grad skool rulz #22.3: publication strategies for graduate students

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I was recently asked by Simone about publication strategies for graduate students. My response: First, consider your goals and work backwards. Second, there are rules of thumb and mitigating circumstances.

In general, start by asking yourself, if I want job X, what is required?

  • Elite research schools: In sociology or management, you usually need your name on a publication in a top journal. If you work in a field where top journals don’t take many articles (e.g., ethnography and ASR), you can get away with a very high quality specialty journal hit. Elite programs will usually scoff at regional journals if that’s your sole publication.
  • Most research schools: Once you get beyond, say, the top 20 in your field, you can publish in a wider range of journals and still get a good job. These include the stronger regionals and good specialty journals.
  • Liberal arts colleges: This is tricky. Too much publication and not enough teaching can be bad. Yet, you still need publication in respected places. So I think one quality publication and a strong teaching portfolio is good.
  • MA/BA prorgams: One or two quality articles non-laughable journals will put you in the zone.

Second, rules of thumb:

  • Low ranked PhD program: If you are at a low ranked place, you will need to overcompensate to move up in the hierarchy.
  • Elite PhD program: People cut you slack if you are elite. If you can produce a cool project, it doesn’t need to immediately come out in a leading journal. The PhD program’s brand/star adviser’s name will help you out.
  • Funky vs. obscure: If you can’t land a paper in a top tier journal because of the topic, it’s sometimes better to place it in a cutting edge journal than in a low status journal, as long as the cutting edge journal really exists in an interesting niche.
  • Journal ranking:¬† top general journals > top specialty > respected regionals > low ranked regionals. There are always some journals that are orthogonal and don’t fit in the ranking.
  • Discipline crossing: If it’s appropriate, it may be better to publish in a strong journal in another discipline than have the paper in an obscure in-discipline journal.
  • Foreign: If it’s appropriate for the topic, non-American journals may be good as well.
  • Take more time: If you can’t land a journal article because it needs to be better, sometimes it’s better to take an extra year (if finances permit) and get you article accepted.
  • Edited volume contributions and book reviews won’t help your job prospects.

In other words, it’s probably best to shoot for the top journals. The issue is “plan B” and there are many options. It depends a lot on who you are, your goals, and the type of research. Your journal placement should signal that you are interesting as a scholar. Journal placements are part of your professional identity. You don’t need every thing to be in journal #1, but all your articles should make a positive impression.


Written by fabiorojas

January 19, 2011 at 12:06 am

Posted in academia, fabio

16 Responses

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  1. Liberal arts programs also have an internal hierarchy that’s similar to the elite/non-elite research university divide.

    The top liberal arts schools (Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, Pomona, Wellesley, etc.) have been trying to increase the profile of their faculty by hiring from top 20 PhD programs (or even top 10) with higher rates of publication. You don’t need a top tier journal article, but you certainly need more than one publication in lower tier or specialty journals to make the cut.

    For lower ranked liberal arts programs, you could probably get away with just a strong teaching portfolio.

    But either way, the liberal arts hire is all about fit–as small places they need the areas they need filled. Not much wiggle room around that.



    January 19, 2011 at 12:23 am

  2. Not enough teaching is definitely a liability on the lib arts market, but as cwalken says, we have been hiring junior candidates with extremely impressive publication records over the last few years.

    FWIW, a senior mentor when I was on the market told me not to ignore the specialty journals because these are where you can really engage with people in your area– and they are really useful for demonstrating your fit.



    January 19, 2011 at 4:13 am

  3. Thank you for answering :-)

    Actually I have just started my Phd and I will be working in the field of organizational reputation. Therefore I think that there are some good (even if not top) journals (e.g.: corporate reputation review) and of course all the big big journals (organization science, AMJ, AMR, you know it better that I do).

    Since I have just started I am just trying to understand how the whole thing works in academia. But I really apreciate knowing what more experienced people think.

    So thanks again



    January 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

  4. how important are book reviews? And how do you get those published?



    January 20, 2011 at 12:55 am

  5. Ddlr: book reviews have intellectual value. They record scholarly commentary. At the same time. They don’t in most cases reflect original research. So you don’t get much credit. You can get book reviews by contacting book review editors at journals via email and tell them what sorts of books you’d review.



    January 20, 2011 at 2:47 am

  6. As a sociology grad student about 1/3 of the way through a lower-ranked PhD program (in USA), I found this post helpful. Questions that came to mind…

    What sociology journals would you put in your categories? I’m especially interested in what journals would be put in 3 vs. 4. I went ahead and took a stab at placing a few in #1 and #3.

    1. top general journals > ASQ, ASR, AJS, BJS, Annual Review, Social Forces, Social Problems

    2. top specialty >

    3. respected regionals > The Soc Quarterly, Social Science Research

    4. low ranked regionals >

    Also, according to this list, we should if at all possible avoid specialty journal publications if they’re not in the top of the specialty (and I assume even the top journal in some specialties should be generally avoided). So I understand this as: if it’s not top specialty … avoid!


    Scott Matthews

    January 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

  7. Scott, I’d say BJS (if that’s British Journal of Sociology) and Annual Review don’t belong in 1. BJS, because it has zero reputation in the U.S. and Annual Review because it’s not a place where grad students can hope to publish (it is not really an open submissions journal) except as the infamous “second-author-who-did-all-of-the-work-but-gets-none-of-the-credit” next to a big name that will forever overshadow you.

    I would probably add Soc Forum and Soc Perspectives to category 3 (but other people might not). SSR also belongs in this “respected spot” but it is not a “regional” just a journal (my anecdotal sense is that SSR has actually become more “respected” of late). The same goes for Soc Inquiry which actually just belongs to the soc honor society. Category four would probably include journals like soc focus, soc spectrum, etc. Although my sense is that the boundary between 3 and 4 is contested and fuzzy.



    January 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm

  8. Omar, thanks for your clarifying reply. Since I see that you’ve published in Journal for the Sci Study of Religion and Poetics, would you put those in category #2, or would they need a new category?

    I revised the below list based on your comments:

    1. top general journals > Admin Sci Quarterly, ASR, AJS, Social Forces, Social Problems

    2. top specialty > ?

    3. respected regionals/general > The Soc Quarterly, Social Science Research, Sociological Forum, Sociological Perspectives, Soc Inquiry

    4. low ranked regionals > Soc Focus, Soc Spectrum

    Thoughts anyone?
    Also, what about good 2nd tier interdisciplinary social science journals? Where would a lowly graduate student place those in a publication strategy?


    Scott Matthews

    January 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm

  9. Yeah, JSSR is the top specialty journal in religion, Poetics kind of acquired that status in soc of culture, SPQ obviously for social psych, Mobi for movements, Social Science History for historical (which also counts as interdisciplinary), Social Networks for networks, etc.

    By the way, Theory and Society would get a “1.345” score if I ranked it here. I’ve reviewed for “The Social Science Journal” which I’m guessing is interdisciplinary but of uncertain reputation.



    January 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

  10. Though many might disagree, I’d contest putting Social Problems in the same tier as ASR, AJS, etc. To me, it seems more like the cream of the second tier general crop (appearing in this list as #3 respected regionals).

    What do people think of Theory & Society vs. Sociological Theory? Does one have a better claim to being the top theory specialty journal? Or are they more silver medal AJS type publications?

    Politics & Society is also tricky–decently high impact factor, long history of quality pubs in its area, but in recent years hasn’t generated as much attention.

    To Omar’s list of specialty journals, I’d also add Journal of Conflict Resolution for interdisciplinary conflict/violence research.



    January 22, 2011 at 7:18 pm

  11. I’ll revise the list here in light of the above discussion:

    1. top general journals > ASQ, ASR, AJS, Science, Nature

    2. close-behind general journals > Soc Theory, Theory and Society, Social Forces, Social Problems, Demography

    2. top specialty > J. of World Systems Research, Soc Sci History, SPQ, Politics and Economy, Population Review, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Sociology of Education, Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Soc Networks, Soc Methodology

    3. respected regionals > The Soc Quarterly, Social Science Research, Soc Forum, Soc Perspectives

    4. low ranked regionals > Soc Inquiry, Soc Focus, Wisconsin Sociologist, Soc Spectrum, Contemporary Sociology

    5. low ranked speciality > Soc of Religion, Journal of Social Structure, Review of Religious Research, Journal of the Theory of Social Behavior, Sociology of Health and Illness, Social Science and Medicine



    January 22, 2011 at 10:38 pm

  12. Harold, I think you forgot Physical Review E.



    January 23, 2011 at 3:59 am

  13. Is Social Science & Medicine really so low? Its impact factor is huge.


    Scott Matthews

    January 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm

  14. “Is Social Science & Medicine really so low? Its impact factor is huge.”




    January 23, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  15. Sociology grad students may also consider this:



    January 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm

  16. Omar: I saw that on O&M as well — love it.



    January 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm

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