writing my dissertation and all other papers.
Collaboration can help share the workload (when done with the right people)
If you are a graduate student, or the person leading your own papers, collaboration may look like recruiting an undergraduate research assistant to help with you research. Two heads are better than one. Now if you are thinking, oh my goodness I do not have time to mentor someone, I will remind you that getting a PhD sets you up to manage others. It is better to practice delegating work and setting clear communication (i.e. SMART goals) while you are in the PhD. If you are still nervous be sure to check out this blog post on mentoring research assistants.
If you are not in school, collaboration can be much more wide spread. In my role as an assistant professor, my job is to collaborate with my students (also the most fun part). But in addition to working with students, I collaborate with other researchers on papers and ideas. I think collaboration has been the key to my numerous papers this years because when you find a great collaborator you share the workload, and bouncing ideas off of each other makes the work go faster. When you look for collaborations resist the urge to overcommit.
It's a Pipeline Not a Funnel
Remember it is a project pipeline NOT a paper funnel. Sometimes we get so stressed out that we build out publication plan out of fear of not being good enough. Back in 2021, my therapist asked me to write down all of the paper projects I was in the middle of, and I soon realized I had committed to 15 different paper projects. No wonder I was pulling out my hair, and feeling on the verge of burnout. My fear of "not doing enough" used to lead me to take on every possible project, say yes to all collaboration opportunities, and focus on numbers rather than my academic mission.
I was caught in the middle of a paper funnel: a whole bunch of papers were sitting at the top of my queue, and only one or two were trickling out to the publication status. No matter how much I dumped into the top, the papers were crawling to the publication zone.
Luckily I have a therapist who helped me realize my mistake before it backfired, because I was overcommitted and too many papers were sitting at the idea draft stage, and not enough were moving forward to paper submitting stage.
When you have a paper pipeline, the papers are flowing smoothly, and what goes in comes out the other side at the same volume it entered. This might mean only committing to a few new paper projects a year, while you make sure you are revising and submitting a few papers to journals each year.
As you can see the paper funnel may not (and often does not) result in more published work! Because if we burn out we risk not publishing anything. Once I set up my paper pipeline I was able to have a visual of what projects I was working on, and where I needed to push or check in with students.
For more advice on the paper pipeline check out the Academic Women Amplified Podcast episode titled, "Episode 88: Its a pipeline not a funnel!" by Cathy Mazak.
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If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Destenie Nock's research check out the recent publications below.
1. Cong, S., Nock, D., Qiu, Y. L., & Xing, B. (2022). Unveiling hidden energy poverty using the energy equity gap. Nature communications, 13(1), 1-12. Link
Quick summary of paper: Developed a new energy poverty metric, the energy equity gap, defined as the difference air conditioning turn on points between low and high-income groups. In our study region, we find that low income groups wait 4-7 degrees longer than high income groups to start using their AC units. This reveals a hidden form of energy poverty.
2. Sackey, C. V. H., & Nock, D. (2022). The need for agricultural productive uses in the national electrification plan of sub-Saharan African countries—a call to action for Ethiopia. Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability, 2(2), 023001. Link.
Quick summary of paper: There is 3.04 terawatt-hours of latent demand for small-scale pressurized cereal-crop irrigation alone in Ethiopia. Supplying this electricity demand for small-scale irrigation could lead to a reduction in the levelized cost of electricity of up to 95%. We conclude our paper by recommending the creation of a cross-sector national productive use commission that would be tasked with collecting and sharing relevant data from each sector and collaboratively creating a national productive use program that would ensure that Ethiopia reaps the full benefits and potential for wealth creation from access to electricity.
YouTube High Level Summary of work on Equitable Electricity Planning (~4 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2LIxuNvnXw
3. Sackey, C. V. H., Levin, T., & Nock, D. (2022). Latent demand for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa: a review. Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability. Link
Quick summary of paper: Reviewed electricity demand estimation and consumption literature to propose a framework for quantifying latent demand. In our study, we found that of the 56 papers reviewed only 3 (5%) of them incorporated latent demand in their projection of electricity demand in sub-Saharan Africa.
4. Marcy, C., Goforth, T., Nock, D., & Brown, M. (2022). Comparison of temporal resolution selection approaches in energy systems models. Energy, 251, 123969. Link
Quick summary of the paper: This paper evaluates different approaches for selecting time segments in capacity expansion models across three methods: sequential, categorical, and clustering, across a wide range of time-segment quantities, for a total of 204 temporal profiles. To measure the performance of each profile's ability to accurately represent data, the root-mean-square-error of each profile's time segments are compared to the data's original hourly data. The temporal alignment across regions is also measured (i.e., how often windy days align across regions).
More papers can be found on my google scholar page.
Note about the Author: Dr. Destenie Nock is an Assistant Professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Her current research focuses on energy justice. Her research is computational in nature and involves creating mathematical models which simulate electricity systems and evaluates these systems in terms of their sustainability and equality. Her papers detailing the research she completed in energy justice, sustainability evaluation, and electricity modeling can be found here, and on her Google Scholar page. Fun fact: Dr. Nock likes to walk and travel to new places in her spare time.