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07/09/2020

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Michel

FWIW (and N=1), it doesn't look like my interviews increased with my publications; they stayed at 0-1/year (I did have 2 one year, but then went back to 0 the next). I'm in a low-status subfield with generally low demand, however, so perhaps that accounts for the difference.

I absolutely had more success publishing once I had more stuff ready and under review. And once I'd cracked the code, it became easier to judge what kind of work I needed to put in to make something publishable. I've never quite managed to have ten articles under review at a time, but I usually have 3-5 and once got as high as 8. The trouble is that all it takes is a string of acceptances, and all of a sudden you need to come up with three, four, or five new papers.

What I do have, however, is a steady pipeline. So even though I may only have 3-5 under review at a time, I'm usually sitting on another 2-3 that came back as rejections and are awaiting a touchup before being sent out again, and have another 2-3 in different stages of the drafting process. Depending on how busy I am with teaching, I generally try to either write or fix up one paper a month. I often fall a little short, because I have a heavy teaching load and life sometimes interferes (as do R&Rs!), but it's a good, steady pace that's showing lots of results.

One piece of advice I'd give is to pay attention to CFPs. If they're for a special edition or collection, great--it's often a little easier to publish in those (although the conventional wisdom is that they're also lower-status pubs). But even when they're for conferences, CFPs often list possible topics, and these are usually fairly trendy. So, regardless of whether you're aiming for a special issue or collection, CFPs are actually a pretty good place to mine paper ideas, even if you don't plan to send your paper in response to that call. The same goes for essay prizes, too.

Ed

"I don't know how much things have changed, but for what it is worth when I collected some informal data 8 years ago, the data broadly supported this view: a significant number of grad students who received jobs out of top programs indeed had no publications. Have things changed since then? I'd be very interested to hear!"

I'd say that for the most part, yeah, things have changed. Grad students at top programs now go on the market with ~2 publications in top journals.

I can't find it, but there's a thread from a couple of years back where Velleman argues for a kind of moratorium on grad student publishing. In response, many people claimed that this would disadvantage folks from lower ranked departments, who use publishing as a way of "making up" for their program's lower-ranked status. Velleman then predicted, in response, that if the publishing arms race continued, that grad students from top programs would just end up publishing in top journals, and we'd end up right back where we started, with program prestige still influencing hiring decisions significantly.

I hate to admit it, but I think Velleman was exactly right about this.

anon

While agree with the overall thrust of the "have lots of things under review" idea, I think there are some ways to approach it that are mentally easier than ramping up from nothing to ten.

For instance, most people graduating from my program have 4-5 chapter dissertations. It doesn't make a lot of sense to tell them to also have a second dissertation's worth of papers done right off the bat, but I do think that it makes sense to submit every chapter as it's completed, with a goal to having 2-3 things under review at once.

Then, a year or two out from the dissertation, you've had the time to start some more projects, and maybe one dissertation chapter still isn't published yet, so it becomes achievable to have 3-5 things under review. And so on.

Overseas TT

I'll be blunt. When I was in grad school we received the exact same advice (to not publish but focus on the dissertation).

With a couple of exceptions, those of us from my program who now have jobs are people who politely listened and then ignored the advice. You should ignore it too because it's bad advice.

Douglas W. Portmore

I strongly disagree with this: "the best strategy to ensure that you get 1 good publication per year is to have 10 articles under review at any given time (10% acceptance rate + 1-year-to-acceptance + 10 papers = 1 likely publication per year)." I've never had 10 papers under review at a given time. The most that I've had under review at a given time is, I think, 4. Typically, though, it's been more like two or three. I can't imagine having ten paper projects that would be worth publishing in good journals up in the air at one time. I would think it would be much better to focus on two or three and really delve deep into them, researching them thoroughly, and honing your thoughts and writing by revising over and over again. Trying to have ten papers out at a time (especially in graduate school) seems more likely to ensure that you have no publications and just 10 crappy papers circulating. In any case, it's clearly faulty to reason as follows: "10% acceptance rate + 1-year-to-acceptance + 10 papers = 1 likely publication per year." For obviously my daughter could submit ten of her high-school papers each year and this wouldn't equate to her likely getting one publication per year in a good philosophy journal. It's not a numbers game. It's a quality game.

Julia

I review a lot of stuff, and I review a lot of papers that should never have been sent out. I also supervise graduate students, and I think it's true for most students at low to mid-tier programs that it takes them a while to write papers that are worthy of publication. I wholeheartedly endorse the advice that graduate students should start publishing as early as possibly, but not if that means sending out lots of half-baked stuff. The advice of having ten things under review at once sounds absolutely ridiculous to me. How can most of this stuff be any good, or make more than minor contributions to a debate? My advice would be that students should think of dissertation chapters as self-standing papers that should be sent out as soon as they are ready, and if a student has some side projects that pan out, that's great too. But there is no formula, no student should think that they need to write n more papers just to meet these arbitrary "under review" numbers.

AD

I think any reasonably motivated graduate student can, if they are not too lazy, always have about 5 publishable quality papers under review. (This should be especially easy after coursework, but one way to make it easier when you have coursework is to write your term papers as journal articles.)

David

I published one paper during my PhD and a few months later, I wish I'd sent out more.

My strategy was to finish the dissertation, then start pushing more papers out. The result is a large bottleneck of papers that has me pushing against journal submission limits, cursing the closure of Nous/PPR, and generally trying to manage more papers at one time than I can handle.

I'm glad I didn't put out stuff before it was ready. But I wish I had aimed for a more gradual change than the zero to 360 strategy of letting papers wait until the dissertation is done. I know from conversations with other early career folks that I'm not the only one who made this mistake.

Amanda

I've published a decent amount (more than 1 paper a year. I think I submit more than most. Yet I also find the idea of having 10 papers under review at once completely nuts. If it works for some of you, then hey, you've found what works for you - cool. However, to suggest that strategy as a general guideline seems misguided.

On the one hand, I *do* think many philosophers are too hesitant to submit. Still, you can correct for this with aiming for 3-4 papers under submission - 10 is overkill. In the end, I'd say that each philosopher should experiment, learn about their intellectual strengths and weaknesses, and also about their psychological dispositions. Focusing on quality will work for some, while more quantity focused will work for others. I'd say the key is experimentation and self-knowledge/self-acceptance.

On the publishing game: I think it is far too simplistic to think of publishing as a quantity game, but I am not sure it's a quality game either. I think that most papers submitted to journals are of similar quality, and most papers published are of similar quality (published papers seem to average a bit higher quality than not published ones, although plenty of not published papers are just as good as published ones.) Every once and a while there is an extraordinary paper, but honestly, most papers I see published in journals, even the "top" ones, are not exceptional. I would guess they could easily be replaced by other papers that were rejected. It is like looking at the difference in mile times in olympic athletes. It's a tiny difference between 1st and 10th place. But with running, you luckily have an objective measurement tool. With philosophy, we have the same closeness in quality without the measurement tool. It is unsurprising that there is a lot of luck involved in publishing.

I also think that there is a point of negative return re publishing. I doubt grad students usually get to this point. However, I can think of some well-established philosophers who have gone just a little wacky with volume of publications, and what seems to happen is people pay less attention to their work. I think this is because most of us can only hold so much in our mind at one time, and we only have so many hours in a day. If Professor so and so publishes 10 papers a year, most of us will feel overwhelmed and not try to keep up with so and so, where if so and so published 1-3 papers a year people could keep up, and hence the work is read more and talked about more.

Can a grad student have 5 papers under review? I think this would depend on their work load. If they are just doing the typical TAship then yes, that is plausible for most. But when you start a job you will be doing a lot more work, and then 5 at any given time becomes implausible. I do submit at least 5 papers a year, usually more, but I just don't have that many out at any given time.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: I entirely agree with you, Douglas, and Julia that the 10 paper strategy seems ridiculous--and I don't think it's advisable for most people to follow (for many reasons).

That being said, I don't think it's "completely nuts." When I was first given the advice (again, by two different people independently!), I thought it was absolutely absurd. But I saw that both of those people were highly successful and they have since gone on to receive tenure in pretty prestigious departments. Indeed, just about anyone reading this blog would recognize these people's names and relative stature in their areas of focus. So it clearly worked for them.

Anyway, since my back was against the wall on the market (I had only one 3-page publication and was getting few interviews), I figured what the hell, what do I have to lose? So, I did it. I got ten papers under review, and couple of years later I published 9 articles over a two-year period. And what do you know? I started getting a ton of interviews and flyouts. So it worked for me too.

Long story short: the 10 paper strategy *is* absurd, and it would probably be very bad if most people tried it. Then again, sometimes absurd things work. We live in a pretty absurd world after all, and sometimes "going for broke" can be worth it.

Anyway, my main intended point in this post wasn't to recommend the 10-paper strategy. It was instead that (as you and Julia both suggest), the best publishing strategy for a person depends a heck of a lot on context. If, for example, you are coming out of a top program and in line for a research job, then I think Douglas is probably right: it's a quality game, not a numbers game. However, if you are *not* coming out of a top program and are more in line for a job at a teaching institution, then I'm sorry: my experience is that is very much is a numbers game. People at teaching institutions care a lot about how much you publish (viz. enough to get tenure and look productive), and a heck of a lot less about where you publish.

Evan

Do hiring committees hold it against applicants who have lots of co-authored papers? If not, then perhaps co-authoring can help alleviate some of the burdens (e.g. physical & intellectual burdens) of writing 10 papers by oneself.

I noticed that humanity articles tend to be self-authored while the sciences tend to be co-authored.

Michel

The preference in philosophy is absolutely for single-authored papers. I don't think there's anything wrong with having co-authored pieces, but you want to anchor them with lots of single-authored pubs. My impression is that this is especially important the earlier you are in your career; as you accumulate experience and single-authored pubs, nobody will bat an eye at co-authored material. But if all or most of what you have is co-authored stuff, it's likely to raise concerns.

Evan

Michel:

Thanks for your answer. Since you didn’t offered a lot of explanation, I’ll try to flesh out what I suspect is at issue with philosophy’s preference for single-authorship.

I can understand it might raise concerns if in fact the committees care more about having philosophy faculties who can write for themselves as it may be construed as sign of quality (innovation?) or competence.

However, I’m skeptical about the competence part since we don’t really question a scientist’s competence even if most of her works were co-authored. I never questioned my science professors’ competence or even raised concerns simply because they co-authored most of their works. It’s possible to be competent and still collaborate with others. Thus, it remains unclear whether co-authorship would be an indication of incompetence *per se * on the part of applicants. If anything, co-authorship might be a sign that they take epistemological risks (e.g. “blindspots”) seriously.

It might be the first option: single authorship is a sign of quality or (even) innovation. However, it still remains unclear since Amanda said that from her experience, hiring committees rarely ever read the applicant’s work to determine the quality (or innovation) of papers in the first place.

And also she wrote: “Every once and a while there is an extraordinary paper, but honestly, most papers I see published in journals, even the "top" ones, are not exceptional. I would guess they could easily be replaced by other papers that were rejected.”

It seems like most of these single-authored articles are satisfactory (not excellent) at best in terms of quality. Given these reasons and the amount of unclarity in terms of the evaluation of quality of single-authored papers from hiring committees, I think the preference for single-authorship cannot be adequately justified on this “quality” reason. Unless the hiring committees actually believe that single-authored papers are of higher quality than co-authored papers, I fail to see how they can justify preferring mostly single-authored papers since there isn’t any empirical data (that I know of) to backup such a belief yet.

Perhaps, it’s the *essence* or necessary criteria of philosophy for philosophy papers to be written by a single author. If that’s true, then all the co-authored philosophy papers aren’t philosophy then.

I suspect that the main reason why single-authorship in philosophy is preferred is because it’s tradition; it’s just traditional for philosophers to write mostly by themselves. Hence the term “armchair philosopher/y.” Whether or not this is an adequate justification for preferring mostly single-authored papers, is up to philosophers to decide.

anon

Evan: I think the issue with only having co-authored work is that it's hard to judge the individual contributions of each author. Having talked to political scientists, where co-authored work is much more common but single-authored work is still considered the linchpin of a scholar's record, this is the main concern when someone exclusively co-authors. This is exacerbated by gender (likely other social categories, but I've only seen discussion of gender) concerns: studies have shown that when women co-author, their work is judged much more negatively than when men co-author (since the likely assumption is that the male co-author did all or most of the work -- though not sure what happens when there are two female co-authors).

Evan

Anon: Thank you for your comment and insights on co-authorship. I suppose hiring committees care a lot about contribution. That is, if by ‘contribution’ we mean the quantity and hence the amount of work an individual scholar did.

But still, it remains unclear as to whether a scholar’s single-authored work (in philosophy in particular) is considered an *actual* linchpin of their career since Amanda said that hiring committees rarely ever *read* the works to determine quality in the first place. I suppose individual quantitative contribution can be considered *the* linchpin if quantity matters more than quality.

But if that’s true, then it seems like that is an inadequate (and naive) way to assess the value of the work published given what Amanda has written about her experience of reading articles i.e. most articles are average at best in terms of quality.

Maybe scholars should be more careful about what they consider to be linchpins of their career. Having just one exceptional and tremendously fruitful article as opposed to twenty average and unfruitful articles can make a difference towards not only academic knowledge, but the world as well.

I suppose we’re back at the issue of quantity vs. quality. It would be nice if a scholar has both, but those are rare individuals.

As for the stereotype and biases of women who co-author with men, hiring committees and readers alike must keep their impulsive assumptions on a leash.

Amanda

It might not be fair, but especially for early career philosophers, single authored papers are preferred. This will vary some according to your speciality. If you work in a speciality where co-authoring is the norm, then it won't be held against you to the same degree. Also, if your co-authored papers are in the very best journals, and authored with another grad student or young scholar (as opposed to an established professor) these things mitigate the negative assumptions re co-authoring.

Evan - the issue of quantity vs. quality is more of an issue of quantity vs perceived quality. Some professors do not read writing samples closely, especially if they are out of their research area, but in these cases recommendations or journal venues stand-in for that and indicate quality. I find that those who completely trust their own judgement on quality tend to be at the very tippy-top schools, and that is not applicable to most applicants. As for co-authoring, sure, it might not be justified, but it happens.

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