of journals and job markets

A few days ago, Katherine wrote a very thoughtful post on  spouses and the academic job market. (BTW, buy the Grad Skool book!). In the comments, a commenter, “Silly Wabbit,” wrote:

In another post Fabio recommended avoiding publishing in journals other than the top journals for PhD students; I’m not sure this is good advice. If a grad student can get papers into a regional or specialty journal I can’t imagine this hurting their career prospects especially over the possible alternative of no publications.
Am I off base here?

Let’s clarify the record. If you read the Grad Skool Rulz #25, I recommended that students count their job market “points.” I wrote the following checklist:

  • Have I finished my dissertation proposal?
  • Have I completed the data collection for my dissertation?
  • Have I completed at least one polished chapter of my dissertation?
  • Do I have more than one chapter of my dissertation completed?
  • If I get a job, can I complete the dissertation by the summer before I have to start?
  • Do I have a published article in a reputable refereed journal?
  • Do I have multiple articles?
  • Are any of those articles in the top journals?
  • Do I have a book contract? (this often counts for two points)
  • Do I have the support of my committee? (counts for multiple points)
  • Do I have teaching experience? (counts for more if you want a liberal arts position)

It is obvious from the list that publishing in a top journal is only one attribute for a successful job candidate.

However, the importance of your publication varies greatly, depending on what job you want. If you want a job in a top R1 school, then the journal matters a lot. The modal assistant professor in a top 20 schools has authored or co-authored an article in AJS, ASR, Social Forces, or Social Problems. If not, they almost *always* have an authored or co-authored article in a well regarded specialty journal such as SPQ, ASQ, or Sociology of Education. Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the assistant professors and job candidates in the top 20 or 30 programs. The pattern is obvious.

Of course, there are exceptions. For example, book writers, such as ethnographers or social theory types,  will sometimes publish in journals that the rest of the profession has never heard of. Or they get a job an a contract, or in a few cases, a complete book. Another exception is when someone is in an unusual specialty, like critical race theory, where it is very hard to consistently place articles in AJS or ASR. In that case, hiring committees are likely to recognize less prestigious or off-beat journals.

If your goal is a strong R1 program, then the strategy is obvious. Go for AJS/ASR/SF/SP and the well regarded specialty journals. Submit multiple times until you get a hit and go on the job market. There are other ways to succeed, but they entail more risk.

If you are targeting other kinds of institutions, then you have a lot more choices. Once you get past the top 20 or so, then people will seriously consider other journals such as the regional journals, or lesser known specialty journals. Liberal arts colleges prefer respectable articles but also strong teaching records. I’ve seen some students get excellent jobs with a single edited volume chapter on the CV, mainly because the person had a compelling dissertation and a solid teaching record.

Bottom line: The higher up in department prestige you go, the more you need to be associated with high prestige journals. Not a perfect correlation, but it’s there. Non-elite schools are more willing to look at people who publish in regionals or less well known specialty journals.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

August 14, 2012 at 12:01 am

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. This is basically the information my profs have been talking about while in grad school. I am an ethnographer, which maybe rules out an R1 school. But I don’t want to teach at a giant over-sized school anyway… so the R1 criteria doesn’t mean as much to me as getting into a liberal arts school.

    I would rather have a classroom of 40 or less instead of 300 or more. But I know many people have different career goals than I do. I want to teach but also have time for a family.



    August 14, 2012 at 1:16 am

  2. Fabio,
    Thanks for the info. I should say a few things:

    1) This blog is great and the grad school rules is one of the most honest and straightforward books on the topic. I certainly wasn’t trying to delegitimize (sp?) or in someway insult this blog or your work.

    2) Basically it sounds like you could get an R1 job with a few pubs in specialty or regional journals but the top schools (Chicago, Berkeley etc.) are not going to take any candidate too seriously without a pub in ASR or AJS or something else really impressive (e.g. book contract). Publishing in regional or specialty journals as a grad student does not relegate you to adjuncting at a community college or the soup kitchen (or a combination of both……)

    In other words, if you are okay with working at a PhD granting institution that is non-elite than specialty journals or regionals are probably okay. I wonder how interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary work fits into this matrix of considerations……

    3) I imagine that, all else being equal, the prestige of a newly-minted PhD’s institution has to be worth a few pubs on the points scale. I’m wondering how many pubs a candidate needs to “make up” for lack of program prestige. I think of the elite-ness of one’s PhD program as a sort of signal for potential scholarly productivity.

    Let’s say I see two candidates, both of whom still have that new PhD smell. They have remarkably similar CVs except that Candidate 1 has a PhD from Chicago and Candidate 2 has a PhD from Southwestern State Tech A&M. I would assume that the Chicago person will be a much better scholar in the long run in lieu of extraordinary evidence to the contrary. In most cases I would probably be correct.

    4) I say point #3 because the elite institutions produce PhDs (and thus job candidates) at a rate higher than replacement. Put another way, most PhDs from elite schools will not subsequently take jobs at elite schools and thus interview and be place at lesser R1 programs.

    5) Given this scenario it seems like the only way for PhDs from lesser programs to compete for an R1 job is to amass pubs if other relevant factors (teaching, service etc.) are held constant. Granted, a piece in ASR or AJS (or even SF) would be great but its probably not realistic for a grad student in a non-elite program to publish there. After all, the faculty at these institutions are typically not publishing in this journals….

    6) Sociology is an interesting discipline. I can identify 10-15 programs I would consider “elite”, some I would consider “near elite” and then most programs are in an ambiguous “all others” category. I would imagine fresh PhDs from elite schools fill up the elite and near elite programs and some end up at “all others”.

    7) The challenge for grad students from “all others” programs is to perform at a “near elite” level to compete for “all others” jobs when they go on the market.

    Thanks for taking my comment/question seriously and providing some further elucidation. Again, the advice I get here is priceless and you (and the other bloggers here) are providing a great service by lifting the veil shrouding academia…..


    Silly Wabbit

    August 14, 2012 at 2:39 am

  3. @drishism: R1 doesn’t mean big. Chicago, Brown and Cornell are all R1’s with small soc programs. But you are right that many R1’s are big public schools. Even here at Indiana, we have a fair number of small classes. I did a 7 person senior seminar last year.

    @silly wabbit: A lot of interesting comments and no offense taken. I’ll just respond by saying that job market evaluations are about trade offs. Low status PhD’s students can compensate with strong pubs. Slim records can be offset by high status degrees or network ties (e.g., well known letter writers). My own case is instructive. I was strong in some areas, weak in others. Strengths: clear quant skills, teaching record, neat dissertation, respected advisor, elite PhD program. Weaknesses: a single co-authored piece in a quirky specialty journal. I don’t think I was a slam dunk, but a few schools took a gamble on me and it worked out.



    August 14, 2012 at 3:41 am

  4. P.S. for @silly wabbit: There are some cases where the advice “better nothing than a third rate journal” does make sense. For example, if you were a traditional quantitative scholar and your *only* publication was in an obscure journal, many search committees will assume (rightly or wrongly) that the article is inferior and couldn’t get accepted at a better place. Once again, it’s about context. The ethnographer from Chicago can afford a single weird pub in an obscure journal. The demographer from Iowa must have something else.



    August 14, 2012 at 4:16 am

  5. As I’m at a “top” school, maybe my view on this is helpful. It is true that it is very hard to get noticed at a “top tier” school if you are not coming from a “top tier” department. People with no publications at all often get hired at top tier places if they are coming from other top tier places with stellar recommendations. Although you need a publication record in top journals (or books at top presses) to get tenure, it just isn’t true that you need it to get a job. However, it is true that breaking into the top tier from outside it does require a proven track record of publications.

    Publishing ANYTHING as a grad student is good, unless the work is actually bad. Demonstrating that you can get things done is good. A track record of what we’d see as “minor” publications as a grad student coupled with really good dissertation chapters that we’d see as having potential to end up as “major” publications would be something we’d look at seriously. Not a star, not a sure thing, but possible. Minor publications are not a minus, unless the work is bad. Notice I’ve said that twice. There is a difference between an under-placed or modest but respectable article and an article that is an embarrassment because it is methodologically unsound or badly reasoned. A bad article is not an asset unless you were really young when it was written and it has been followed by good articles, in which case you can be seen as someone who gets things done and has now learned how to do them right.

    I’ve said this before in a similar thread. Read ASR/AJS and read other journals. Can you tell the difference? Can you detect the difference between a modest article and a weighty article, between an article pitched to a general audience and an article pitched to a specialty, between a tight well-worked article and a sloppy article? If yes, then you should try to pitch some of your work to the top journals. If all articles look alike to you, then you are unlikely to be able to write for the top general journals and you should probably plan your career accordingly. Most of the schools in this country would welcome someone who can publish regularly, regardless of where.

    I’m realizing as I re-read the thread before hitting post that Fabio and I deeply different in one fundamental assumption: I’m in a department where we read the work and do not make attributions of quality based on the publication outlet. We have judged some ASR/AJS articles to be bad, and we are quite capable of deciding that an article in an obscure journal is good. All this assumes, of course, that you have made the first cut so the articles are getting read at all. See above.



    August 14, 2012 at 5:06 am

  6. @o.w.: Please remember that I’m talking about averages. Sure, we can all think of a person who published nothing and landed a job at the #1 school in the field. It happens. But the issue is that it doesn’t happen often.

    You and I agree on the fact that AJS/ASR do not have papal infallibity. But in our profession, journal prestige and rewards are highly correlated and only students from elite programs get exemptions. That’s the reality we have to communicate to our students. We have to be realistic.

    Finally, I want to emphasize that my advice is tailored to student goals. A student who will be satisfied with a wide range of job placements may be cool with a CV whose only publication is in the Online Fabio Journal of Sociology. But if they want to be competitive for R1s, you know that having your only article appear in the OFJS is worse than nothing.



    August 14, 2012 at 5:42 am

  7. Hey olderwoman, you definitely make a good point which gives me more hope. You talked about how the (perceived) obvious “stars” get a bunch of offers, then the market clears and it’s anyone’s game. What I did notice is that not every faculty member at the top 30 have multiple AJS/ASR articles, but more often they’ll have one AJS/ASR/ARS/SF article and then a BUNCH of hits in solid specialty journals.

    Getting hits in well-respected specialty journals like the two Theory journals, ASQ seems much more do-able (though still very hard) than getting AJS every time. Thanks, back to work!


    Andrew B. Lee

    August 14, 2012 at 7:41 am

  8. For what it’s worth, Chicago’s newest hire had no AJS or ASR or book contract (at least according to his CV) during the time of his interview and subsequent hire. But he has a killer ethnography on his hands that the committee no doubt read with great interest. So, I guess all “rulz” have exceptions from time to time.



    August 14, 2012 at 11:33 am

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: