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 It’s all in the unpublished job market paper and sponsorship by disciplinary elites.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.

Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2009 at 12:43 am

26 Responses

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  1. […] That is fabiorojas with the twenty second installment of his grad skool rulz. […]


  2. Great post, Fabio! I think the key insight to get across to grad students is always to be writing (and thinking) “for publication”. The journal literature is the conversation you want to be having about your results. So you are looking at your empirical material, not just with your supervisor or committee or fellow students, but with your peers, in mind. And, yes, there is no need to get hung up on quantity. One or two good solid publications make a strong impression.

    So, though it’s basically already in your post, I’d emphasize: you should continously be framing your results for journal publication.


    Thomas Basbøll

    June 29, 2009 at 8:50 am

  3. […] advice from June 29, 2009 Fabio Rojas gives sociology grad students some good advice on publishing in his latest post on Here are a few highlights: What counts as […]


  4. One thing that was crucial for me to learn how to publish in graduate school was to read first drafts (or at least pre-publication drafts) of articles written by advisors or senior colleagues. I was lucky enough to have seen some of these drafts working with an advisor, but also offered suggestions on other manuscripts for faculty in my department. I had a serious block reading journal articles and thinking that it was impossible to have something that good in graduate school; but, published journal articles have gone through a substantial number of revisions before they end up on paper. Seeing what people more senior to me write before it gets published helped me realize that I could write something that could lead to a publication.

    Also, on the team approach — I think that you have said this elsewhere, but you should have very clear roles outlined at the beginning of a project so that everyone has the same expectations and there are no surprises down the road.



    June 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm

  5. 1. Present the paper locally
    2. Submit it to a conference
    3. Get feed back from professors, fellow grad students.

    Then submit it to a top journal.


    Michael Bishop

    June 29, 2009 at 4:48 pm

  6. Nice comment by mike3550. Reading published work as a grad student can be very intimidating, and I think part of the training to become a professional academic is going through the first-hand experience of taking an idea to rough draft to polished draft to submission and publication.

    That said, the review process itself probably deserves its own post – what to do when the reviews conflict and the editor doesn’t really clarify; when to make the reviewers’ requested changes and when to politely point out he/she is out of line. Also, the review process can help an inexperienced student overcome paralyzing perfectionism. In my opinion, grad students should not be afraid to “pull the trigger” on a paper and submit it for review even if it isn’t “perfect”. I probably overly revised some papers as a grad student thinking they were never good enough. As long as you’re sure the paper won’t get rejected outright (and you can have your advisor help you with that), having a paper fall into that middle ground of “accepted with revisions” or even “revise and resubmit” can, in fact, be a good place for a graduate student to be. At that point (if the editor is good) it is very clear what needs to be done to get the paper published, and you won’t waste more time doing endless revisions trying to write the “perfect” paper.



    June 29, 2009 at 5:11 pm

  7. Is there a sociology version of the JEL or JEP where students could keep track of trends?



    June 30, 2009 at 5:06 pm

  8. I have a master’s in history. The professors who helped me finish this stated with revision they felt it was good enough to get into some type of history journal.I am currently getting my master’s in Library Information Science. It has been a year since I finished my history degree.

    I want to know would it be worth taking up the professors offer and turning the dissertation into a journal worthy article, especially if I am now in another field? I mean it is always a good thing to get your name out but is it worth the time and trouble of doing so, if I am going to be working in another field?


    jason kielbasa

    June 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm

  9. @ Josh

    I think the closest thing is the annual review of sociology.

    @ Jason

    I say submit it, especially if you’re going into academia, but even if you aren’t.


    Michael Bishop

    June 30, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  10. Excellent post.

    Quick question:

    What is the value of publishing book reviews, book chapters, etc?


    Brian Pitt

    June 30, 2009 at 10:25 pm

  11. Grad students and junior assistant professors are often told not to bother with book reviews or book chapters. But I have written several reviews and a book chapter, and I think they are a good way to get your name out there and make connections with other people in your field. They definitely don’t count for as much as a sole authored article, but I think they do add to your CV. For example, the fact that you are asked to write reviews shows search committees that you are known to have expertise in a particular area.



    June 30, 2009 at 11:05 pm

  12. I agree with Michael Bishop’s responses, but let me add a few words about reviews and edited volume chapters.

    Overall, these publications rarely get you any credit – and rightfully so. A 500 word comment on another person’s book is not exactly worthy of promotion or hiring. On the other hand, chapters and reviews can do other things – they can introduce ideas and once in a while, they hit big. So the primary reason to do these sorts of publications is not career advancement. It’s to push an intellectual agenda and raise issues you think are very important.


    Fabio Rojas

    June 30, 2009 at 11:39 pm

  13. Learn by reading books and journals in your area.

    I couldn’t agree more. Learning by reading is the backbone of any grad student’s education. When grad students ask me what the best way is to learn how to write journal articles, my answer has been, ‘read, read, and read.’ Most students don’t read enough. They think they’re reading a lot because they’re doing all of the reading required of them in their graduate courses, but this is just the minimum amount of reading you should be doing. You need to read more than you think you should.

    Academics have a certain style that can only be learned through absorption. Part of good writing is figuring out how to tell a theoretical story logically and in an interesting enough way that it will capture reviewers’ attention. Mimicry of others’ styles is a great way to get that first article written and out to the editor.

    Another reason it’s important to read a lot is because it’s the only way you’re going to pick up on the vast amount of literature that you should know just to be able to engage readers in intelligent conversations. As a reviewer, I can’t tell you how irritating it is when someone presents a fairly good argument and evidence but the paper is written with little comprehension of the theoretical and topical terrain. Citing Weber (or Dimaggio and Powell) is not enough to show your mastery of an area. The only way you can develop nuanced arguments is if you have a comprehensive understanding of the literature and you can’t get that unless you read a lot.



    June 30, 2009 at 11:44 pm

  14. Not to nitpick Brayden but a while back you wrote in regard to lit reviews:

    “Teppo is referring to a set of tips that Ezra Z. posted to his website about how to write articles. Quoting again from Ezra’s very helpful tips: “Never write literature reviews. The only reason anyone cares about a literature is because it is helpful in clarifying puzzles in the world. So start with the puzzle.”

    This is a nice piece of advice and one that I wish I could integrate better in my own work.”

    So…how do you write a paper that doesn’t have an exhaustive lit review yet still shows mastery of the “theoretical and topical terrain”. If the argument is good, and the empirics are solid, why isn’t that good enough? I’m not trying to pick a fight or anything, but am genuinely curious what you have to say in light of these two ostensively contradictory views.



    July 1, 2009 at 1:07 am

  15. This post comes in a timely manner given that searches are starting to crank up for the upcoming year.

    I fully support the “read, read, read” notion. I found that to be the point when I really started to “step up my game,” if you will. One of the other things that my diss chair made me go through for several months is rewriting and editing of some of my work, focusing on the structure of my writing. Despite some of the cited critiques, Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” was helpful. “Revising Prose” was also helpful since many of academics like to see how long they can stretch a sentence. Moreover, both helped with those word length restrictions for the journal articles. The “writing bootcamp” gave me more of an ability to change between “dissertation writing” and “article writing.”



    July 1, 2009 at 1:18 am

  16. @ Josh and Michael Bishop

    Don’t forget Sociology Compass for short review pieces. Not as comprehensive or authoritative as the Annual Reviews for sure, but they publish often and have many good people writing for them.



    July 1, 2009 at 1:52 am

  17. Musa – Right, I certainly don’t advocate writing long literature reviews in each article just to show off how much you know. The reason for getting to know the literature is to help you figure out which problems are most interesting and to help you sell those problems as interesting to your readers. There are lots of interesting findings out there that don’t get widely read because they are not properly situated in the literature and therefore the underlying puzzle is not communicated. More importantly, if you don’t know what has been said before about a topic, you probably won’t know the right questions to ask and therefore your analyses will be underdeveloped.



    July 1, 2009 at 5:25 am

  18. There’s a question that’s been bothering me for some time and I’d be really curious to hear what you guys know about it. It seems to me that everyone agrees that Social Forces is a top journal in sociology, but how much does a SF pub count for your CV, really? E.g., will top sociology departments generally count it as an “A” publication in tenure decisions?



    July 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

  19. Strix: The status of Social Forces has been debated numerous times on orgtheory and scatter. Omar had a lengthy post on the relative status of Social Forces:

    My general experience is that you are correct. AJS/ASR are considered of similar quality by top programs, a bit above SF. But as one esteemed senior colleague once said ” and maaaaybe Social Forces.” I think what he was trying to communicate was that with AJS/ASR you get the presumption of quality. For SF, you’d have to make an argument for it, but it’s not totally crazy.



    July 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm

  20. […] 17, 2009 · Leave a Comment My esteemed co-blogger Brian asked this in an Orgtheory post and I wanted to follow up. What is the value of doing book reviews? I’ve heard mixed things […]


  21. […] a comment » A few weeks ago, I wrote on the importance of publishing in graduate school and how one might do it. A few folks asked for a post that describes the publication process in more detail. Here it […]


  22. […] #22 Publishing in graduate school […]


  23. Hi- this list is very helpful. Another great tip would be learning how to leverage technology/web in graduate school. The ones I know of are academic blogs, zotero, RSS feeds, and those firefox add-ons that shut down your browser when you are procrastinating too much. I’m sure there are more… any ideas?


    doctoral student

    October 17, 2009 at 7:58 pm

  24. […] 19, 2009 · Leave a Comment Fabio Rojas gives excellent advice on publishing in graduate school.  But that first rejection, quite frankly, hurts!  By the time […]


  25. […] Get published: Once you get published in real journal, then many faculty will let you graduate. Why? Publication is often a prerequisite for a job. If you are published, no one feels bad about letting you go on the job market. It also shows that you are serious about your career. The higher ranked the journal, the better. […]


  26. “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.)”

    For soc, what are the four lead general journal?, high-quality specialty journals?, excellent regional journals?, and other respected journals?


    Samantha Smith

    July 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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