Posts Tagged ‘Publish or Perish’

As a graduate student approaching the job market I heard a few stories about people who initially got jobs at less than ideal institutions and then published their way into better opportunities.  When I was on the job market this was even one of the reasons that I was advised to turn down a job with a 4-4 teaching load.  The implication is that candidates who receive jobs that they like only have to publish enough to satisfy the tenure expectations of their institutions while those who receive jobs that they don’t like need to publish more in order to make themselves attractive to potential future employers.

Given the current uncertainty in higher education (which you can read about here and hear about on your nightly news when state budgets are proposed) I think that the first of those statements is wrong.  Rather than being able to lower their publication standards to match the expectations of their institution, I think that faculty members at all institutions are facing a situation in which a strong publication record is a life vest.  While you may hope that you never have to use it, this life vest will be crucial if you should find yourself needing to abandon ship in these uncharted academic waters.  As those who are on the job market know, there aren’t enough life boats for everybody so your publication record may mean the difference between academic life and death.

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A while ago I “wrote” to a journal editor who had spurned a paper that I wrote and, despite the fact that the paper was later published and received some media attention, the publication process was painful.  Even before first R&R, the paper was rejected at multiple venues.  While the final product was arguably a better paper, I wouldn’t have minded an acceptance at a much earlier stage.

Publication, it turns out, is not always so painful.  Over the summer I submitted a paper for review and there were several notable differences from my earlier experience.  First, I received the editor’s decision within a month.  The dear journal editor in my previously mentioned situation, by comparison, took three months to inform me that he was rejecting my revised and resubmitted paper without review.  The largest difference, however, was in the outcome.  Based on the quick turnaround, I was apprehensive about opening the e-mail and pleasantly surprised to see that the paper had received a conditional acceptance, the holy grail of review outcomes.

If publication was always this painless I may have been content at an R1 institution.  They have small class sizes and value teaching, right?

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There is an interesting post on Inside Higher Ed about Michèle Lamont’s How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, which examines peer review panels.  As a graduate student, I’ve been curious about peer review processes in general, as I’ve experienced successes and failures in peer-reviewed publications and grant competitions.

I suspect that little will change in regard to these processes in my future life as a junior faculty member, but I wonder how my choice of institution will affect my desire to run the publication gauntlet.  Coming from a “publish or perish” department, I have a strong desire to get my work published in order to contribute to the body of sociological knowledge.  I also want to publish in well-regarded journals in order to increase the chance that others will actually be aware of my contributions.  At the liberal arts school where I will be employed, however, expectations for publication are much lower than for junior faculty in my current program and the fact that a paper went through peer review is more important than the name on the front of the journal.

Higher expectations for research often come with fewer teaching obligations and graduate student collaborators, allowing faculty to maintain multiple projects and submit a lot of papers for review.  At most liberal arts schools, teaching loads are higher and there are no graduate students with whom to collaborate, which I expect results in fewer concurrent projects and fewer submissions for review.  As a student I have watched papers go through numerous review cycles at multiple journals before receiving an R&R or conditional acceptance.  In one case, this process took years.  A large part of the reason for this was that the authors submitted their paper first to a top generalist journal, then to highly-ranked specialty journal, then to another specialty journal, before being accepted at yet another specialty journal that, while still good, does not have as much cachet as the earlier destinations.

Although I want to publish in highly-ranked journals, I am unlikely to have years to devote to the publication of a single paper as a junior faculty member at a liberal arts school.  In time, I wonder if this desire will fade in favor of running a more forgiving gauntlet that is equally supported by my tenure review committee while fewer outside of my institution are aware of my contributions to sociological knowledge.

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