Writing my first published paper 

Zoe Le-Conte

This is an article about publishing my first academic physics paper early in my postgraduate studies at Durham. The expectation of writing a successful paper can be high, whether this is pressure from a supervisor or yourself, but the reality is that this is a great learning experience, no matter the outcome. It can be daunting to look at a blank document and have a to-do list spanning months of work, but I will include helpful tips which make the process easier. 

Project selection 

During my undergraduate studies, I was fascinated by observational astronomy, in particular the formation of galaxies, as I could connect this with the creation of solar systems like our own within the Milky Way. Starting my PhD in October 2022, I chose my supervisor based on the exciting project proposal of observing galaxy dynamics and kinematics. The first month included admin and introductory lectures, so the deep dive into my research hadn’t begun. At the end of November, I received a very promising email that I could have access to initial James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) data. The JWST is a telescope in space which has revolutionised astronomical research by taking high-resolution images and finding some of the oldest objects in our Universe. If I accepted this offer, I would be trying to find some very distant barred galaxies, which would be following a different branch of galaxy observation than what my supervisor had planned. Additionally, this would be new data to my supervisor, so it was unknown territory. Despite this, the opportunity was too great to miss, so by December I had access to groundbreaking data. 

Recording progress 

The best advice when completing postgraduate studies is to make a record of every decision and discussion from the start of the project. This is because as the project becomes more refined, details could be lost. A benefit of this is that you may wish to repeat a technique or share information with a community in the future. Progress can be recorded in a Word document, online note-taking materials, but my favourite is Obsidian. This tool enables daily notes to be linked and organised; it is also a perfect tool for research coding. I format my week by creating a non-negotiable to-do list and an if-I-have-time to-do list. Each day, I break my notes into general tasks completed, papers read with notes and specific project notes. Publications relating to the project can be saved as a NASA/ADS library. All this information will be beneficial now and in the future. 

The writing process 

After four months, I realised I had some very exciting results, and the writing began. I write in Overleaf, as there are journal templates which can be easily submitted to the journal. I started with the method section and followed with the introduction, which was the most time-consuming. After proposing questions to my collaborators, I wrote the discussion and finished writing the conclusions and abstract. I made the mistake of naming my copies as “preliminary draft” or “final draft”, but the best labelling method is “V1” or “V1.2”. Drafts of my paper went to my supervisor and collaborators three times before their comments became minor, and everyone was happy for the work to be published. At this final stage, we reviewed the journal’s requirements and submitted! 

Publishing 

Publications to well-known journals require a reviewing process. This process can take months, so do not be disheartened. A reviewer will send a list of required adjustments to make before acceptance. Once the revised version is submitted, you are at the final stage. This is when the paper is accepted, or further corrections are found. Once accepted, the paper will be in HTML format to ensure it prints correctly. This is a time-consuming process and cannot be rushed, but the end is in sight. Once everyone is happy, your paper will be printed! I chose to publish the paper on arXiv before it was accepted. This is beneficial for the community to see your results quickly, but be honest about the submission stage. Since publishing, I have received kind emails and had great discussions about a follow-up paper. Once you break into the community, new opportunities will arise. Good luck with your research, and if you wish to check out my paper, take a look at this press release I did with Durham. 

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Read more about Zoe’s experience at Durham here

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Zoe Le-Conte

Hi, my name is Zoe and I am a postgraduate astrophysics student, doing my PhD on the formation of galaxies.

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