I’ve been thinking about publications a lot recently – as anyone should be, in this funding climate. As a graduate student, I definitely fell into the mentality of seeking one good publication out of my PhD. Partly, this was due to the fact my project did not overlap with other work going on in the lab – to the point where I would counsel any incoming graduate student to pick projects that were part of the main focus of the lab, so they would have the opportunity to collaborate with others in the lab and wind up with several publications by the time they left graduate school.
As a postdoc, however, it is clear that I should have more publications to my name by now and it’s really time to start thinking in terms of publishable stories rather than perfection. There are a lot of perfectionistic tendencies that scientists have to un-learn, and I think this is one of them. I have a half-done story from graduate school that was going in interesting directions when another group published a well-done explanation of what we observed. I wrote up the work for my dissertation, but my outside reader pointed out that it was a shame this data wasn’t in a paper. Maybe it was my department or my advisor, but putting it out there when it was just confirmatory was never something we deeply considered.
Right now, I’m helping several students in the lab wrap up and write up their own papers, and am working on two of my own. Starting with an outline of the paper and what figures we need has been a tremendous help in shooting for a small story and not a perfect opus. Naturally, this outline reflects our hypothesis, and as the data comes in, it will need to be adapted to tell the story the data wants to tell – as my graduate advisor was fond of saying, “The data’s the data.” However, thinking of the overall context and goal does help move the tempo along.