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.