The long and windy road to publishing an academic article

17 August 2016

In January 2014, PhD student Helena Hermansson began the time-consuming task of writing a scientific article. Now, after two and a half years, her work has been published in the prestigious journal Public Administration. How does one find the time and energy to ensure this painstaking process? Helena's advice is to find a topic you are passionate about and remain utterly determined!

Helena Hermansson is writing her doctoral thesis on disaster management in Turkey and the reform process that was initiated after the big earthquakes in Marmara Region in 1999. Her dissertation will consist of several academically published articles, a so-called compilation thesis. One of her articles was recently published this summer in Public Administration, a top-ranked journal in public policy, organization theory, and management. Her article discusses disaster management collaboration in Turkey, including how political-administrative system attributes influence the design of the interorganizational disaster management collaboration and the involved actors in terms of legitimacy, trust, and the balance of power.

Review process

In August 2014 Helena Hermansson submitted her article to the Journal Editor of Public Administration, who then forwarded it to a group of reviewers who are researchers and experts in the field. During the review process, the article was scrutinized and assessed anonymously. The names of the reviewers as well as the author were masked in order to ensure an unbiased and fair assessment. All serious academic journals use anonymous peer reviewers.

After an article has been reviewed, the author is informed. In the worst case, the article is totally rejected for publication if it is deemed that it does not uphold a decent academic standard and/or if it does not fit the profile of the journal. If the article is considered acceptable but incomplete or weak in certain aspects, the author is provided with suggestions for improvement by the reviewers and granted the opportunity to "revise and resubmit".

It took three months for Helena's article to be reviewed. "My reviewers had thoroughly read my article and provided me with constructive feedback on how I could improve my work. Yet, some of the reviewers' comments actually contradicted one another, making it impossible to implement all of their suggestions and requests," admits Helena. Consequently, it took Helena several months to go through all of the comments and contemplate which suggestions to accept. Since Helena received conflicting reviews and she did not agree with all of the feedback from the reviewers, she needed to select which recommendations to accept and motivate her selection process before resubmitting her article for a second review. Alongside this work, she also conducted new field work in order to collect data for future articles.

In June 2015 Helena received the long-awaited reply that her article had been approved by the reviewers and had been accepted for publication. However, it was not until June 2016, one year after receiving this positive news, that her article was actually available in print.

It took 2 and a half years for your article to be published. How did you endure this long painstaking process?

Helena laughs and admits, "I don't think anyone who enrolls in a PhD program is someone who gives up easily! You have to be pretty stubborn to commit yourself to research. It's hard work. I am passionate about this subject, which means I naturally put a lot of time and effort into trying to understand it."

In her opinion, her research interest is much larger than Turkey's disaster management system. "I want to help prevent and alleviate human suffering caused by disasters. I was active in the Red Cross and this is a core aspect in their mission."

As a PhD student, Helena will not be able to directly help someone in need, as she did when she was working for a company in Gothenburg with human resource issues and many of the company's staff members and management team were in Thailand when the tsunami hit in 2004. Nevertheless, she is convinced that her research may contribute on a more abstract level.

"When I was doing my field studies in Turkey, there were many people who expressed their gratitude to me for studying the country's disaster management system since it can be difficult for researchers and experts in Turkey to critically examine their own system. Furthermore, earthquakes are often perceived as a practical matter mostly relevant for engineers and architects. It is seen largely as a technical issue. Consequently, you miss many significant social aspects, including underlying vulnerabilities and the political-administrative context, all of which affect disaster management."

As evident elsewhere in the world, disasters quickly become politicized. This became apparent to Helena Hermansson when she studied the 2011 earthquakes in Van and Erciş.

"Southeast Turkey is inhabited by a large Kurdish population and the Kurdish party was in power on the municipal level when the earthquakes hit. The provincial government had a different party in power, which led to major cooperation difficulties between the crisis management centers on the two levels. It is clear that the disaster management was negatively affected by this."

Significance of networking

In addition to constantly monitoring the security situation in southeast Turkey, Helena spent a great amount of time and effort in finding the right people to interview via networking.

"Only three of the 60 interviews I conducted were arranged via direct email contact. The majority of the interviews were a result of networking. Many of them were initiated and conducted in the most unlikely places. Consequently, I was able to connect with individuals with whom I otherwise probably never would have met. Often I contemplated over whether or not networking should be viewed as a research skill in its own right. But now I am certain of it! It was a necessary tool for establishing contacts with key players and conducting meaningful interviews."

How did you decide to pursue PhD studies?

Helena replies, "There were four reasons why I decided to pursue PhD studies. I wanted to be able to devote some serious time to exploring an interesting research topic, strengthen my personal research skills, work abroad, and have a flexible working environment. And I can honestly say that I have enjoyed all of that and much more."

As a PhD student, Helena Hermansson is associated with the Centre for Natural Disaster Science (CNDS) and the Political Science Department at Uppsala University. Over and beyond that, she is an analyst at CRISMART at the Swedish Defence University.

"During my five years as a PhD student, there have been periods of stagnation in my research and I have been frustrated. Luckily, I have been able to combine my PhD studies with my position at CRISMART. This has given me variation and provided me with the opportunity to work with other exciting projects, which have served to inspire and re-motivate me. It has been a rewarding experience."

Are you also interested in pursuing PhD studies? The Swedish Defence University is currently announcing two PhD positions in Political Science focusing on either Security Policy and Strategy or Crisis Management and International Cooperation.

Contact person

Helena Hermansson
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, CRISMART

Helena.Hermansson [at] fhs.se