Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Should Graduate Students be Encouraged not to Publish?

One argument that graduate students should not publish papers and a good counter argument found in the comments. I Thought this was very interesting, but I feel the argument against publishing would only be applicable at highly ranked universities.

From PEA soup philosophy blog.
Many senior American philosophers strongly advise their graduate students that publishing while in graduate school is a bad idea, and hurts the students' chances on the academic job market. The argument, so far as I understand it, is this.
  1. If the sample of written work that you send in with your job application is drawn from a thesis that is still a work in progress, it will be judged by more lenient standards than a published work, which will be taken as the candidate's final word on the topic.
  2. Your published work will be so salient in the minds of the philosophers who are assessing your application that they will find it hard to forgive you for any flaws that they think they see in the published work.
  3. Indeed, to be ready to write something that is truly worthy of publication, one must have a depth of learning and insight that one can only achieve by first completing one's doctoral dissertation. (It might even be thought somewhat vulgar to rush one's ideas into print -- such people might even stoop to -- blogging ...!)
This argument does not seem even remotely persuasive to me. But I'd like to know what PEA Soupers think!

One good comment: 
It looks to me like Ralph has offered three different arguments. Arguments 2 and 3 look lame to me, but argument 1 relies on an element of truth. I do think that philosophers tend to suffer from a cognitive bias when it comes to comparing job candidates' published work to unpublished work, particularly when it is accompanied by over-the-top letters of recommendation. It's simply easier to forgive some kinds of shortcomings in work in progress, especially when backed up by over-the-top comparisons from people you trust, a fact which people are not good at overcoming. My guess, however, is that at most one or two people a year are in a position to benefit significantly from this kind of advice, and that those one or two people don't really need its payoff.
A fourth argument against publishing which I have heard, is that papers published before you begin your tenure-track job may in some cases be discounted or 'not counted' toward tenure, so if you held onto the same paper and published it later, it would count toward tenure.
Again, I'm not impressed by the argument; the more experience you have going through the process of getting your work published, the easier it will be later times around, so unless you are afraid that you simply won't have enough ideas before you come up for tenure, getting started on learning what it takes to polish something sufficiently for publication, what it takes to make referees (very similar to what it takes to make readers) interested and happy, and how to manage your time and energies while waiting for things which are out under review, the better you will get at these things before your tenure clock puts you in crunch. Moreover, the earlier you get your work published, the more chances it has to be timely and generate a response, and the getting responses to your work is just as important for tenure (and what the whole point is, anyway).
When I was a grad student, I followed Simon Keller's example, and tried a lot to publish. I didn't have any luck at all until after I left grad school, but I don't think a lack of publications helped nab me my first job. I did, however, learn more from the process than from anything else I did in grad school.

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