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Justin Caouette

Nice post, Marcus. I agree that publishing while in grad school is a bad trend in the discipline, especially for folks without the luxury of spending 6-8 years in a doctoral program. At my institution we are supposed to finish up in 4 years. We also have requirements that take up most of our time. We have course work (6 courses), 3 prelim exams, and a candidacy defense. Not to mention we teach 2 courses and TA for an additional 6 courses over the 4 years. All of these requirements (minus the teaching) are to be completed by the end of year 3. This leaves us one year to write the dissertation. I have worked diligently throughout my time in the program and am about to hit the market. The dissertation is nearly complete but I can't seem to find the time to publish regularly. Any time I spend trying to work on something other than my dissertation makes the final product a bit more rushed and not as good as it could have been. And there is no doubt that my lack of publications will hurt me moving forward. This, coupled with the fact that my program is not Leiterific leads me to believe that the future is grim.

Now, I like your idea of stand alone chapters, I've mentioned the option a few times when discussing this topic among peers, but I worry that if we move in that direction we will not have the skills to complete larger projects later on, or at least it will make such projects harder to complete because of the lack of experience. We all know how to write stand alone chapters, we are forced to do so for class, but a cohesive project is an all-together different sort of beast and we learn how (and how not to) approach larger projects by writing our dissertation. It's important to show that one can complete such a project as such projects tend to be at the heart of many funding opportunities.

Anyway, I'm pessimistic that this trend will change given the state of the academy (unfortunately).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Justin: Thanks for your comment. I sympathize with your concerns about your future, and the future of the discipline, and I wish you the best of luck on the market this year.

On the standalone chapter thing, I think you might have misunderstood me a bit. I am *against* the new trend of dissertations being a set of loosely related papers. I think old-style, book-type dissertations are preferable for precisely the reasons you mentioned. They give much-needed experience developing and writing large, systematic pieces of work. For my part, I've come across too many *books* from university presses lately that come across as a loosely structured set of papers, and they tend to come off to me as disjointed and unsystematic.


I certainly wish there were not pressure for grad students to publish, but the motivation for writing dissertation chapters that can more or less stand on their own goes beyond that. Unless you plan to publish your dissertation as a book, you will at some point, even if it's during a postdoc or early job, need to rework those chapters into standalone papers. Failure to keep that in mind when writing the dissertation to begin with just creates extra work (sometimes a lot of it!) for yourself.

Moreover, I would suggest that dissertation chapters that are designed to stand alone after minor changes need not be merely *loosely* related. I've seen plenty of dissertations made up of more or less standalone, but closely connected, papers. You may be working with a false dichotomy.

Derek Bowman

How much professional energy should be spent, and how many educational ideals should be compromised, in order to increase fairness in the process of sorting people into a fundamentally unfair two-tier employment system?

Anon Junior Prof

I am kind of shocked that we are saying that in the span of 5-6 years very intelligent individuals cannot be (a) provided with a broad range of coursework, (b) trained to publish in journals, and (c) coaxed into writing a dissertation. Especially since so many of them now come in with MAs, a 2 year headstart.

Here's what I've seen happen many, many times: senior faculty often basically ignore (b) and (c) until the 4th year of a grad student's career. Then they snap to attention and say: this person needs a dissertation! Paper-publishing is a distraction! Let's get them out of the program and into the market! But surely a more balanced and sustained focus on tasks (a)-(c) over the entire 5-6 years is what is needed, and the best programs already have this balance.

So, a very large part of me wants to say: senior philosophers, recognize that (b) is almost certainly an obligation that you have, recognize that it is (literally) your job to train grad students to publish, restructure your programs accordingly, and stop hemming and hawing about the state of the poor discipline. This is how things are now; unless you want to take drastic measures to stop grads from publishing (i.e. some sort of ban) recognize it and move forward.

Marcus Arvan

Derek: Thanks for your comment. I agree that the two-tiered system is fundamentally unfair, and that we should do what we can to change it (I've written on this in the past, arguing that faculty should engage in mass, group action to address the problem). The two-tiered job system an absolute scandal, as far as I'm concerned. The problem, though, is that it is such an enormous problem. Administrations have expanded their power so much that it is difficult for faculty to do *anything* about the two-tiered system. Believe you me, many faculty try, pushing and pushing more for more full-time, well-compensated faculty. But it's like running head on into a brick wall...

Marcus Arvan

AE-CP: Thanks for your comment. I've come across some "dissertations" that are, as you say, closely related papers, not just loosely related ones. But this sort of misses the point. They are still standalone papers, and writing standalone papers is very, very different than writing a book, which has to be systematic, and where each chapter builds on the last. In my experience, writing a traditional dissertation is *nothing* like writing a series of related papers. And while you're right--a traditional dissertation makes one's work harder transforming chapters into publishable articles--there are costs to not writing a traditional dissertation as well: one does not learn how to write a massive, systematic, interconnected piece of work. I believe this is very important to learn in grad school--more important in the long run than merely learning how to write publishable articles.

Marcus Arvan

Anon Junior Prof: I'm actually shocked that you're so shocked! Let's think about this for a moment. Even if you've done an MA (and not all PhD students do), your first 2+ years in a PhD program are spent doing coursework. And grad-school term papers are rarely good enough to be transformed into publishable papers. So, the first 2+ years aren't generally going to be a time to work on publishing. Year 2-3 is then usually spent studying one's butt of studying for comp exams and/or reading and thinking on dissertation ideas. So, hard to learn to publish then as well. Then, if you're *lucky*, you come up with a dissertation idea pretty quick, have to write up a proposal, do your prospectus. Etc. So, it's hard to learn to publish then. Then, a real dissertation takes 2 or so years to research, write, and revise. That's at least 5 years, with little time to learn how to publish...UNLESS of course your program begins to skimp in some of these areas (no comps, no traditional dissertation). In short, programs can make time to learn how to publish in grad school, but usually at a real cost in other areas. Also, learning how to publish isn't easy. It requires learning a lot of hard-to-learn skills (e.g. knowing what reviewers look for, hitting the right tone, coming up with publishable ideas!) that, in my experience, take a lot of trial and error to learn. Just like learning to shoot a basketball takes a lot of misses, so does learning how to publish. It is *very* work intensive, and it is hard for me to see where all of that work is supposed to take place in a program that hits all of the other bases I mentioned above. These are the reasons, I think, why many grad programs have done away with comp exams and replaced a traditional, 200-400 page book-type dissertation with 150 page series of 3-4 related papers. These changes do allow for learning how to publish, but for reasons I have already given, I think they are *terrible* compromises on a good graduate education for the short-term goal of publishing.


I'd like to echo something from your 10:49 comment, Marcus. My department has no comps (instead we have paper requirements). Perhaps as a result, the people in our dept. who get jobs tend to have publications. But we have way too many specialists among the grad community, in my opinion. You'd be surprised by the philosophical background that some people lack. I think this is likely one consequence of there being no comps. So there's a real trade-off going on.


Marcus, this may just be a difference in values, but I just don't see the loss involved in not writing a "massive, systematic, interconnected piece of work," while a graduate student. First, one may never write or even be interested in writing such a work, and that does not render the work merely inside baseball. You have in the past contrasted work that makes "one small point" with "big ideas work," but again, there's a real worry about a false dichotomy there. Why think it's a loss if someone never wants to write a book? Second, even if one does want to do a large project in the future, why think that first trying to do this at the same time that one is just trying to get a handle on philosophy is good preparation? What is your evidence for the claim that if you don't try this out while writing a dissertation then you will be ill prepared to do this in the future?

I think people should be encouraged to write whatever kind of dissertation best suits their philosophical goals. Anyway, my primary motivation for writing in is this: if you're a grad student reading this, I don't think any good reasons have been provided why you would be making a mistake to write a tightly focused dissertation, as opposed to a "massive, systematic, interconnected piece of work."

Marcus Arvan

AE-CP: I think it probably is a difference in values, but not just that. Let me explain.

The way I see it, professional philosophy has become more and more fragmented, and in a way that leads away from better philosophical understanding. These days, due increasing specialization, a lot of debates in philosophy take place in relative isolation. Debates in metaethics (e.g. moral realism) are largely disconnected, for instance, from empirical examination of human cognition and rationality. Similarly, debates in the free will/moral responsibility literature take place largely ignoring issues of fundamental physics (which I believe to be deeply important). On the contrary, I think that to do metaethics well, one must work within a well-worked out metaphysical system consistent with our best empirical knowledge of human cognition. Similarly, I think that in order to think about free will and moral responsibility, we need to engage systematically with metaphysics (e.g. powers, properties) and fundamental physics.

In short, I think that really good philosophy *has* to be systematic, and that fragmenting philosophy into ever-narrower domains of specialization actually leads away from deeper philosophical understanding (and truth), not toward them.

So, it's not just a difference in values (though it is that, too. I find systematic philosophy far more exciting than focusing on tiny points). My main reason for favoring systematic philosophy are that I think philosophy has to be systematic to lead to truth/greater understanding.

On the issue of what evidence I have that not doing systematic work in grad school ill-prepares one to do systematic work later on, my evidence is anecdotal but comes from two places: (1) my experience writing the book I just finished (which I think I would have been very poorly prepared to write if I hadn't written a traditional dissertation), and (2) my experience reading many books recently, many of which (as I said earlier) strike me as overly fragmented. My evidence, in other words, is that I see certain trends. Anecdotal evidence for sure, but I don't know any way to run controlled studies on these things. :)

Of course, people should be encouraged to write dissertations that suit their philosophical goals--but isn't a part of a sound education challenging students to *raise* their goals? Don't we have some kind of duty to ourselves to aim higher, not lower? These questions do gesture towards values--but they are values that I believe in deeply, for personal and the aforemented philosophical reasons.


You can just use my name in the post if you want :) That was a public comment, after all.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: will do! :)


Marcus: Here's why the change from your concept of "book"-style dissertations to shorter more "paper"-based dissertations seems wrong to me: philosophy is predominantly an article discipline. Most people publish primarily journal articles. Many people publish *only* journal articles. So very little is lost by not learning how to write a "book" in one's graduate training. In fact, I think there are opportunity costs in focusing on writing a "book," given that almost no academic press wants to publish (even a revised) dissertation. One has to publish articles fairly quickly during one's TT employment. It's FAR better to be good early at writing articles than at writing books. Books can wait until after tenure is secured.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: Thanks for your comment. In one sense, I agree with you. In *today*'s publish-now environment, it can be in one's interest to focus on publishing articles, not doing systematic work early.

But the problem I have is with the whole trend of focusing on articles and such over systematic, book-length theorizing.

First, I don't think you're right that one can go from just doing articles until tenure to writing a good book after tenure. If you're focusing on writing articles during your first 12+ years in the discipline (5-6 years grad school + 6 to tenure), that's what you've learned to do. You've never had to develop the ability to write a good book, and that ability will not materialize out of thin air. It is a skill that needs to be developed early (it takes writing books, which is what a traditional dissertation embodies).

Second, I also think not writing a book-style dissertation fails to develop an important set of abilities in article-writing. It fosters papers on small issues rather than papers that have a more systematic bent. It lends itself to piecemeal articles, as opposed to a series of articles building systematically on one another. (Think how Rawls published his way up to "A Theory of Justice". He was systematic all along, and it led to a series of "big idea" articles, as opposed to small nuts-and-bolts stuff. Now, few of us are Rawls, but still, for reasons I mention in a comment above, I think good philosophical theorizing has to be systematic).

Anon Junior Prof

So I'd just like to repeat: I think that grads are, to a large extent, left alone until 4th year (the 6th year of graduate education for those with MAs). A more balanced approach to professional training need not involve any serious sacrifices in breadth.

Marcus, you say, for example, that they "spend two years" doing coursework. But that coursework normally produces 12-16 papers. I just can't accept that, for most grads, at least *one* of those papers wouldn't be submittable to a mid-level journal after some revision. If this is really the case, then maybe we need to think about raising our standards for what counts as acceptable coursework.

And then there are 3-4 more years! Train students on submission and publication strategies. It's professional training that is part of the job description once you get into the world. If you have to "skimp" on comps or other areas, then that's what you have to do. It's extraordinary that we allow the ideals of "well-roundedness" and "deeper understanding" to interfere with professional training.

There are better worlds in which we aren't so specialized, where such things as "deeper understanding" can be pursued without cost. But this is not one of them. By refusing to train grads to publish, we force THEM to bear the cost of this mismatch between our ideals and reality.

Marcus Arvan

Anon Junior Prof: I agree with you that grad students should be provided with some mentorship in learning how to publish papers, and that during grad school one or two of one's term-papers might be publication-worthy. I'm not denying that grad students should receive this kind of mentorship!

What I am suggesting is that publishing papers should *not* lead grad programs to skimp on comps or other areas. You say: "If you have to "skimp" on comps or other areas, then that's what you have to do. It's extraordinary that we allow the ideals of "well-roundedness" and "deeper understanding" to interfere with professional training."

With respect, I could not disagree more! We should be educating philosophers, and try to educate grad students to be the *best* philosophers they can be. Our aim should not be to churn out the equivalent of philosophical "suits", i.e. by-the-numbers professionals who have little depth or well-roundedness.

Now, you're right: there are costs to this in the present reality. But I haven't denied this. The entire point of my post is that we should try to CHANGE the reality we face away from the rat-race which prioritizes article publishing a reality where grad students have the time to develop into deeper, more well-rounded philosophers. These may be ideals...but I think they are ideals worth fighting for.

Derek Bowman

Anon Junior Prof:

You say, you'd be surprised if "at least *one* of those papers wouldn't be submittable to a mid-level journal after some revision"

But of course given the competitive nature of the job market, it's not clear that publication in a mid-level journal is sufficient, and indeed for some jobs it might even count *against* you. (Just see the original Thread Marcus linked to).


Marcus. My point still remains: almost all of modern professional philosophy (in the past 50yrs) has been done in articles, not books. A relatively small percentage of philosophers public books. And that's been true for a very long time.

So has philosophy been doing things wrong all this time?

I view it as no problem if most philosophers go their entire career never writing a book.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rachel: You're right that a great deal of modern professional philosophy has been done in articles, not books (though I would quibble with your suggestion that "almost all" modern philosophy has been done in articles--there have been a whole lot of books!).

I don't think philosophy has been doing things wrong. What I think is that the most influential and important pieces of work have tended to be books. Consider just a few: Rawls' A Theory of Justice, Korsgaard's books, Hursthouse's Virtue Ethics, Kripke's N&N, Williamson's Vagueness book and Knowledge and its Limits (I could go on and on!). The works that have most influenced the discipline have tended to be books--and for good reason. Books lay out new, systematic ways of thinking about things; whereas articles are much more narrow. This isn't to say that no important works have appeared in article form. Far from it. There are *many* important articles. All it is to say is that (1) a great deal of the most influential works have been books, and (2) there are good reasons for this. Books *do* more, and are more systematic.

This is why I think a discipline that prioritizes learning how to write articles over learning how to write books sells itself short. I also think we sell ourselves short if we don't learn how to write books, even if we never actually write one. I, for one, think the experience I had learning how to write a traditional dissertation was a *crucial* part of my development, even if I never went on to write a book later on! It forces one to really broaden, and deepen, one's horizons in ways that article-writing alone does not.


But this is really my point: it can't be a norm that people do what only a *very* select few will ever accomplish. It's in fact a very bad goal for most people to try to write books, especially early in their career. Books are hard to get published. And it's hard to get tenure if one is betting heavily on a book being published. So I think following the "norm" of training philosophers to write books is setting people up for failure.

Maybe it's in philosophy's best interest, but it's not in *philosophers'* best interests to do this. I also seriously doubt your claim that one can't learn how to write a book after only writing articles for 6-10 years. I know many people who've taken this path.



I don’t think that grad students lack the time to publish. I agree with anon junior prof: grad students are often left alone until 4th/5th year. That’s bad. However, you, Marcus, have previously argued that the way to publish is to overproduce. Doesn’t course work do exactly that? I kept working on papers from courses that I did well on/ had an interest in continuing to work on them and presented several of them at conferences. One of these papers eventually got published in a conference proceeding. Anecdotal, I know, but I think a lot of grad students just don’t manage their time well (we TA 3 courses a year in my program, and I taught outside the university as a course director several times as well). In fact, as I understand things, graduate students have more time to do research than almost anyone (post-docs potentially being the exception).

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: You may be right on both of those counts--that (1) we should not have a book-writing norm for everyone, and (2) people can write good books after focusing only on articles for their first 6-10 years.

My main contentions, though, were more basic: namely, that (A) I think a traditional dissertation trains an early-career philosopher to think more systematically, and (B) I think this is a good thing, educationally and philosophically, and not just for book writing, but for article-writing. I may of course be wrong about the importance of systematicity, the role that traditional dissertations play in developing the ability to think systematically, and the relative value we should place on systematic thought as compared to other things. I'm happy to concede that I may be wrong about all of things. I just think they are things worth discussing and bearing in mind when we think about disciplinary and department norms and practices.


I think systematicity is the wrong goal. Or, at least, I don't think that that's what books *do*. I think in terms of "idea size." Some ideas are very small and can be adequately expressed in 1500 words. Other ideas are bigger and take 4000 words. Others still require 10,000. Books are where we get to express, simply, bigger ideas than we can fit into journal articles: 60,000-120,000 (give or take). That doesn't entail that book-sized ideas are "systematic" philosophy in the sense you seem to mean.

Take my own case: I have papers in each of these length ranges (including a book manuscript). The book isn't "systematic" in your sense…it's just the size project I need to really convey my view on the norms of assertion. I can give bits and pieces in journal articles (and I have), but to really express what needs to be said, it has to be done in the space of a book.

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: Of course not all books are systematic. But, books in general are surely *more* systematic than journal articles. For instance, when you say that some ideas require 4000 words, others 10,000 and others 60-120,000, presumably the differences in "size" of ideas tends to to involve differences in systematicity. This isn't a universal generalization, just a point about tendencies. Parfit's "On What Matters" is super long and super-systematic. A Theory of Justice is super long and super-systematic. Etc. 4,000 articles? Not so much. Even your book (though I haven't read it!) presumably lays out a systematic theory of norms of assertion. You could, I suppose, publish the same thing in a series of articles, but the point is, when one has a systematic view, one tends to put it into book form. That's why you wrote a book, no?

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