After having read my many tirades on the mistakes I made during the PhD, and the many pitfalls of academia, I think if I just had to summarise my one core piece of advice about doing a PhD it would be this:
Get your work out there.
Now you might think to yourself: ‘yes, I’m trying my best to publish my work. I’m aware of the ‘publish or perish’ culture, thanks for nothing’. But I’m not exclusively talking about academic publication, nor even purely the academic route. Let me explain.
There are a lot of ways to get your work out there so that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can read it. And this by default means that it cannot be entirely academic, and cannot be hidden behind academic institutions or pages only academic go. Or worse, pay walls…
Let’s just assume for a second that you have a research idea. Given that you’re in a PhD, you should really have some of those. You can present research ideas during seminars. Maybe even conferences. This means having to make a presentation, you’ll have an assigned space in the conference program and your abstract can be found online. Let me link an example of a piece of recent work of mine that has gone through a similar pipeline. You cannot find this piece of work anywhere else, because it doesn’t exist anywhere else as it is still a work in progress (as of the date of posting this blogpost). But if someone wanted to know about people’s attitude towards financial nudges and typed that into Google, well they would find this work and would find me. Which is the aim of the game here. If you can turn your idea into something that vaguely resembles an abstract and is a good match for a conference, do it! Now let’s assume that your idea is more than an idea, and thanks to having received feedback on your idea from many amazing researchers, you now have a method in mind. Nice! So what do we do with that? We move it onto an open science (pre-registration) platform of course! The most notable one is OSF (Open Science Framework) that houses a plethora of research plans. Again, this is a repository that anyone can scroll through. So if anyone is looking for say ‘contactless’ on there, well they would end up on this page, where my work is indeed the second search result. If your work involves a lot of analytics or is generally more targeted towards the (behavioural) data science side of things, and you’ve done some really cool stuff, drop it on GitHub, or Kaggle. Those are communities of like-minded individuals who just try to do really interesting things with code. Your work might get noticed there too!
Now you might be thinking, this is still a bit too academic. Which reporter is scrolling through OSF, or GitHub?! Fine… let’s assume that your research has been through a couple of (written) iterations and both you (and other authors on the paper) are comfortable having this exist in public. You can still do the conferences, and have decks and/or posters float around online, no issue at all. But ideally, your work is now moving to SSRN (The Social Science Research Network). This is not a peer reviewed repository, it just is a repository. Your upload your .pdf, it gets checked against some guidelines and then exists in the public domain, in a sexy looking format. Here is an example of one of my ‘papers’. This again, just shows on Google if you hit the right key terms. And that matters. This means that lay people, or reporters, or any non-academics with an interest can find you. It makes your research more relevant. And it’s definitely a lot better than having to wait several years before your research gets to see the light of day. Because the ‘paper’ on SSRN is classified as a working paper, so it can be put on your CV, but it can also be referenced. Yes, also by other academic researchers. Your work, your insights can make their way before you even get to publishing. Mother Mary of God! But the fun doesn’t stop there. Because this piece of work can now be ‘properly’ references, it can take many more shapes. It can be referenced in science blogs, such as the Behavioural Scientist. It can be commoditized and sold in the form of a personalized bootcamp or keynote talk (for pay of course!). Maybe you even want to turn this into video material and do TikTok, YouTube or design a course around it. And if all of this fails you can just start a blog or a podcast 😉
So which one of these actually works best? Well, it depends what the end goal is. I have never had that much of an issue with people being able to find my work, because of the blog. I have a total of 10+ articles on payment methods on the blog alone, before I even dropped anything on SSRN. Other academics could easily find me as a result. I think both the blog and the conference abstracts I have has made my work be quoted in outlets such as the Guardian, which did make me feel incredibly pleased! Within the first week of dropping my work on SSRN (finally!) I had 3 different reporters reach out to me because they wanted to talk about digital payments. Keep in mind, that encompasses more than just contactless, think of mobile, ApplePay and the whole lot. I love talking research so I always enjoy this. Plus, it means another public shoutout on my score card! Again, I still haven’t published academically at all… I know that saying out loud that you still haven’t published is a scary thing for some, especially if you want to stay in academia. But a lot of your future also depends on who knows you and your work. Getting your work out there is a form of networking. Sometimes you need to shut up and let the work speak for itself, or let others speak about your work. And the timeline for the solutions I proposed above is a lot PhD friendlier than those of the average publication cycle. If you want more tips on making the most of your PhD experience, don’t forget to check out my new book ‘The Ultimate Guide to Doing a PhD!’.