grad skool rulz #22: publishing in grad school
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Here’s the bottom line: modern academia is about publishing. Even if you intend on working at a teaching institution, most respectable programs will require that you publish and maintain your active involvement in the scholarly community. Furthermore, if you wish to compete for a research oriented job or top liberal arts college, you must demonstrate an ability to publish in well regarded journals.
So let’s start with an easy question: Who has to publish?
- If you want a good job in most disciplines, you will need to publish something while in grad school.
- Exception 1: Some technical fields have a short time to degree and it is impossible to do anything except complete coursework and write a job market paper. Econ and engineering fit into this mold. It’s all in the unpublished job market paper and sponsorship by disciplinary elites.
- Exception 2: In some qualitative areas, books are the norm, so hiring committees are a little less obsessed about early publications.
- Caveat: Even if you are in a field that is an exception, you will benefit if you can get a good publication.
The harder question – what counts as publishable?
- Learn by reading books and journals in your area.
- Read what your adviser and professors publishes.
- Usually, it has to be a contribution to knowledge. In other words, it has to tell us something that we didn’t know before.
Next question: where should I publish?
- Every discipline has an informal, but well known, ranking of journals.
- Every field has around 2-5 top journals (In soc: ASR/AJS and many people see SF and Soc Problems as close behind).
- Every field has journals that serve specific specialties. (Org Studies: ASQ. Education: Soc of Education).
- There are well regarded “regional journals” run by professional associations (Soc Quarterly, Soc Perspectives).
- If you want a good job, you will sooner or later have to publish in one or more of these journals. People who get fly outs for good programs usually have one or two pubs in these venues.
- It’s also cool to publish in the journals in related fields – but only if you can persuasively argue that it’s appropriate. E.g., an applied stats person might try to land a piece in JASA. A population studies person might try Demography.
- If you are in a book intensive field, you might try to get a contract in your last year or so of grad school.
- In general, I’d avoid smaller more specialized journals until you get at least one or two higher profile hits in top tier, specialty or good regional journals.
How do I actually get published?
- What counts as publishable is a topic that deserves its own post. But suffice to say that it varies from area to area. Read a lot and talk a lot to figure it out.
- Once that you’ve produced a manuscript, go to the journal website. Now, you can submit through the web site or just mail it to the editor. A few “old school” journals will require paper copies.
- In general, start with more prestigious journals and work your way down. Why? High prestige journals will draw more attention to your work and they have more resources for fast review. They also tend to have better reviewers. I don’t necessarily mean start with journal #1, but start with a journal that most people consider to be highly regarded and bounce around. Then move to smaller journals after that.
- Get a thick skin. Every academic has piles and piles of rejection letters.
Should I work solo? With a team? What about authorship?
- Working with a team: Pros – teams produce things faster and benefit from a division of labor. Team members (older faculty) may have the connections and knowledge to make the project get published. Also, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot less risk. Cons – easy to lose your identity and not get credit. Remember, there’s little reward for being author #8 on four articles.
- Working solo/small team: Pros – more freedom to design your own research. You get the lion’s share of the credit. Cons: Since you’re charting unknown waters, there’s a lot more risk.
- In general, the higher the author’s name in the list, the more credit. After three or four authors, no one notices your name and people may assume your an RA on the project, rather than a contributor. If you are working with faculty or on a team, have a discussion with the team leader/faculty member about how you can get the proper recognition for your contribution.
Let’s talk about some myths:
- Do I need a million publications to get a job? Not really. If you have one or two good ones, that’s enough.
- Is it all an insider’s game? Academia, like any job, has its fair share of gaming the system. All older academics will regale you with stories of “such and such got published because the editor was a friend.” So what? That’s life. But academia is also remarkably open. In soc, we have our four lead general journals, about 5-10 high quality specialty journals, some excellent regional journals, and many more respected journals that don’t fit the mold (i.e., Theory & Society, Poetics, etc.) If you try really heard and put out your best work, I promise you’ll get good results
If you have more ideas about publishing as a grad student, please put them in the comments.