Should Graduate Students Publish Outside Philosophy Journals?

In response to the earlier thread on publishing while in graduate school, a student at a PGR top 40 department wrote me as follows:

I’m likely to go on the job market in two years, and as such, I was particularly interested (and helped!) by your advice on publishing while in graduate school.  I have a few papers that I hope to submit for publication within the next few months, but having read your advice, I now realize I ought to be more careful as to where I submit the papers.

I had hoped, especially given your interdisciplinary interests, that you might be able to add another discussion on the blog:

*How do philosophers view publications in journals outside of philosophy?*

This question is important for many graduate students who work at the intersection of philosophy of science and the special science in which they are interested. For me, given that some of my work is rather technical (and as result, seems more suited for journals in machine learning and artificial intelligence), I’d like to know whether my chances of employment in a philosophy department would be hurt by, say, having two squarely philosophical publications and one publication in a journal devoted to artificial intelligence, when I go on the job market.

One publication in an artificial intelligence or other special science journal combined with two in philosophy journals would not hurt you, I believe.  It may even help you by enhancing your bona fide scientific/technical credentials.  But if the ratios were reversed, or worse, if all your publications were in non-philosophy journals, then some people might raise their eyebrows. 

Caveat 1: for present purposes, I think we may count even highly technical logic journals as among the philosophy journals.  Philosophers seem to think that logic, including highly technical mathematical logic, is still a branch of philosophy.

Caveat 2: what I am saying applies only to publications derived from your graduate work in philosophy; if you publish in some other discipline based on work you did prior to or parallel to your graduate work in philosophy (e.g., while pursuing a MA in a special science), that should not hurt you at all.

In my experience, interdisciplinary reach is easy to praise but difficult to reward.  If you publish in other disciplines, in principle everyone thinks you are great.  In practice, however, your publications outside your discipline may fail to be counted towards your advancement within your discipline (hire, tenure, etc.).  If you publish too much outside philosophy (or whatever your discipline is), you may even be suspected of not being a *real* philosopher (or whatever your discipline is).  This seems to be even more true in the sciences than in philosophy.

A related example:  when I went on the job market in 2003, a rumor got back to me that I was not perceived as a *real* philosopher of mind but more of a historian.  This in spite of the fact that I had three publications in philosophy journals and none in history journals!  (However, two of my three publications did have a somewhat historical theme, for somewhat accidental reasons, and my Ph.D. was from a History and Philosophy of Science department.  Those were the likely sources of me being perceived as a historian.)  This perception might have hurt my chances to get philosophy of mind jobs, which is what I was applying for.  I am not complaining about my job market experience, where I turned out to be quite lucky and very satisfied with the outcome.  The point is simply that these effects based on your early publications do seem to occur and may distort how people perceive you as a job candidate.

Can you do anything to offset these phenomena?  Here are a few tips (as usual, these are not written in stone):

1. Aim for a healthy ratio of, say, 2 philosophy publications to each nonphilosophy publication. 

2. Even if you have a somewhat “non-purely-philosophical” article, consider submitting it to a philosophy journal that is open to interdisciplinary research (many philosophy of science journals are like that) or to a logic journal before you submit it to a non-philosophy journal.

3. When you submit to non-philosophy journals or non-purely-philosophical journals, consider aiming for journals that are interdisciplinary or are known to publish philosophy articles (e.g., a philosopher of mind might consider a journal like Behavioral and Brain Sciences, although that would require having quite a spectacular article).

Who else has thoughts on this?  How do philosophers examining job candidates view publications outside philosophy?

16 Comments

  1. Brendan

    Hi Gualtiero,

    Given my own interdisciplinary focus this topic is of major interest to me.

    I have a question about the ration of 2:1 for philosophy to non-philosophy publications: does the same ratio apply to experimental work? Suppose you are involved in a research program in a lab (say, while in grad school working on your philosophy Ph.D). It would be very easy to have your name on several publications after just a couple of years of work in the lab, depending on the kind of experiments you are doing.

    So, would the same ratio apply regarding experimental work? Or, should the ratio apply primarily to non-experimental non-philosophy publications?

  2. gualtiero piccinini

    Brendan, excellent question.  First, keep in mind that if your name is on several multi-authored publications it’s not the same as if you are the sole author of them.  They count for about 1 divided by the # of authors.  Second, your question makes me realize that my 2:1 ratio may be too rigid, even with all the caveats I gave.  Let’s amend it as follows:  if you are participating in empirical research while in graduate school and you are involved in several publications, it would be good for you to have one or two philosophy publications in philosophy journals, but in any case the empirical publications shouldn’t hurt you — at least if you do philosophy of the special science in which you are publishing.

  3. Felipe De Brigard

    Hi, Gualtiero:
    I was wondering about your claim that a multi-author paper counts as 1/# of authors. Just as Brendan, I am the sort of philosopher who works in a lab, and I publish papers in scientific as well as philosophical journals. Now, as far as I understand, in scientific programs being a first author or a senior author–usually listed last–weighs more than being an intermediary author. I think this applies to basically all areas. For instance, most research in cognitive neuroscience (which is what I do) involves multiple fields of expertise. As such, cognitive neuroscientists require the help of additional experts, which usually become coauthors. Again: people in scientific programs know that, and they know that what matters, when you are young, is being first author, or seniority, when you are a professor. Individual scientists rarely publish papers by themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t work a lot in their papers, to the point in which one could say that they “own it”. Don’t you think philosophy programs have a similar view? Do philosophers really think that having 4 authors amounts to doing a fourth of the work? I am just curious…

  4. gualtiero

    Good question. I think most philosophers of science know about the conventions about author order in scientific papers. I don’t know about other philosophers.

    But I don’t agree entirely with your characterization of scientific conventions. My understanding is that being first author does count the most, and that other names are listed approximately in order of how much they contributed to the paper — with the exception of the last author who is often simply the most senior, e.g., the one in whose lab the research was conducted or the one whose grant paid for most of the research. I wouldn’t say that being the senior author counts for more than being an intermediate author, at least in terms of career advancement; I would say that people often associate papers with their senior author as belonging to that author’s research project or that lab’s research tradition. In that sense, being a senior author does count more(regardless of the exact position of the name in the list).

    Also, depending on the paper ot the disciplines, different conventions might be in place.

    Correct me if I’m wrong!

  5. 1/n credit seems too low. I’ve occasionally seen reference to a 1.5/n rule (so two coauthors each get 75% of the credit a single author would get, three coauthors get 50%, and so on), which from experience seems about right to me.

    I’ve also seen reference to a rule: 1.5^(n−i)]/sum[j=1,n]1.5^(j−1), where n is the total number of authors and i is the particular author’s ordinal position. This sums to 1 (disadvantage) but accounts for position (advantage), giving each coauthor 1.5 times as much credit as the following. Of course one could combine the two by adding 1 to the exponent in the numerator when n>1. And one would need to default to the previous rule when coauthorship is explicitly alphabetical.

  6. Felipe De Brigard

    My understanding is that being a senior author counts a whole lot more than being an intermediate author when it comes to getting tenure, for instance. But you are right: once a person is an established researcher being a senior author usually just means “this came out of my lab”. In addition, there are lots of little nuances to authorship that are independent of the amount of work researchers devout to a paper. For instance, one of the grants that finances a line of research in the lab in which I work has specific and unconventional rules about author order. Still, the point remains: writing scientific papers is pretty hard, and I think that there are lots of cases in which being a single author and being the first author in a paper should be equally valued. Consider a research paper whose underlying hypothesis, experimental paradigm, and predictions are all yours, but whose actual implementation requires the help of, say, a neuropsychologist who can provide the right kind of population. Should that reduce my authorship to half, or maybe to .75, as David pointed out above? It seems unfair, no?

  7. gualtiero

    Yes, I agree. If you are first author and did most of the work, you should get most of the credit, and I think this does happen routinely. People in the field probably get a good sense of how much each author did, at least when hiring and promoting.

    Of course, this is not to say that being first author on a scientific paper is going to help someone get a job or a promotion in philosophy. It may not even count at all towards tenure (depending on the department).

  8. Keith

    I wonder about rules like 1.5/n. They make possible things like this: You & I each have a paper, and our papers are of roughly the same length & quality. So we agree that I’ll make some minor changes to your paper, you’ll do the same to mine, and we’ll both get listed as co-authors of both papers. Without doing any real new production, we’ve each bumped our total credit from 1 paper to 1.5. That a rule makes possible such abuses doesn’t clearly mean the rule is wrong, but *perhaps* it is a sign of something being wrong with the rule?

    “Do philosophers really think that having 4 authors amounts to doing a fourth of the work?” -from several comments above

    Those who think 1/n credit makes sense need not have any corresponding view about the amount of work involved. They may just think that if more than 1/n work is involved, then co-authoring isn’t very efficient (though there may still be good reasons for doing it).

  9. Gerard Sorme

    This discussion shows how silly things have become when it comes to actually DOING philosophy. We’ve decided X journals vs XY journals = job vs no job, on and on. Very sad. Is there really any question that this kind of high-minded academia-driven *drivel* has hindered “The Love of Wisdom?”

  10. gualtiero

    Gerard, you may want to consider that there are more “lovers of wisdom” than available philosophy jobs. Search committees look for the most promising wisdom lovers and look at where they publish as an indicator; job candidates try to increase their chances of getting a job by publishing their work.

  11. 1. What in the world is a “promising” wisdom lover? What sort of promises are those who love wisdom in the habit of making?

    2. It may be the case that publishing in a relevant scientific journal would not hurt one’s chances of a job, but I wonder if the same could be said for publications in journals devoted to some one or other of the humanities?

  12. gualtiero piccinini

    1. They don’t need to promise anything so long as they aren’t asking for the privilege of an academic job.  If they want an academic job, they need to promise they will participate in the activities of the professional community at the level expected by their job — e.g., by publishing.

    2. I think approximately the same principles apply to publications in the humanities, but I am less familiar with that phenomenon.  I’d be interested in comments on that topic by people who know about it.

  13. James

    @ Alex’s #2:

    I hope this doesn’t conjure up some silly internecine culture war, but I suspect the original question is much less complicated with respect to philosophy/humanities (as opposed to philosophy/sciences) interdisciplinary work. Because the language of philosophy/humanities research is (for most of us) much more demotic, it is way easier/commoner for mainstream philosophy journals to find reviewers and audiences for that sort of work. So perhaps for grad students working in those areas, there’s less of a need to turn to not-strictly-philosophy journals. I’m thinking of philosophical treatments of visual art, literature, music, rhetoric, etc.

    I have the impression–just an intuition–that established philosophy/humanities journals like J Aesthetics and Art Criticism and Philosophy and Literature are more readily encompassed under philosophy’s “big tent” than are the similarly-established interdisciplinary journals aimed at philosophical neuroscience and its kin (but not logic, as Gualtiero points out).

    Again, I hope not to sound like I’m making some political comment about the state of the discipline. I work on neither philosophy/humanities nor philosophy/science topics. And I think of both as important and interesting. But I know that if I one day developed an interest in one of these areas, I would patiently and confidently read the current literature on phil/humanities–no matter what sort of journal published it–while I would feel impotent in the face of current neuroscience or formal epistemology research, whether the articles in question were in JPhil, PPR, Phil Review, or Behavioral and Brain Sciences…

  14. If one has a lot of these publications, it might be useful to either list them in a separate section on one’s CV, or even drop them entirely. It does seem a little strange when I read a CV and see a couple philosophy papers, and then several multi-authored technical science papers, where it’s clear that the person was mainly just working in a lab and not doing the central driving of the project. (That can be true even with a first-authored paper – often the first author is just a grad student working on a problem chosen and assigned by the lab supervisor.)

    Having these separated out may make a CV a bit easier to understand for philosophy jobs. Though I really don’t know how much impact this would have.

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