Research and Publication

Research & Publication

Research is one of the core experiences of grad school that will be useful for your long-term career goals, whether you’re planning on a full-time research job; managing a research group; teaching about how research works; or applying your first-hand knowledge to policy, writing, or consulting.

Accordion Items: 
Getting Started

Picking an advisor for your graduate research, for doctoral students, is one of the most important decisions you will make in graduate school.

Unlike an undergraduate degree, research-based graduate degrees involve working intensively on an independent research project in association with a specific faculty member for several years. While you can (and should) seek advice from a range of people who have expertise in many areas, your choice of dissertation advisor has a huge impact on the type of training you will receive, the research topics you will investigate, and who will be writing your recommendation letters during and immediately after graduate school.

Topics to consider about yourself and about prospective mentors (PhD programs):

  • Does this prospective mentor prefer to have students be very independent immediately, give extensive oversight, or have a balance of both? What level of oversight or independence do you prefer?
  • What career expectations does the faculty member have for their mentored graduate students? Will the type of training the faculty mentor provides be a good match for the types of activities you want to do in the future?
  • What type of financial support do this prospective advisor’s graduate students typically have?
  • How often does the mentor typically meet with graduate students and/or provide feedback on work? Is this too infrequent or too frequent for how you work best?
  • Do you find the research topics themselves interesting, and would the mentor be open to supporting the new directions you’d most like to investigate?
  • Do you and the prospective mentor’s personalities seem to “click”? You will be working with this person for the next 5 years if you are in a PhD program, so you will spend a lot of time interacting with them.

Some graduate programs may have rotations in year 1, where you will spend several weeks at a time working with several different advisors. This is a great opportunity to develop a range of skills and decide what methodological approaches and topics most interest you. Take the rotation research projects seriously, as they are a way for prospective mentors to evaluate you. However, they are also important for you to evaluate whether the environment, the prospective advisor, and the other people working in that group are a good match for your goals and personality.

If you are not in a graduate program that offers rotations, you should still consider all of the same topics described above (research interests, funding, personality, mentoring style) when meeting with prospective mentors individually.

Communicating with your advisor is important to ensure clarity about their expectations of you, your expectations of them, and any questions you have—remember, you are still a student who is learning how to become an independent scholar, investigator, and/or instructor. Although almost all advisors like to see that you will take initiative to try to find the answers to questions on your own first, you should not have to feel afraid to ask questions if your initial efforts to learn the answer are not working. Bring what you have done so far, have some specific questions about what to do next, and be open to other recommendations the advisor may give you.

Although your advisor will be an extremely important source of mentorship and advice, no one person can be an expert on everything. It is all right to ask advice from other people—other graduate students in your program, other faculty in your program, people from other areas of the university, etc.

Picking a research project involves many considerations: feasibility of the idea and methods, innovation (yet still based on some prior ideas for proof of principle), techniques and training you’d need, resources and funding to conduct the work, and your own interest in the topic. Some considerations as you begin:

  • Look at what work your advisor is currently doing or has previously done. Although your work should (and will) ultimately be examining new ideas and doing new activities, your starting point will have more of a connection to your advisor’s work—examining a related topic, joining an on-going project, etc.
  • Brainstorm what topics interest you, read through the scholarly literature to learn what has already been studied, find gaps/questions about what’s already been done by others, and then start thinking of ways that you might address those questions.

Whether developing a project or joining an on-going project, always look for a balance of steps that are likely to work out (to ensure you’ll still accomplish something) and some riskier steps (that could have a big impact but aren’t necessarily guaranteed to work at all). Different people—both graduate students and advisors—will have different preferences for how “safe” or “risky” research should be. Be willing to try both.

Doing the Research

Paying for your research will require money for two main things:

  • Your paycheck (stipend). Assistantship and fellowship positions usually cover only your paycheck—not the supplies to do the project or travel money to get to a remote project location.
  • Supplies, travel money, and the money needed to do the project itself come from grants. STEM research often involves large grants to faculty members (that can budget for graduate students to work as RAs), but graduate students can also apply for some grants. Humanities research may not require expensive lab equipment and chemicals, but you can also look for grants to pay for travel to archives and conferences to do your research.
  • See the Fellowships page for more on grants and funding.

Field research at a remote location in the USA or other countries can be essential to completing a project or a way to further enhance your professional network while developing new skills. Before embarking on remote research:

  • Establish contacts ahead of time to ensure people will be on hand for assistance at the site and to confirm the resources you need are available.
  • Plan ahead on all of the practical details—travel dates and costs, where you will stay at the site, conflicts with classes or other commitments, Visa or passport requirements, etc.
  • Think broadly—even if all of your work is done in a lab, are there collaborators at other institutions you could work with for a few weeks to learn new techniques and expand your professional network?

Research collaborations can let you combine your expertise with others so that you can collectively accomplish larger, more complex projects than any individual person could on their own. These experiences can be great demonstrations of teamwork skills and opportunities to interact with other scholars—but take some considerations into account before you begin:

  • Some projects will lend themselves more readily to collaboration or independence than others, both across disciplines (e.g., STEM vs. Humanities) and within disciplines (your particular topic). Don’t feel obligated to add other people if there wouldn’t be a clear benefit.
  • Don’t have the entirety of your dissertation work be dependent on other people completing key steps—unexpected things happen, and you will need to demonstrate that you have developed your own research ideas for your dissertation.
  • If you haven’t worked with a particular collaborator before, start with short-term and low-stakes side projects to get a sense of how the interaction goes.
  • From the start, establish expectations for who’s responsible for what, how often the group members will meet/communicate, planned authorship on any publications, and whether anyone has known conflicts that might impact their contributions.
  • Potential collaborators can be found in many places: your advisor’s network of collaborators and colleagues, other faculty and graduate students in your own department or across campus, conferences, visiting a host site for a summer research program.
Writing and Publishing

Whether your dissertation, a journal article, a book chapter, or a paper for a course, you will be writing abundantly in graduate school.

Publications likely will be a major aspect of your graduate school writing. Some aspects are nearly universal across disciplines, but sometimes norms can differ.

In STEM fields, peer-reviewed journal articles are considered most prestigious and desirable as preparation for research careers in academia or other laboratory settings. Book chapters and public audience articles can be great writing experience (and can reach a different audience than articles for specialist journals), but journal articles are the main mechanism by which research findings are communicated to the rest of the scientific community. Overviews: Article 1Article 2

In humanities fields, book reviews, conference proceedings, and seminar papers can all be part of your early publication experience. If you are seeking an academic career, work with your advisor to understand your discipline’s process of how to select the best possible journal in which to publish. Overviews: Article 1Article 2

The peer review process is a critical part of publishing journal articles. Briefly, a manuscript draft is sent to a journal, the editor will contact prospective faculty about serving as reviewers, reviewers will anonymously read and critique the paper, and the editor will return a decision to you (accept/revise/reject). The entire process can take many months between the initial submission and the eventual publication, and the most common initial outcomes are rejections or needs for revision. Responding to reviewer critique can be a frustrating experience at times, but always consider the comments for constructive criticism, important counter-arguments, and places to clarify your point.


Research and Publication

Office of Research and Economic Development

University Libraries

  • The UI Libraries maintain an enormous collection of books, journals, and resources for UI students. Subject Guides provide library expertise in specific subject areas, technical skills, and course-specific resources. Tutorials are available to learn more about the UI Libraries.

Thesis and Dissertation

Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education (OCRME)

  • The OCRME advances innovative health sciences education through application of empirical evidence and development of new knowledge. Learn more about the services they offer.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC)

The Writing Center

  • The Writing Center provides free services to anyone in the University of Iowa community through assistance with all writing projects, including multimedia presentations, at any stage of development.

Submitting articles for publication

Accordion Items: 
How will the research I’m doing right now be organized in my thesis?

It depends on the field and your program.  For PhDs writing a dissertation, the format is often an introductory chapter, several content chapters (reflecting different projects), and a concluding chapter.  Some STEM fields allow the middle content chapters to be journal article publications; Education dissertation may have the middle content be different aspects of one major project. 

Browse examples from your field at Iowa Research Online

How many articles do I need to publish?

In the short term, some graduate programs require a specific number of publications before you can graduate—check your particular program’s Graduate Student Manual or ask your program’s Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for more information.

In the long term, it depends on what types of career(s) you would like to pursue. 

  • Publications are a critical way by which your research productivity is measured for research faculty jobs, research postdoc positions, and some industry/government research positions.  The more publications, the better.
  • For some other sectors (liberal arts faculty, consulting, some industry/government jobs, academic editing), publications are very valuable demonstrations of your credibility but are not the only qualification you will need. 
  • Jobs that rely most strongly on the other skills you have developed through research and other graduate school activities—writing & editing skills not specific to academic publications, planning and conducting projects, technical skills, teaching, public communication, advising students, etc.—will typically put more weight in your other qualifications than your publication record.  Publications can be relevant writing experience, but the overall writing skills will often be just as effective as a full list of citations.
What is the significance of being first author, middle author, or last author in a journal article?

In many fields, the first author is the person who did most of the work and receives the most credit for the project; this is why “first-author articles” are often most highly regarded.  The last author is generally the person who oversaw and funded the research, generally the faculty member(s) who received the grant to do the project.  The order of middle authors can vary, but try to have the discussions be constructive—not contentious.

Note: Some fields have different norms; always follow common practice for your specific field

What are the best journals to publish in? How long does it take to do a research project? Write a paper for publication? Get a paper accepted for publication? Write a dissertation?

This is highly dependent on what field (and subfield) your research is in, as well as your particular project and writing style.  Consulting your dissertation advisor, other faculty in your department, more experienced graduate students in your program, and alumni of your graduate program will be best.

How do I know when I’ve done enough on my research project to be done and graduate?

Communicating with your advisor and thesis committee is always best to be clear about their expectations and what is sufficient in your field.

You can read the dissertations of other University of Iowa graduate students at Iowa Research Online ( to get a sense of typical lengths and structures.  In some disciplines, having just one self-contained 1 year project is the norm.  In others, the project may need 2-4 years to be completed before data write-up and analysis can begin, so there may be more extensive middle chapters.

Remember, research is never truly “done”—there are always new questions and unknown things to explore.  The dissertation doesn’t have to be the complete answer to 100% of all possible questions about your topic. It just needs to be a self-contained substantial research project that asks some key questions, researches them, analyzes them, learns something new, and poses new questions for someone to later investigate (whether you or someone else).  There will always be new and exciting topics that one could continue to examine, but decide whether you should pursue them right now vs. have that be your next project to pursue after graduation.  

I need to get IRB approval for my research. How do I do that?

Please contact the Human Subjects Office.

I want to write and submit a grant for my research. Where can I find information about that?

Request a Workshop

The Graduate College offers workshops that can be requested by student groups (formal organizations or informal groups of students), faculty, departments, or other campus organizations. You can review the offerings below. To request a workshop, complete the Workshop Request Form.

Please note all workshops:

  • are 60-90 minutes in length,
  • require at least 5 students to attend, and
  • room accommodations must be reserved by the requester

Building an Individual Development Plan (IDP) (no preparation required)

This session explores how to use planning and self-assessment tools to help students stay on track, communicate with advisors, and understand their own skills, interests, and values. Collectively, these tools put graduate students in the driver's seat for navigating their own professionalization experiences. Tools may include MyIDP, ImaginePhD, and/or Versatile PhD.