Barbara Hughes-Moore, Cardiff University
I finished my PhD in the early days of the pandemic. I submitted my corrections a week before things started locking down, then I breathed a sigh of relief, ate my body weight in chocolate, and wrote down on a blank page the two words that haunt every PGR:
What, indeed. A sea of possibilities lay ahead, but even after swimming against the tide for so long, I was nervous to take the next great plunge. So I stayed on the shore for a little while, and laid out my options like seashells. One looked like a monograph; another like an article; more still, like film and theatre adaptations – but I put those in my pocket for a rainy day.
The first two, then: a monograph and an article. They seemed to work together, complement and cast light on each other. When it comes to a strategy for the next great adventure, it’s useful to get as much out of your thesis as you can. Did you focus on something early on and then cut it later? Well, that might make a good article or conference paper down the line. Did you have an opinion on a judgment that you didn’t get to expand on? Turn it into a case comment. Do you think it would make a good book? Convert it into a monograph, which is the strategy I chose, and one which my supervisors encouraged – but there was something I’d have to change first.
My thesis focused on nineteenth century Gothic fiction and criminal law, and specifically on well-known books like Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Gray and Frankenstein. But the first two were from the end of the century and the third from its beginning. I wanted to hone in on the century’s end in the monograph to give it a tighter historical focus – so, Frankenstein was out, and Dracula was in.
While my Frankenstein chapter was one third of a carefully-planned triptych, I felt that it was strong enough to stand alone, in its own frame. I could still deploy the methodology I’d crafted in the thesis but also embrace the opportunity to streamline it and make it more accessible, less dense. The first step was to take out all the little tell-tale hallmarks of a PhD – from keywords like ‘chapter’ and ‘thesis’ to catchphrases like ‘but that is not within the remit of this study’. (Oh, and lots of typos – those things never seem to come out in the wash). Crucially, I wanted to both defend my argument while writing in a less defensive fashion. This is one of the major changes when you transition from PhD writing specifically to academic writing more broadly: your work is no longer a shield to defend you from potential ‘attacks’, but a beacon to shine a new light on the area you’re addressing.
When revising the chapter into article form, I had several journals in mind that I felt would be a good home for the piece: socio-legal journals, interdisciplinary journals, journals specialising in the genre of literature and/or time period I’d chosen to focus on. Ultimately, though, the Journal of Law and Society seemed ideal for a number of reasons. First and foremost, because it’s one of the leading socio-legal journals out there and rightly renowned for its high-quality, innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship. Academic heroes of mine, like my supervisors, my Cardiff colleagues, and scholars whose work had helped me shape my own ideas, had all published in the journal, which was also based in Cardiff: the crucible in which my skills and ideas had crystallised. All signs pointed to the JLS.
As for the process itself: I initially submitted the article in February 2021 and it was under consideration with the Editorial Board by the following week. In May I received anonymous reviewer comments, and a ‘rewrite and resubmit response’. The name ‘Reviewer 2’ is often spoken in hushed tones in university hallways, and while I understand that my experience might well have been a glitch in the matrix, I received extremely positive, supportive and constructive suggestions from both reviewers.
That’s not to say the revisions were minor: in some ways they were significant, structurally and semantically if not substantively. Imagine the article as a garment: if my initial alterations were the equivalent of taking up the hem or patching a seam, the revisions swapped out the sleeves and made the skirt into a cape. But it was still, fundamentally, the same garment as it was when I submitted – just in a slightly different form. So I shifted things round a bit: led with the problem in law, then swooped in with the book that would provide a new analytical lens, and then interwove the two in my analysis. I softened my language a bit, erred on the side of the tentative and the invitational. I dedicated the next week to the revisions and resubmitted the article, which I learned on 3 June had been accepted for publication in the Winter 2021 issue.
While I felt that my own work was a good fit for the journal, I had little hope that it would be accepted. If you’re lucky to have the kind of PhD supervisors I did, the kind who advise and mentor you long past the viva, then trust their instincts as well as your own: half the battle is surrounding yourself with people who inspire and motivate you. The other half is having the confidence to go for it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be. Whatever stage you’re at in your journey, you should have faith in yourself and the value of your work. I’m still fighting that particular battle, but it hasn’t stopped me from submitting applications I thought would succeed only in my dreams.