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Also Concerned

I think the OP's question contains the germ of an answer: we can focus on rewarding good publications rather than number of publications.

Of course, this would require that hiring committees take the time to read enough of candidates publications to judge this—and that doesn't seem highly likely given the number of candidates.

Another problem with this, I guess, is that it only introduces more subjectivity into the equation: you have to write papers that specifically appeal to the people who are on the hiring committee, not just papers that will get accepted into good journals.

Of course, a simpler way might just be to massively reduce the number of students we let into PhD's—since that will presumably reduce the pressure for jobs and so the flow on pressure to publish. But then we will need to decide who gets those PhD positions—and surely having already published in a major journal would be a big help there.

I do think this is a serious issue. When I finished my undergraduate degree I wasn't even aware that publishing in a real journal was an option. Perhaps I just wasn't good enough to get the right encouragement from my (limited) mentors. But I suspect that this publication arms race is only reinforcing the unequal access that accrues to those who happen to go to certain kinds of elite schools in the US (and who have the family, or otherwise, financial resources to take the time to write papers before entering their PhD).

R1 prof

What should we do? Nothing. Honestly, I wouldn't sweat it.

Prodigious publishers, at all stages, are not new anymore. It's also never been a royal road to landing a job (tenure is another story).

Publish 1-3 good pieces and show that you take the rest of our job (e.g. teaching, service, etc.) seriously. Let the prodigious publisher publish at the expense of showing that they don't take the rest of the job seriously.

Publishing is a good thing.

Publishing a lot of papers is not a problem. We should just accept that a publication does not matter as much as it did before. The fact that there are more people doing philosophy is a good thing. People who complain philosophers publish too much should just accept that those days are gone when you could become a professor with your fancy PhD from a Ivy League university and you could have a career without publishing basically nothing. Publishing is the point of academia.

Bill Vanderburgh

I think "R1 prof" nailed it. The marginal utility of having additional publications beyond a couple goods ones by the end of your PhD is negligible. In fact, many search committees will look upon a record of MANY publications suspiciously--either because they will assume you are a flight risk or because they will doubt the quality of the papers (and no, they won't read them to check).

As R1 prof says, instead of publishing more, work on the other elements that make you hirable.

If a student has more publishable papers than this, I suggest they should *save them* and not send them for review until they have a tenure track job. Getting a bunch of publications quickly in a new TT job will make your stock rise quickly, likely leading to early tenure and the pay raise that goes with it. That has a massive impact on your lifetime earnings (every annual increase compounds on a larger base) and on your retirement.


It should be noted that the above commentators are writing (I assume) with PhD students in mind.

If you're into a second postdoc, 4 years out from your PhD, having only 3-4 pubs is going to look fairly light.

That's my impression as a job searcher, but faculty on search committees have said the publication standard raises as you're further out from your PhD.

UK philosopher

I second / third the above points. As someone who has been on hiring committees, the sheer number of publications did not itself carry much weight. We were much more interested in what topics the applicants wrote on, what topics they had taught, how they came across in their personal statement, etc. It was really about "fit" with our department and teaching needs. (I work at a decent, but not tip-top, university in the UK, so this may not be too generalisable). I think there was a publication threshold, in that someone who had none or very few would be fairly quickly discounted, but beyond that there was no advantage in having many more publications than another candidate.


I disagree. If you’re not in a top-8 program, publish as much as you can. It sets job candidates apart.


Have served in one search committee, my feeling is that the stable output of 1-3 papers at decent journals per year after a certain stage is considered productive, which is a big plus. 5-6 papers a year could look suspiciously like an unhealthy obsession with publications. It is no longer a big plus and can, sometimes, hurt. If most positions are like ours, then there is no arm race... only an optimal rate of publication...

stop the arms race, not the human race

@tttt (and anyone else), I’m not sure whether this is the place to ask, but in any case, could you say more about how or why having too many pubs might look bad and why? I understand general concerns about excess as a vicious character trait, but can’t see any other reasons why too many pubs would be bad (though maybe I’m missing something obvious).

So many races

Not sure how relevant this is, but I also notice an arms race in pedagogical achievements. When I was on the market not too long ago, my impression was that having a certificate in course design, say, was a good way to help stand out at schools that care equally or more about about teaching. Having been on a few searches lately, I saw a lot of candidates have a certificate in teaching excellence and a pedagogy award or something. This is all in addition to the publishing arms race….

Markets not Arms

Think of it more as market competition than as an arms race.

UK philosopher

In response to stop the arms race, here are a few thoughts / suggestions:

1. Some places that require staff to teach a lot, it might be worried that someone who publishes loads will not enjoy having a heavy teaching load, as it will reduce their research time.
2. Following on from (1), it might make people worry that the candidate will leave to go to a more research-focused position.
3. Quantity over quality? This may not make the candidate look bad, but could make people dismiss somewhat the number of publications
4. The articles might involve (or appear to involve) lots of hair-splitting, niche point-scoring, or otherwise be making what look to some people to be rather trivial or pointless contributions. This might make people view the candidate a little suspiciously, if these people have a generally critical view of the state of journal publishing ("Why doesn't the person write something proper and meaningful instead?", they may think).

I don't want to be seen to endorse these views, but they could explain why too many publications might become a negative in the eyes of some.

UK philosopher

One additional response to the original OP: On the search committees I have been on, short-listed candidates are asked to submit one writing sample. Thus, if you have twenty journal articles, then that does not really matter. What matters is that we think your single writing sample is excellent.

Thus, if it is a case of writing two or three really interesting, exciting, novel papers, then that could be more advantageous than ten papers on the same topic that amount to relatively minor points-scoring.

Of course, you need a few publications to be in with a shout of being short-listed, but again, in my experience, there's very marginal gain, if any, once you publish more than a certain (relatively small) number of papers.



Sorry if it was confusing. I just meant that it could raise a still-to-be-confirmed suspicion that the person might be publishing at the expense of other things that make them a good addition to the department. All else being equal, having loads of publication is not a minus by itself (at least no one would explicitly say "oh this person has too many publications" but only like the research is a bit too unambitious etc). But as others say, its benefit also becomes very marginal. Even the benefit of the sum of quality and quantity can become marginal. For example, we might say "these five people have excellent publications" or "this person has very exciting projects" and move on to other considerations.

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