By Christina Skarpari, Practice based PhD Candidate
at Central Saint Martins

The Test Lab, which is a branch of the Doctoral Platform located at CSM, is convened by reader in Art History and Theory Dr. Joanne Morra and is supported by the Postgraduate Community. It runs throughout the academic year on alternating Wednesdays and is a valuable resource offered to students who are undertaking PhDs across UAL. This is a hub to share and exchange perspectives on an array of topics, by delving into theory and practice from philosophical, epistemological, political, autobiographical, gendered, ethical, and experimental standpoints.

For 2017 – 2018, the sessions are dedicated to a discussion of Writing and the PhD, in the context of art and design practice, theory and history. Test Lab engages with this topic by inviting guest speakers from a range of backgrounds including art, academia and PhD research, to give talks, readings, lectures and performances.

In the previous Test Lab session and on November 15th, professor of popular culture Roger Sabin, was invited to give his own insights on the topic, and initiated a talk with the burning question: How do I get published, within which he addressed some of the practical processes, pluses and falls relating to the subject.

On the plus side of the spectrum, publishing can be perceived as a tool to further our readership, and affords opportunities of connectedness as once we publish, we are better able to pinpoint who is doing similar work to us. In addition, the process of publishing involves the receipt of peer reviews, which is feedback that can potentially advance the content of the writing.  Once the work is out there, it may even be referenced by someone, which is beneficial in terms of continuity of dialogue and personal academic development.  Other perks include invitations to give presentations or talks, which allow further cross-fertilisation of ideas through opportunities found in networking.

On the negative side, publishing usually entails a risk of idea hijacking. This is an issue found mostly in commercial contexts such as journalism, or within academic press. This form of highjacking may mean that ideas are used for the purposes of popularisation and are thus usually dumbed down.

Lastly, publishing can be a time consuming process which may or may not have the results anticipated by the author.

When and what do I publish?

When starting to think about publishing at PhD level, Professor Roger Sabin informs us that an article writing may initially feel divorced from our thesis. For one, this may be owed to the fact that it can assume a very different shape. For instance, a journal article is considerably shorter than a thesis, with an estimated 4,000-8,000 word count.

Second, before deciding on the ‘what’ aspect of publishing, it’s good to think about the nature of the work, and how we want to present it. For instance, if I am doing a practice based PhD then I can publish chapters of my thesis, or publish them in exhibitions, conferences etc.

On peer review

  • Once our work is put forward for publishing, it is said that editors will try to find sympathetic peer reviewers. In any case, peer review is considered to be a mark of quality and is useful.
  • PhD students who choose to publish too early on, risk being the recipients of controversial peer reviews; in the words of Sabin, we “might get savaged by the academic piranhas”.
  • In some cases we might even be a recipient of double blind peer review which means anonymity for both the person making the review and the person receiving it, which maximises the chances of “piranhas” tearing the work apart.
  • Another issue which comes through is that high ranking academics are usually too busy to actually conduct peer reviews, which is problematic as that means that the work often goes down to much more junior academics, and the feedback which filters through may not necessarily be highly constructive.

Some facts

How is academic writing rated today in terms of most valued form of writing and least valued forms of writing?

  • Books*
  • Journals – academic, refereed*
  • Book chapters*
  • E-journals – academic, refereed*
  • Catalogues*
  • Non-refereed journals (e.g. IJOCA)
  • Semi-academic publications: ie. eye
  • Journalistic publications: (Magazines / Newspapers)
  • E-journalism, blogs, etc.

*Most valued for PhD thesis.

You can read more about test lab and keep up to date with the upcoming sessions by visiting the doctoral platform site here:

Postgraduate Reading Groups at UAL

A growing number of cross-disciplinary postgraduate reading groups are active across the university and are open to all UAL postgraduate students to attend.

Visit the online directory of groups here