Grace Therrell is currently finishing her MLIS at the University of Denver. She has positions in reference and instruction as well as metadata and digitization in academic libraries. In her spare time, she enjoys finding new ways to organize her books, watching planner videos on YouTube, and eating brussels sprouts. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.
My introduction to research started in my first year of library school, the beginning of 2018. I wrote a research paper about resource description for my Organization of Information course in March. In her feedback, my professor commented that she enjoyed my fresh perspective, and she suggested that I expand my research and submit my paper for publication. Honestly, I was floored. I didn’t plan on publishing anything anytime soon, especially during my master’s program. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I was concerned that it might be pointless to try to publish something as a graduate student. My thought was, “Is this crazy? Can you even get published as a master’s student?” I would be diving off of a cliff into the professional unknown. But the opportunity was right in front of me. So I jumped.
The process itself was about as seamless as possible. I revised my course paper in the spring of 2018. With my professor’s help, we located a journal that would be a good fit for my research. I adapted my paper to their guidelines and submitted my first draft in June. I waited a few months for a response, which came in late September. The editor-in-chief sent an email saying they wanted to publish my paper pending a few revisions–a conditional acceptance. I read through my overwhelmingly-positive reviewer comments, made the changes (all of which I agreed with), and submitted my revision mid-October. The editor accepted my revision at the end of the month. My next steps were filling out a copyright form, editing my author proofs (on the plane home for Thanksgiving, which made my nerdy self feel extremely cool), and submitting those final proofs to the publisher. Currently, my article is in an early-cite version and will be published in the journal at a later date.
I’m just now finishing up the publishing process, almost a year in the making, and I graduate with my MLIS this June. As Allison said in her recent LibParlor post, I know that having this authentic peer-review and publishing experience as a graduate student is atypical. Having such a smooth and positive experience is also not necessarily normal. And even though my experience went logistically about as well as it could have, I still had a hard time navigating the process.
“But am I really a professional?”
Some of the challenges I faced while publishing in graduate school aren’t surprising. For instance, I have three jobs in libraries in addition to being in school. I had to manage my time to accommodate another piece of professional experience on my plate. But I also experienced something I think is imposter syndrome adjacent. Adjacent because the problem wasn’t that I felt like an imposter in my field. Instead, I felt like I was doing something prematurely. The biggest hurdle I faced was my own insecurity–about my knowledge, my experience, and my professional identity.
“I don’t know enough.”
Throughout the entire research and publishing process, I was hyper-aware that I was still in school. Still in an LIS program meant still learning about the field and getting to know the current issues and conversations. I wasn’t even halfway through my program before my professor suggested that I submit my paper. I would constantly think, “How on earth do I know enough to enter into a scholarly conversation? How are people going to take me seriously?”
I was so worried about how people would perceive my level of knowledge in the field that I forgot an important fact: nobody knows everything, and everyone is continually learning. Just because I’m entering into the profession doesn’t mean that I can’t have informed conversations about what’s happening. In some ways, I think students are specially equipped to enter into these conversations because we’re removed from the legacy of how things have always been done. I’ve had to learn to value my perspective because others will value it, too.
“I haven’t done enough.”
Even though I have jobs in four different areas of libraries and have been working in libraries for the last year and a half, I felt unqualified to share my research. I don’t have the years of experience in the field that a lot of scholars do. I also lacked confidence because I wrote about resource description, and I had minimal experience with that area of librarianship. When I first submitted in the summer, I had been thinking forward to what I would do in libraries. Working in technical services or digital libraries interested me, but I wasn’t doing that yet. Shouldn’t I be publishing in three or four years after working in those areas?
“Something I’ve had to tell myself throughout this process is that there is always more to do. There will always be professional experiences that I haven’t had. And that’s okay.”
Something I’ve had to tell myself throughout this process is that there is always more to do. There will always be professional experiences that I haven’t had. And that’s okay. If I’ve done the leg work, talked to other professionals who have had that experience, and have had peer reviewers validate my research, then I should believe that I’m qualified to write. Being an emerging professional shouldn’t prevent me from entering conversations that are important and interesting to me.
“I don’t know who I am.”
Not having a solid professional identity is probably the hardest challenge I’ve encountered. I’m interested in multiple different areas of libraries. I’m just now beginning to search for my first job, and I haven’t yet decided what kind of job I want. Being published as a graduate student was tricky for me because, in some ways, I felt like my trajectory was decided for me. I had to work in academic libraries and publish consistently. I had to write about metadata, digital collections, and other similar topics. I had to get a tenure-track job. I’m interested in academic libraries and metadata and all of those things, but having those interests made explicit in an article made those topics, for a moment, a burden. In a way, publishing as a graduate student felt like professionally “growing up too fast.”
“Publishing is actually a way for me to have new professional experiences, enter into conversation, and discover a new part of my identity as a librarian.”
Taking a step back from this process, though, I now see that it’s actually the other way around. I’ve realized that publishing doesn’t inform what I do with my career–my career informs what I publish. Publishing is actually a way for me to have new professional experiences, enter into conversation, and discover a new part of my identity as a librarian. Publishing isn’t my whole identity–it just helps to shape it.
“Okay, I can do this.”
Publishing in graduate school is not common, but it isn’t unheard of. It happens. I did it. And I survived. Even though it was tough, I had a few anchors that grounded me throughout the process.
Use your resources.
I went to other librarians who had publishing experience and consulted platforms like LibParlor to learn more about what to expect. Getting other perspectives about the scholarly communication process helped me feel more comfortable as I encountered revision and peer review.
When I was navigating peer review, my department head turned me to this post about responding to reviewers. Having organization for a sometimes-chaotic process helped me keep my goals clear and measurable. I would also highly recommend to-do lists since the publishing process is multi-step and lengthy.
It’s easy to lose yourself when going into the publishing experience, especially as a new or emerging professional. Publishing to me was a little overwhelming, but that’s why it’s great to have a community of researchers. Talk to people, ask questions, and get advice. Then jump.
If you are interested, read my article here!
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