On Publishing While in Graduate School

A grad student at a top five philosophy program wrote me as follows:

What do you think of someone like me (i.e. zero publications) submitting things to very new journals, like “Review of Philosophy and Psychology” or “Philosophy & Theory in Biology”? It seems probably better to go for journals that are known to be of high quality, but if that can’t happen, is it risky to get something published in new journals?

Short answers: if you are aiming for a research-friendly job (e.g., a 2-2 to 3-3 teaching load or a postdoc), don’t submit to new journals, and yes, publishing there carries risks — that is, it may damage your early career more than it helps. 

Now some nuances:

(Caveat: what follows applies only to people aiming for research-friendly jobs.)

1. With some exceptions that don’t concern us here (see here for a brief explanation of the exceptions), a job candidate with publications is better off than one without.  There are enough cases of promising people who never publish anything and enough job candidates with good publication records that few departments will take risks on this point.  So do try to publish before you go on the market.

2. Where you publish makes a huge difference.  Most people will tend to look for the best journal where you’ve published and see that as your “ceiling” (i.e., the best you can be expected to do).  Early publications in Phil Review impress everyone.  Early publications in journals like Phil Quarterly impress most people at most departments, while leaving some people indifferent or worse.  Early publications in journals like Minds and Machines might impress some people at departments outside the PGR ranking, while probably damaging your chances at PGR ranked departments (with all due respect to Minds and Machines, where I’ve published two papers).  A new journal, like the ones you mention, is likely going to score you fewer points than a Minds and Machines – that is, mostly negative points.  (For a helpful ranking of general philosophy journals, see here.  For an informal ranking of journals in the philosophy of mind, see here.)

3. Publishing strategies fall along a continuum.  At one side of the continuum there is quality; at the other there is quantity.  If in doubt, err on the side of quality.

4. Most people will judge the quality of your publications at least in part by where it was published.  Therefore, err on the side of submitting to prestigious journals.  But be realistic about your chances of acceptance and keep in mind the next two points.

5. On average, it probably takes one or two years between your first submission of a paper and its acceptance, because it may take more than one submission – with revisions in between submissions.  So begin thinking about publishing at least two years before going on the job market.  And don’t get discouraged if your paper gets rejected; figure out how to improve it, revise, and submit somewhere else.  (For how to improve your paper by a judicious use of your faculty, see here.)

6. Unfortunately, some top journals have horrible editorial practices:  if you submit there, you are likely to wait one or two years only to receive a rejection without any helpful comments.  Before submitting, investigate your journals.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the worse time-wasters are J Phil and Mind.

7. Different journals have different preferences as to what they publish.  Look for the journal that best fits the content, style, and quality of your paper.

8. A rule of thumb:  look at the references listed at the end of your paper, and submit to the journal(s) where some of your most recent references were published.  It might also help to show your paper to experienced people you trust and ask for advice on where to submit it.

9. New journals need to establish their reputation by getting good work from established people.  Before they’ve done that, you are not going to gain much from publishing there.  Keep them as a last resort; after your article has been rejected at several well established journals.  And remember that no one will pay attention to your articles there.

10. Only a few of the articles that are published get read and cited – including the articles published at good journals.  If you are not otherwise known in the community, publishing in a new journal is very likely to condemn your paper to oblivion.

For more comments on publishing while in grad school, see here and here.  

Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

22 Comments

  1. David Velleman

    Distinguish two questions.

    1. What DIRECT effect will publications have on your job prospects?

    2. What OVERALL effect will publications have your job prospects?

    Having a publication on your CV will help with some employers (by no means all; see below). But publishing is an extremely time-consuming project, and much of the time spent will not be productive for your graduate education or, therefore, for your overall job prospects. You will be pouring work into a paper that, in most cases, doesn’t help you learn more philosophy or write a better dissertation. And although a publication helps on the job market, it does nowhere near as much good as an excellent dissertation.

    Keep in mind, too, that many institutions will not count graduate-student publications toward tenure. If you can get a job without publications, those publishable papers will do more good after you’re an Assistant Professor.

    Finally, the answer to this question depends very much on (1) where you are in graduate school and (2) where you can expect to get a job. Students at better-known programs can probably afford to do without the additional boost; students at lesser-known programs may need it. Employers who trust their own judgment don’t much care about publication; employers who don’t trust their own judgment do care.

  2. On the whole, this is sound advice. But keep in mind that the vast majority of jobs are NOT at research-oriented departments or at highly selective liberal arts colleges (such as Amherst, Dartmouth, Reed, and Vassar). From my own experience at an institution where faculty have either a 3-4 or 3-3 teaching load (the course release depending upon one’s research output) and from my experience on a search committee, I can say that having publications affords a candidate an advantage. Of course, not all journals are created equal. But if you are wondering “Is it better for me to have something in a good (for instance, a well-known “B” range journal on the ESF list) but not upper-tier journal (e.g., Dialogue, Philosophia, Philosophical Papers) or have nothing,” it is certainly better for you to have something in the established “B” range journal.

    I think it would be unwise for the members of a search committee to treat the journals one publishes in while in grad school or even soon thereafter as somehow being a good predictor of the best journals one can be expected to publish in. What I have noticed is that the lack of publications (for better or for worse) is treated by some as evidence of one’s inability to get stuff out there and published. This judgment may not be justified. But it certainly is common, especially since more and more job candidates are coming out of graduate school with multiple publications.

  3. mark lance

    I don’t really agree with this. I’ve been involved in placement for 20+ years and have spoken to people at most top departments. I’ve been involved in numerous searches at Georgetown, and one each at Syracuse and Pittsburgh. I’ve never heard of anyone taking a publication in a mediocre or new journal to hurt one’s chances. Of course a publication in a strong journal is a big point in your favor – and some of that will be needed for tenure at at a top research place. But to treat where one publishes a first paper as the “ceiling” – the best you will ever do — is so outrageously irrational that it is hard to imagine someone thinking that. Of course I can’t swear no one does, but I don’t believe it. The norm, I think, is that quality is judged directly – by reading the papers. Publishing shows that you can publish. Merely publishing is something. It shows you can finish a project, know how to work in the profession, etc. (These cannot be assumed, even of smart philosophers.) So a publication is better than none, by quite a bit. Of course publishing in a top place is much better still – it shows you are at a professional level that will get you tenure at a top research place. But it is now so common to have something that I strongly encourage submissions even to mediocre journals. (Not, of course, to completely disreputable journals.)
    Another point worth noting is that having tons of publications is not particularly important. We want to see that you can, but not that you are just pushing everything imaginable out there. quality is much more important than quantity at this stage, so a slew of minor counter-example publications along with a mediocre dissertation is just not attractive.

  4. Most people will tend to look for the best journal where you’ve published and see that as your “ceiling”

    Is this really true? I ask because it’s so dumb, especially for younger people with a short record. We could do a sort of experiment and look at people’s first paper or two, see where they are published, and then look at later publications. I’d be shocked if this “ceiling” idea had any validity for the first few publications. If so, it seems like an extremely stupid idea. I don’t doubt that people sometimes follow it, nor that short-cuts in judging work are needed and sometimes useful, but this really is a dumb one.

    On the general topic, It’s worth noting that at Penn, for example, where I was a grad student, _all_ of the people hired in the last 8 or 9 years had publications before being hired, and nearly all of those brought for on-campus job talks had them. (There’s at least some evidence that this stupid “ceiling” idea wasn’t being applied, I’m glad to say.)

  5. Gualtiero’s advice here seems right on the money to me. I’d add that, as a general rule, where and how much you publish signals where you belong in the food chain. (As does the crowd you associate with. Sorry–welcome back to high school.) Depending on where you realistically expect to end up, different strategies make sense, as Gualtiero points out.

    If, eg, you finish quickly and have stellar letters from a top program, you may even benefit from not publishing at all–it can say “I’m so freakin fab I don’t need no stinkin publications. You want to read my work, get on my mailing list.” In some circles, publishing fewer (but good) papers is a point of prestige. A long list of publications, even in decent places, is no guarantee of a good research job, though it can certainly help.

    While the best places you publish establish the apparent “ceiling” for you, people may also ding you for the least prestigious places you publish. Putting a paper in a lower-tier journal can be taken to mean that’s the best you could do with that paper.

    Not fair, really, but people have to make shortcuts to sort out who to hire based on sparse information. Of course there are exceptions to nearly all these rules. I found it helped to just stop caring and do whatever I’m gonna do. (See “Office Space,” but not as cool.)

  6. Eric Schliesser

    I would like to add one consideration that has not been mentioned yet. Even if one has a PhD from a (PGR) top ten department if one wants to get a post-doc position on the European Continent, then one should have a few accepted articles in refereed (preferably ‘A’ ESF-listed) journals. These post-docs are often the only way to develop a research-oriented career.

  7. It is insane in this digital age that getting responses takes that long. That is infuriating to me, and I am not even a philosopher. I usually hear back within a month at the neuroscience journals about whether it will be sent to review, and then another two months (at most) to get the responses back from reviewers.

    It is frustrating, as justice would demand a mutiny. Unfortunately that is never going to happen because people are too smart to not submit during the mutiny.

    What is wrong with philosophy journals that this is done, and what is wrong with philosophers that they put up with it?

    Or is it only like that at a few journals?

  8. Hadn’t seen the earlier comments when I posted, but all seem to make good points. Re. the plausibility of various prejudices: I too doubt that hiring committees normally consciously penalize people for stupid reasons. But nonrational influences are rife in hiring, even for philosophers.

    I don’t doubt that sexism and racism often play a role in hiring, but would be shocked if it were usually *conscious*. Similarly, MD’s think pharma drug reps don’t influence them, which is quite a hoot.

    Getting a job is, partly, a marketing endeavor. While I think merit really is the primary factor in getting a good job, it doesn’t hurt to think about the gut reactions people are likely to have about your dossier. Or so it seems to me.
    Dan

  9. mark lance

    Sure, predjudices can happen when we don’t know it. But I don’t think this is like sexism and the like. We have evidence of those in the rates of hiring. I don’t believe we do have evidence that people are judged to have topped out. I know of dozens of people who were hired at schools with publications in journals at a level such that they could not have gotten tenure only publishing at that level. Anyway, I’d really like to see some evidence that people aren’t hired before this advise is given to grad students because I think the “publish only in really good places or don’t publish at all” is very bad advise that will seriously hurt their chances on the market.

  10. Mark, good points. I agree that for most students, who won’t end up a top depts, that is terrible advice. I wouldn’t dream of advising my own students that way.

    But I do suspect that a (perhaps weaker) form of that dictum applies to someone from a top 5 program with a realistic shot at a similarly Leiterrific dept. Not that ignoring it kills your chances–surely not–just that it could well be a minus.

    Re. “ceiling”: agreed, unlikely anyone actually judges your best pub journal as your career ceiling, which would indeed be crazy. But they now have a bit of evidence on where you can publish. However weak it may be, it’s hard to ignore. I’ve seen dossiers of candidates w. no pubs but stellar letters that shout “phil review!” Had they added a publication in a lower-tier journal to that, it would have undercut the image conveyed by the letters slightly and diminished the candidate’s luster. Not much, perhaps, but a little. I might have judged the evidence unimportant, but I bet it would have lessened my enthusiasm all the same.

    For students who anticipate a research-oriented job in a good dept, I’d still probably suggest avoiding publishing in “the journal of fourth-rate philosophy”, at least unless invited.

    A problem with any advice on the market is that faculty have wildly varying approaches toward hiring. So any advice should probably be taken with a HUGE grain of salt!

  11. gualtiero

    Thanks to all the commenters for the great points they make. Take special notice of Dan Haybron’s last sentence, which I completely agree with:

    “A problem with any advice on the market is that faculty have wildly varying approaches toward hiring. So any advice should probably be taken with a HUGE grain of salt!”

  12. Eeeev

    I’ve published three papers, one in “Faith and Philosophy” another in an international journal ranked alongside “The Monist” and “Review of Metaphysics”, and a third paper at the University of Pitt’s Phi/Sci website.

    I’m a master’s student who wants to get into a good PhD program….do my publications significantly raise my chances?

    Thanks

  13. gualtiero piccinini

    Posting a paper in an online archive, such as the Pitt Phil-Sci one, is not the same as publishing (there is no editorial selection involved).  Even so, I would expect your two articles in reputable journals to increase your chances of getting at least into mid-ranked Ph.D. programs.

  14. Eeeev

    I was aware of the Phi/Sci Pitt thing…I don’t know why I referred to it as a “publication” proper. Anyways, the important point about the Phi/Sci paper is that it was presented at the Melbourne Metaphysics of Science conference….I think presenting at such a prestigious conference also helps my chances, no?

    Let me make things a bit muddy. I have low GRE scores…but a perfect GPA, and the things already mentioned…should I worry? [Let’s assume my sample gets in to the top tier journal under which it is currently being reviewed…that is to say assume my sample is stellar]

  15. gualtiero piccinini

    Yes, presenting at good conferences is also going to increase your chances.

    As to worrying, that’s never good.  As an ancient proverb says (more or less):  If it’s under your control, why worry?  If it’s not under your control, why worry?

    Of course, not worrying is easier said than done.

  16. Anon.

    Here’s an interesting (maybe) condition to chuck into the mix. Suppose the area that someone’s reading for their PhD (or similar) in is pretty much decided for them. A CfP from a relatively ‘young’ journal comes about for a special issue pretty much on their subject. Publishing in young journals is, from what I gather, to be avoided where possible. That said a special issue probably wont come about too many times. Should the student submit for publication?

  17. gualtiero piccinini

    Probably yes.  Special issues are special opportunities.  They are more visible than ordinary issues (in the relevant area) and are often easier to get into than ordinary journal issues (assuming that the paper submitted is relevant to the special issue).

  18. Anon

    So the idea is then that despite the fact that the journal is relatively ‘young’ and underdeveloped by comparison the publication in a special issue might make up for the usual reservations about publishing in a young journal?

  19. gualtiero piccinini

    Possibly.  But pay attention to who is editing the special issue, how high the journal is aiming, and who else is likely to participate in the special issue.  It’s not necessarily a good idea to participate.

  20. Great question and answers! I am so grateful to the internet for providing advice when I am unable to find it with my peers and advisers–or at least for providing another point of view. Your post is clearly written and is very thoughtful. Thank you.

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