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On Publishing While in Graduate School

Posted Dec 06 2009 2:47pm
A grad student at a top five philosophy program wrote me as follows:

What do you think of someone like me (i.e. zero publications) submitting things to very new journals, like "Review of Philosophy and Psychology" or "Philosophy & Theory in Biology"? It seems probably better to go for journals that are known to be of high quality, but if that can't happen, is it risky to get something published in new journals?

Short answers: if you are aiming for a research-friendly job (e.g., a 2-2 to 3-3 teaching load or a postdoc), don’t submit to new journals, and yes, publishing there carries risks -- that is, it may damage your early career more than it helps. 

Now some nuances:

(Caveat: what follows applies only to people aiming for research-friendly jobs.)

1. With some exceptions that don’t concern us here (see here for a brief explanation of the exceptions), a job candidate with publications is better off than one without.  There are enough cases of promising people who never publish anything and enough job candidates with good publication records that few departments will take risks on this point.  So do try to publish before you go on the market.

2. Where you publish makes a huge difference.  Most people will tend to look for the best journal where you’ve published and see that as your “ceiling” (i.e., the best you can be expected to do).  Early publications in Phil Review impress everyone.  Early publications in journals like Phil Quarterly impress most people at most departments, while leaving some people indifferent or worse.  Early publications in journals like Minds and Machines might impress some people at departments outside the PGR ranking, while probably damaging your chances at PGR ranked departments (with all due respect to Minds and Machines, where I’ve published two papers).  A new journal, like the ones you mention, is likely going to score you fewer points than a Minds and Machines – that is, mostly negative points.  (For a helpful ranking of general philosophy journals, see here.  For an informal ranking of journals in the philosophy of mind, see here.)

3. Publishing strategies fall along a continuum.  At one side of the continuum there is quality; at the other there is quantity.  If in doubt, err on the side of quality.

4. Most people will judge the quality of your publications at least in part by where it was published.  Therefore, err on the side of submitting to prestigious journals.  But be realistic about your chances of acceptance and keep in mind the next two points.

5. On average, it probably takes one or two years between your first submission of a paper and its acceptance, because it may take more than one submission – with revisions in between submissions.  So begin thinking about publishing at least two years before going on the job market.  And don't get discouraged if your paper gets rejected; figure out how to improve it, revise, and submit somewhere else.  (For how to improve your paper by a judicious use of your faculty, see here.)

6. Unfortunately, some top journals have horrible editorial practices:  if you submit there, you are likely to wait one or two years only to receive a rejection without any helpful comments.  Before submitting, investigate your journals.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the worse time-wasters are J Phil and Mind.

7. Different journals have different preferences as to what they publish.  Look for the journal that best fits the content, style, and quality of your paper.

8. A rule of thumb:  look at the references listed at the end of your paper, and submit to the journal(s) where some of your most recent references were published.  It might also help to show your paper to experienced people you trust and ask for advice on where to submit it.

9. New journals need to establish their reputation by getting good work from established people.  Before they’ve done that, you are not going to gain much from publishing there.  Keep them as a last resort; after your article has been rejected at several well established journals.  And remember that no one will pay attention to your articles there.

10. Only a few of the articles that are published get read and cited – including the articles published at good journals.  If you are not otherwise known in the community, publishing in a new journal is very likely to condemn your paper to oblivion.

For more comments on publishing while in grad school, see here and here.  

Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

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