13

I recently finished my final year of a Bachelor of Science degree in Web Development at university in the UK. As 3/8ths of the final year credit, I was required to create a Final Year Project, including ~40k word report and a software artefact, guided by a university tutor. At my graduation ceremony my tutor approached me to say he (and another advisor) are looking at getting it published.

This obviously sounds like great news, but as someone with no experience of advanced academia stuff I have no idea what this actually entails. Will this look good on my CV? Is it a frequent occurrence? When they say publish, who exactly will want to read 40k words about my final year project?

While I am proud of what I produced, I'm not entirely sure it is something I will want to brag about in the future as my skills develop.

  • 2
    Please ask just one question at a time. Which of those four questions do you want answering here? – 410 gone Jul 16 '14 at 9:28
  • @EnergyNumbers What does "publishing" involve in this context? – user19626 Jul 16 '14 at 9:32
  • Have you tried asking your tutor? – Kimball Jul 16 '14 at 11:42
  • @Kimball I intend to, but he won't be at university for a while now due to holidays and my curiosity got the better of me – user19626 Jul 16 '14 at 13:16
  • I think the development of skills is normal and expected, nobody would expect any reasonable professional to remain with the skills of an undergraduate. Therefore, everyone should assume that you are at least as skilled as those 40k words imply and probably more, which should put you above anyone whose minimum skills cannot be estimated (and could be zero). If anyone in management or human resources considers that people don't develop any skills after graduating those guys and their companies deserve being out of business, you probably don't want to work for their profit. – Trylks Jul 16 '14 at 15:51
12

I will talk about publishing as an undergraduate in a general sense. This may change depending on your field of study, where and how the work is published(journal, conference, workshop, etc) and what your level of contribution to the end product will be.

Let's start with the easy question. "Is this good for my career?" I don't know of many fields where having published work, perhaps especially as an undergraduate, is a detriment. As an undergraduate with two publications as first name (in my field the student/person who contributed the most / drove the ground level work is first name, the professor is last name and the names in the middle can range from "was vital to the success of the paper" to "they pushed a button a couple of times") and several acknowledgements having those papers gave me a definite leg up against my peers when it came time to search for jobs. Having publications under your name can be invaluable if you choose to apply to grad school but companies are often very interested to see what high-level, field-acknowledged work you have completed. It definitely makes you stand out in a crowd.

It may seem like nothing but puppies and rainbows but there's a darker side as well. Academic publishing is a lot of work. Depending on your level of contribution this can mean weeks of brutal work rerunning experiments, tweaking inputs/outputs, editing and documenting. Most of the people I know, their first paper was a brutal experience because Academic writing is unlike any other writing you have done and there can be a steep learning curve in both the technique and the tools. So, unless you have a burning desire for a publication for publication's sake, the deciding factors for you should be:

  1. What is my expected contribution?
  2. How and where will I be credited?
  3. What are my obligations if the publication is accepted?

Let's break these down.

What is my expected contribution?

In my field a couple of professors coming up to you after the fact and saying "We are looking to get this published" is a bit weird. I'm assuming that these professors were in some way involved in the work as mentors or that this an extension of their work. It is unlikely that this work is fit to be published in its current state. That's not meant as a slam towards your work, rather it's a response to the specifics of publication. Academic publication is often fairly stringent in style and method. It is likely that parts of your work will need to be tweaked or polished for publication(this really depends on your field to be honest) and, in some cases, completely redone. It is very important for you to demand, in a nice way of course, a roadmap for what needs to be done to get this work published and what you will be expected to do. At that time you should also try to find out how much of the final publication will be your work vs work from others/the group at large. If you have graduated and are starting a new job or heading off to grad school you may have other demands on your time. Writing an academic publication, especially your first academic publication, can be a serious time sink. This will play into the next part...

How and where will I be credited?

Is your work going to be placed, whole cloth, into a template and submitted? Then you should expect to be first author(or your field's equivalent) and be given an appropriately large share of the credit. Is your work going to be used as a subsubsection, comprising all of 2 lines in the final publication? Then the credit to you should be, appropriately, smaller. But that's simplifying things a bit - author order and credit/acknowledgements should be explicitly discussed early in the process. Get it out on the table and nail it down because differences in expectations can definitely damage professional relationships which, to be honest, is probably the most valuable thing you will get out of this. Things like original contribution level, publication writing/editing contribution level, and time/effort commitment to the project should be taken into consideration. Additionally consider your future plans - are you planning on publishing again? Are you looking at going to grad school? Depending on the answers to these questions you may find that the most valuable things you get out of publishing are the experience of publishing and the strong network connections you forge with your coauthors.

What are my obligations if the publication is accepted?

This is the final piece of the puzzle. If your publication is a conference or workshop piece then someone will have to present at the conference/workshop. It should, ideally, be one of the primary contributors. If that person is you, will you be able to attend? Who will pay for travel and fees? Even beyond traveling for conferences/workshops - Who will pay for submission fees? Recently one of my papers was 3 pages over the limit (the conference accepted longer papers at a fee for each additional page up to 5 additional pages). This cost almost $400 (on top of the original submission fees). If this occurs who will pay? If the publication is accepted what does that mean about your ownership of the results of your work? If additional work is done on the project how will it be funded? It is likely that your professor(s) or your institutions has grants for all of this. But you need to find out before you agree to anything. Finally, the question a lot more people should ask, what happens if the publication isn't accepted? Will you be involved in making changes and attempting a different venue? How will the group handle revisions (which, with finished work, can be brutal as you're coming back to the submitted work several months after it was submitted and making changes)?

All of this might seem like a bunch more questions to ask than answers but, really, that's the point. There are plenty who will disagree with me but, in my experience, the research was the easy part. Publishing is the hard, nasty, and occasionally obnoxious part(though it is pretty awesome too). In order to make the publishing part easier you need to have a clear plan for how you will turn this work into a publication and what everyone's expectations are.

I both love and hate my publications. As an undergraduate they gave me a definite edge over my peers in both grad school applications and the job market. I ended up with some very strong connections in my academic community that I can still leverage today. I am still involved as a researcher in my lab. On the flip side my first paper was a special kind of hell. It was two straight weeks of 20 hour days as we pushed to turn finished work into a publication before the deadline. I didn't sleep at all for the last 3 days of the push. My second paper was still brutal, but overall much better as I had passed the worst of the learning curve. I actually got some sleep leading up to that one. I'm incredibly proud of my work but, to be honest, doing those publications pushed me away from graduate school. They were a valuable experience in the world of academic publishing which, it turns out, is not something I enjoy enough to make it my career.

TL;DR: Make a list of questions, email/meet with your advisors/mentors, and flesh out the answers to those questions. If they're largely satisfactory - go for it!

EDIT Given your additional information. Unless they mean publish it on webspace they(or the university) controls OR as a book there is almost no way I can see a 40k word transcript being published as is. My rough estimates put that to be about 100 - 120 pages. I've not seen more than a handful of published papers (etc) over 20 pages long and most are under 10. This may mean they want to publish a portion of it or an heavily edited version of it. This adds a new question for you to ask, what do they mean by 'publishing'?

|improve this answer|||||
  • That's a huge reply and I can't thank you enough :) I'll read it all a few times to ensure I fully understand it. The reason i was approached is because my project made heavy use of NFC (Near Field Communication) and I went to the university's "NFC expert" once or twice and he is one of the people pushing to publish it (along with my actual FYP tutor) – user19626 Jul 16 '14 at 15:25
  • As for further education, no real plans at the minute. I certainly wouldn't decline doing so, but I've recently started working full time. (I suppose this also means I don't really want to do a ton of editing to what I thought was a finalized document) – user19626 Jul 16 '14 at 15:49
  • I can't speak to your field(my work was in Robotics and Computer Science) but as a final bit of ancedotal information. I found that my contributions to projects that were physical were much easier than my contributions to projects that were ephemeral or heavily experimentation based. With a thing, once I built it the 'work' was done and most of the work for the publication was in documentation and polish. With publications based on experimentation - oh boy being asked to redo your experiments 2 days before the paper is due(while also writing) to try and tweak something is... fun. But, ymmv. – Nahkki Jul 16 '14 at 16:31
  • "My rough estimates put that to be about 100 - 120 words." Sorry, I'm confused. What are we talking about here? BTW, generally good answer, and good overview of the publishing process. Though it should be said that if you are working with a group of reasonable, competent people (easier said than done, of course), the work gets spread out over multiple people, so it is not so bad. If you are doing it alone, it can be pretty hellish. – Faheem Mitha Jul 17 '14 at 16:49
  • "That's not meant as a slant towards your work". I changed this to "That's not meant as a slam towards your work", though if this is correct, "towards" should probably be "against". – Faheem Mitha Jul 17 '14 at 17:01
3

Publishing your work means sharing your contribution or discovery with the larger community; if your advisor or tutor thinks that your work is publishable, they must have seen something in your work that they think is worth sharing. This could be a new algorithm you've discovered, a new technique you've described particularly well, or a collection of lessons learned that might be valuable to another person. It could also be customary for your program to publish final projects in a school journal or archive; in this case, it's less about the contribution and more the fact that you completed the program of study.

Typically, the journal or conference (or other publication) you wish to submit to has guidelines that you must follow: page limits, formatting, required sections, etc. As a result, you may be required to reformat your paper in order for it to be accepted. The flip side is it certainly doesn't look bad on a CV or resume, and can make a positive difference depending on your career goals. It shows you can document your thoughts, processes, and results effectively, which is what employers and grad school admission officials want to see.

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.