orgtheory.net

grad skool rulz #40: the quality/quantity trade off in publishing

Students, and early career faculty, often ask about whether they should “go big” or fill up the cv with “smaller” publications. Here is my view: start by asking about the type of program you want to be in and your career stage. Then, apply the following rules:

  • High status programs prefer “big hits.” In some programs, AJS/ASR is a prerequisite for promotion and is the most common cv item for ABDs who get assistant prof jobs. If you are at such a program, or aiming for one, this is your first strategy.
  • Most other programs will be happy with a healthy number of publications in more modest journals. In fact, one can have an outstanding career in mid or low ranked MA/PhD programs with lots of “small” hits and they will almost certainly help with tenure at teaching intensive institutions.
  • If you want to move up (though not laterally), a big hit is often required. Otherwise, people will think you are only capable of small hits.
  • The tenure worthy package at most decent PhD programs is one or two “big” ones and other non-embarrassing publications. For other places, about 4-5 “small ones” will often suffice if well written.
  • Time: If you don’t have big hits, and tenure/job market is coming up, sometimes filling it up with small hits might work.
  • People in unorthodox fields can sometimes get away with specialty hits in “cool journals.” Thus, if you are in one of these fields, you might want to move along the quantity/quality curve.
  • Book writers: If your field is mainly books (historical or ethnography), you can get away with a book that counts as multiple big hits. Articles, if well written, may not need to be in top journals.

Bottom line: Big hits will always help. But unless you are at an elite program, there are many plan B’s that work well.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

June 23, 2015 at 12:01 am

13 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thanks for this post, Fabio. Do you think graduate students should have the same journal standards as early career faculty for publishing?

    Like

    Chris M

    June 23, 2015 at 2:54 am

  2. This is helpful, although I would amend it in two ways. First, a big hit is now basically necessary to be competitive for any job at a research university with a graduate program, not just the top 20. This makes the statement, “most other programs will be happy with a healthy number of publications in more modest journals” not exactly true. There is a gap between what they are happy with and what they can get in this market, what they can get these days is graduate students from top programs with big hits on their CVs.

    Second, I think this post overstates the variation in what different types of schools are looking for. Most of the people I know who did well this past market cycle did well across the spectrum–they got interviews at teaching schools, research institutions, and regional universities. And they did so with big hits in AJS/ASR/SF or a book completed and/or under contract.

    This is not to say that only people with big hits get jobs, just to say that any graduate student who wants to be competitive for academic work should make an attempt at a big hit.

    This is also to say in response to Chris M that somewhat weirdly, graduate students should now have HIGHER journal standards for publishing than is needed for tenure at many places.

    Liked by 1 person

    Nicolette

    June 23, 2015 at 2:11 pm

  3. Nicolette: I’ve been around long enough to realize that there is some variance once you get past top 20. For example, IU has recently hired one without a big hit. During my time as junior, we had a few hires like that as well. Examining some lower ranked programs today, I see a mix of “with big hit” and “no big hits.” But I will grant that the “with big hits” outnumber the others. It’s definitely the modal path to R1. Also, another thing to remember is that the # of co-authors has increased. So a single ASR hit can result in multiple jobs.

    CM: Yes, if you want to be a prof at a school of type X, then start producing like a prof at X.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 23, 2015 at 5:14 pm

  4. Follow up: Spent some more time looking assistants at 20-40 ranked. Definitely variation.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 23, 2015 at 5:16 pm

  5. Fabio: true, I do see your point about variation among APs at mid-level programs. But there’s also a bit of a time-lag involved, and I think more and more the high-impact contribution is becoming the default indicator of job market success across many types of institutions. It’s not every case, but it’s the modal case, and increasingly so.

    The logical conclusion, from my point of view, is thus that grad students (presuming they aspire to academic work) should not just be encouraged to publish; they should be encouraged sooner rather than later to think about and strive for a high-impact contribution. Obviously not everyone will reach that goal–as much as we hate to admit it, not everything about our success is under our control–and those without a high-impact contribution are not out of the game. But it seems to me the best advice for most grad students early in their programs is to start conceptualizing and working toward something that has the potential to be a high impact article or book.

    Liked by 1 person

    Nicolette

    June 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm

  6. Thanks, Fabio and Nicolette. How common do you think it is for sociology graduates (especially in sociology of health) to get a post-doc before they enter the job market?

    Like

    Chris M

    June 23, 2015 at 9:10 pm

  7. Historically, post-docs were scarce in the profession as a whole, but more common in health and population.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 23, 2015 at 9:12 pm

  8. Fabio, could you elaborate on this point: “People in unorthodox fields can sometimes get away with specialty hits in “cool journals.” Thus, if you are in one of these fields, you might want to move along the quantity/quality curve”?
    1. Do you mean disciplinarily unorthodox, like say, PhD in Computational Management Science (to make something up)? Or do you mean an unorthodox field of study within in a conventional discipline, like the spatial sociology of e-waste (no offense to those writing theses on e-waste)?
    2. In either case, what are some examples of unorthodox fields, and how do you know if you’re in one?
    3. What makes a journal cool but not big, and what are some examples?

    thanks,
    -a likely (and multiply) unorthodox grad student.

    Like

    unorthoROCKS

    June 23, 2015 at 11:47 pm

  9. 1. I was thinking unorthodox as a sub field. Not entire discipline, but we can think about the second case as well.

    2. In sociology, unorthodox might mean ethnography (less popular method), speech analysis (less popular topic) or Freudianism (less popular theory). Across disciplines, it is harder to define because you need a mainstream for comparison. But you might consider interdisciplinary groups unorthodox if they haven’t yet reached disciplinary status.

    3. Right now, Poetics is “cool but not big.” You can tell since it is either dedicated to a less popular topic or has a relatively low impact score. Yet, people talk about it and people you respect in the mainstream publish there.

    Fuzzy concept, but worth thinking about.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 24, 2015 at 2:12 am

  10. Journal of Mathematical Sociology is another example of a high prestige but low impact publication. Publishing there used to be like publishing in a black hole because it was too expensive to buy and unavailable on line; even now, it is a very low impact place to publish. But it looks good on your c.v., not like a junk publication.

    I suppose it is worth noting that there is also the opposite type of publication, intended for the general public, that may get many more citations but have lower prestige.

    Liked by 1 person

    olderwoman

    June 24, 2015 at 2:08 pm

  11. As usual, thank you , o.w., for the example. WRT to your final point, sometimes there will be a scholar who has a massive citation count due to some online publication that normally carries little heft in the academy. For building a career as a public intellectual, it is good, but doesn’t affect your internal profile.

    Liked by 1 person

    fabiorojas

    June 24, 2015 at 8:07 pm

  12. @olderwoman and @fabiorojas, care to put some names to the types of publications you have in mind? For the uninitiated, that is. It’s easy to distinguish the ‘junk’ publications, or to discount the massive open-access online publications, but are there edge cases you’d warn against?

    Like

    hedgecase

    June 24, 2015 at 8:23 pm

  13. Hedgecase: For example, let’s say you publish in Contexts (I have, for example). Wider audience than almost any academic journal, but it’s not “real” academic publication and it is not intended to be. Another is “PS: Political Science.” Perfectly fine journal, but more outreach. I don’t warn against either Contexts or PS, but definitely not core academic publishing, even if it is well read or cited.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    June 24, 2015 at 9:09 pm


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: