In this Issue

Grad Student Corner

In the publish or perish world of academia and research, publishing while studying is essential for our aspiring careers.

By Danielle Panoz-Brown

As graduate students, it is important to develop a plan and a path for publishing early in our careers.

Plan to publish early and often. For most of us, this is easier said than done. Life inevitably gets in the way while juggling the increasing demands of our coursework, training, assistantships and research obligations. Getting published is hard, especially for students like ourselves. Fortunately for us, publishing can come in many forms (e.g., journals, book chapters, reviews), and there are more publishing outlets available today than ever before. First and foremost, we have to learn how to publish. This entails honing our writing skills, our research skills and being productive in the lab, all of which take time. You need to budget this time carefully. To this end, early on in your student career, it is helpful to develop a plan and timeline with your mentor that is in line with your research goals and productivity. It is also worth noting that there may be different publishing demands for early and late career faculty members, so it is important to navigate these concerns and motivations for both you and your advisor. For this, it can be helpful to discuss expectations with your advisor to ensure that the plan serves both of you, a win-win situation.

What, when and where you publish matters. As implied by the headline, publishing while you study rather than waiting until after you defend your dissertation can make you a more competitive candidate when you’re on the job market. Remember, the primary function of the dissertation is to demonstrate our ability to do sustained research and to get us the PhD. However, that does not mean that the dissertation in its form will immediately appeal to journal editors or book editors, the latter of whom are primarily concerned with maximizing their profits. This suggests that you should plan to revise and submit along the way. What you publish is also important. If you plan to publish your work in scholarly journals, at some point you will need to decide what the publishable unit of your research output will be. That is to say, whether it is better for you to have a small number of substantive publications or a large number of least publishable unit (LPU) papers is largely dependent on your career goals and the expectations of your particular subfield.

With that said, there are a few strategic considerations that may be helpful for you to keep in mind as you plot your path. First, it is best to plan for your paper submission stream to be as steady-state as possible, keeping in mind that many journals have delayed lead times from the review process to the date of publication. This can range from weeks to several months depending on the venue. Second, this suggests that it is valuable to construct a productive research program or programs capable of generating steady streams of publishable data. Again, this is where the early planning comes into play. Lastly, to crank out regular publications, you may need to rely on more LPUs than substantive, high-impact or prestigious journals.

Publishing is important for academic and non-academic careers alike. As the competition for scarce positions in academic and non-academic careers rises, having publications under your belt while applying for jobs is key, as many potential employers see it as evidence that a candidate would do well. To research-oriented employers, publishing during PhD is often viewed as an indicator of success, as it demonstrates that one is able to do productive research and publish it following the scrutiny of peer review. In fact, at many research focused institutions (e.g., R1 universities) publishing and teaching is the job. Studies have shown that those who managed to publish while they were graduate students produce more papers throughout their careers (about 30 percent more) and are much more likely to publish every year than those who do not. To this end, if you as an applicant already have a few papers in the bag as a PhD, search committees and heads of departments who are looking for someone to hit the ground running can see you as a much safer bet relative to applicants who have not yet demonstrated their ability to get published. Not only that, but one’s publication record is also considered for career advancement and tenure-track promotions in academia, particularly your capacity to publish independently from your PhD mentors.

Contrary to popular belief, publications can also be important when seeking jobs in industry, albeit for different reasons. So don’t buy into the misnomer that industry doesn’t care about publications. I recently learned this following a series of interviews with chief scientific officers and recruiters in Big Pharma. In this case, publishing helps build your reputation as a scientist. That is, in this context, papers highlight your experience with techniques and expertise in a domain. Publications can also be used to reflect the quality of your ideas, work ethic and transferable skills, such as your ability to work with a team and communicate well.

At the end of the day, academic search committees and industry recruiters want to know if you can do the job, and for many, previous performance is viewed as a reliable predictor of future performance. Thus, if you’re a student who is pursuing these kinds of careers, it is never too early to start aligning your plan, path and skills with their demands.