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08/04/2020

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Mike

In general I'm always surprised to hear of first, second, or even third year graduate students sending stuff off to be published. I know this observation is just anecdotal, but no one I knew that early in their PhD was writing publishable stuff. I tried sending stuff out my third year of graduate school. It was all rejections. In hindsight, looking back at those papers, they weren't just bad, they weren't publishable (for many reasons). I think the development, in philosophy and writing (and scholarship), needed to produce publishable work takes years. Most people (it seems to me) aren't at that level until the end of graduate school (which is the whole point of graduate school, to get you to that level).

The thought of someone who is just finishing their *undergrad*, who hasn't started their grad program, sending stuff out sounds ... well, it sounds like a really bad idea. The odds that you actually have publishable papers are *extremely* low --- well under 1%. Now, as Marcus and others have said, if a prof in your PhD program tells you they're publishable, that's different. By all means, submit them. But without that signal, the prior probability is vanishingly small.

As others have said, the peer review system isn't a mechanism to get feedback or to find out if you have a publishable paper. It's way overburdened as it is, etc. So, you're not being a good philosophy citizen by sending stuff out, in your case.

If you're really anxious to send stuff out, send it to conferences, maybe?

Recent grad

There’s obviously some tension here between this advice and other suggestions you see elsewhere about professionalization, which encourage you to professionalize as early as possible—and professionalizing means publishing.

I think it is better to err on the side of publishing early, or at least trying to. The fact is that unless you are at a top program, you will need publications in order to get a job, and the only way to get them is to try to send things out. It will probably take a few tries (or more) in order to land the first one, and the experience you gain will be valuable.

Now that I am on the other side of the job market, I am less worried about Marcus’s concern (2) in his response above. A publication which isn’t very good is only likely to hurt you—and probably will hurt you—if you are going for research jobs. For other jobs, as long as the journal is a real philosophy journal, basically any publication is going to help you. In most of my Skype interviews and even on the flyouts (almost all teaching-oriented jobs), it was clear that almost no one had read my writing sample or previously-published papers. No one brought them up or cared at all.,

However, as I write this, I recognize that this advice applied to the pre-corona job market. We’ll know better six or seven weeks from now, but if there are as few new jobs as I fear there might be, then discussions like this one are going to be pretty pointless.

Marcus Arvan

Recent grad: I think you are absolutely right! As I’ve said on this blog on multiple occasions, the only evidence that has been collected on this is that “bad” publications actually help on academic job markets. So I’m bullish on publishing early and often. It’s better to publish too early than too late.

What I don’t think, though, is that the OP who wrote in for this thread should just start sending things out before they even start their PhD program or have any idea of what anyone in the program thinks of the work in question. There’s little harm in them getting a second or third opinion on the work by faculty in their new program before thinking of sending out, and a lot to be gained from it (including, of course, feedback on the work itself).

Tim

My opinion is slightly different. Some advice on this topic may be given on your current academic situation, e.g., being an early (=non-ABD?) graduate student. On its own, I don't think this is relevant (setting aside issues of professionalization). What's relevant is whether the paper is, as a matter of fact, publishable. The relevance of being an early graduate student is that your ability, on your own, to evaluate whether the paper is publishable is not particularly good yet. So you may have a lot of false positives on your own work--thinking it is publishable when it is not.

I would recommend getting advice from your professors. That is what I did in graduate school. If I was interested in publishing a paper, I would normally request two rounds of feedback. First, an initial round of feedback. (This might come in the form of comments for a final paper.) I would use this feedback to revise. Second, a second and final round of feedback where I explicitly asked the professor if they thought that the paper was or could be publishable and, if so, what journals might they recommend. This strategy was mildly effective. I published three papers in this way and was (wisely) warned away from two others.

I recognize that this strategy requires professors to give feedback. And that is sometimes hard. But until one is able to build up a better sense of what papers are publishable or not, advice from one's graduate professors can be quite useful.

anon

I think that it's fine for OP to send these articles off - the worst thing that could happen is that they get published.

That being said, I agree with Marcus that year 1 of the PhD is *so* early that it's also fine to wait for a while. Waiting a bit might turn out to be useful - the papers might get better, either through OP's judgment changing over the course of the next year or two, or the OP getting some feedback from their new professors.

Also, OP, I would say that even if you aren't a current UG student anymore, it would be fine to ask your letter writers - profs from your former UG institution, I assume - for some feedback.

Evan

This reminds me of two sub-species of guidance (species of teaching): reference and suggestion. For example, a high school *guidance* counselor will *refer* her students to many resources (e.g., educational resources, financial resources, and social resources). He or she will point-to things for her students to follow and/or do. Referring to something always involves pointing-to something (direct or indirect).

However, the counselor will also *suggest* students things as a form of giving advice/wisdom. Thus, guidance is both referential and suggestive.

In this case, professors and advisors who want to guide students should refer them to cutting edge and up-to-date researches, theories, arguments, and/or high-quality educational resources. It’s about keeping students on their toes so they won’t fall behind in terms of inquiry and professionalization as Marcus said.

It also involves, as Marcus wrote, providing advice for students on how to improve their thinking and papers and/or suggest them an alternative route or plan altogether.

Guidance is often an indirect way of teaching students things. But nevertheless, it can still be instrumental depending on the quality and quantity of the references and suggestions provided. A teacher and former philosophy major Bruce Lee utilized this method of teaching as well. It worked well for him and his students.

Thus, students should seek guidance from their professor(s) first before publishing.

RJM

Just wanted to push back against the suggestion that you need years of grad school to write publishable stuff. If this were true, nobody who did their PhD in the UK (typically 4 year undergrad, then 1 year MA if you ignore Oxford, then 3-4 year PhD) would be able to publish anything in a reputable journal. But this isn’t the case. I had papers accepted in my 1st, 2nd and 3rd years of my PhD and I am far from unique. Writing publishable papers is a skill and like all skills you can acquire it if you put in some effort. Those who decry the quality of the papers that result may have a point, but that point applies far more widely than they perhaps intend. Just look at an issue of Phil Studies and you will find many papers with the supposed vices of narrowness, ignoring relevant literature, etc. In general I think it is a bad idea as a student to hold yourself up to a higher standard than faculty members but some of the advice here seems to do that.

Evan

I think the aim here is to publish as much as one can and should under a constraint, which is doing it under the guidance and feedback of one’s professor(s). This can occur early on or later.

Based on other posts, it’s clear that having a lot of published works can increase the chances of one’s job security.

However, I have some words of wisdom to professors: feedback should be done cautiously and wisely. It’s evident that graduate school is difficult and so harsh criticisms can be harmful to the student’s morale and self-esteem.

There are three species of evaluation that need to be considered when giving it to students: 1) suggestion, 2) affirmation, and 3) negation.

1. Two sub-species of suggestions are: recommendation and advice. When neccessary, recommend students alternative plans, routes, and/or other literatures to read. As well, give them advice on how to improve their writing. Suggestion implies adding-to the student’s work and thinking. Recommendation is thus referential while advice is procedural. Suggestion isn’t always necessary in feedback, but it may be useful when there is a need for it.

2. Two sub-species of affirmation are: praise and appreciation. When evaluating the student’s work, find things to praise them about. If they excel in writing clearly, then let them know. It indicates to them that that is what they should continue to do and not have to worry about constantly; it weeds out unnecessary aims for refinement(s), which can be a waste of their time. Appreciating a student’s work is telling them which aspect(s) of their work is fruitful to the literature and/or academic community at large. It reassures them that they truly belong there and that their effort and purpose in the academic community aren’t in vain.

3. Two sub-species of negation are: criticism and correction. Suggestion and affirmation are the sweet sides of evaluation while negation is the bitter side (at least to those of the receiving end it). Criticism always entails some sort of disapproval of a particular thing. In this case, it’s the student's work. Criticism should be done in a professional manner and tone. It’s about identifying things in their work that are wrong, fallacious, unfruitful, unconvincing, incoherent, etc. This is where all of our relevant criteria are used as reference for critiquing. Correction is probably less harsh because it aims and functions to fix the student’s mistakes e.g., grammar, structure, definitions.

Feedback should be pursued and done with care.

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