Publishing Strategery

Pre-tenure faculty do an awful lot of worrying about getting tenure, but my general feeling has been that it’s not rocket science. Publish, bring in grant money, don’t completely suck at teaching, and help out the department once in a while, right? At two years in, I’m pretty solid in the last three, but it’s been brought to my attention that the fact I haven’t published any new data yet is a matter of concern.

Now, it obviously varies by field and by lab, but for the kind of work I do the idea that you could walk into an empty space, buy everything you need, hire people, train people, optimize techniques, run experiments, analyze data, prepare a manuscript AND make it all the way through peer review in 2 years is pure fantasy–even if you weren’t also writing grants and teaching undergrads at the same time.  So I was pretty surprised to hear so soon that this is something people are talking about. When I pushed for a little more information, I learned that the assumption isn’t that we’re sitting around playing Candy Crush all day, but that I’m “saving” our data for a high-profile paper, and that I should re-think my publishing strategy in order to get something out ASAP.

I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me to have a “publishing strategy.” My plan when I got the keys to the lab was to do the experiments I wanted to do the most, and take it from there. I’m not holding out for a Nature paper, but nor do I want my lab to spend their time doing a couple of crap experiments for the sake of publishing. These first few years are when I truly define myself as an independent scientist, and I want to create a body of work that is both noticed and respected.

I don’t like the feeling that my department is worried about my productivity, but I still feel pretty sure that I’m doing things the right way. I know that by the time I actually turn in my tenure dossier (in 3 years!), we’re definitely going to have a bunch of papers. We just submitted our first to a nice society journal, and have 2 smaller ones that should be good to go by the end of the summer. Things are progressing! But I wonder, should I have had a more concrete “strategy” coming into this gig, or is most folks’ goal just to have a solid packet by the time tenure decisions roll around?


9 thoughts on “Publishing Strategery

  1. Pingback: I was supposed to have a plan? | Fumbling Towards Tenure Track

  2. So long as your strategy isn’t what your dept mentors were rightly worried about, you should be fine. The real issue is developing the intuition for what package of data is sufficient to merit publication in a particular journal. I guess that is more tactics than strategy.

  3. I have thought about ‘strategizing’ a bit as I’m going into my TT position with a few large datasets that I could continue to publish off of, and my teaching load will make it tough to get new projects off the ground for a few years. But I’m not sure if new publications based on “old” data will count, even if they are based on questions and analyses I came up with at the new place. I wonder if papers will only count towards tenure if my postdoc advisors aren’t coauthors.

  4. For fear of not having any papers from my lab out soon enough, I consented to a bunch of collaborations in my first 2 years. I did get some middle authorships that nicely round out the CV (and give me credibility should I choose to propose something on a grant related to what my collaborators do). But now, the ghosts of those agreements — projects where others dragged their feet for a year — are interfering with my getting my papers out. So I would echo the common sentiment and tell TT people to say “no” more.

  5. It kind of sounds like they would feel more comfortable just knowing that you have stuff in the pipeline. I don’t think you need a full-blown strategy, but rather a sense of when you’d like to get out or when you’re targeting certain publications/data, etc. As an associate prof who’s now mentoring junior faculty, I would be more worried about someone that doesn’t have *any* pubs in the pipeline by the time third year review rolls around than someone who doesn’t have a pub but has things at various stages of the pipeline (about to be submitted, under review, revise and resubmit, etc). This may be the message your department is trying to send you. So maybe some well-placed conversations are all that’s needed here. Good luck!

  6. Maybe the key here is to casually chat with colleagues about your plans and timeline. Sounds like you do have a plan….so why didn’t they know this?

  7. I’m young for my TT position and look even younger (most people peg me at 25). I have to pick what I wear based on perception, but if I go too structured I look like I’ve raided my mothers/aunts/sister’s wardrobe and am playing dress-up.

    I’ve found that a happy middle ground of being funky and fashionable (classic not de jour) worked for my interviews (including knee high red wonder woman boots) and I don’t plan to change it for my teaching. Yes you have to look professional, but how you stand, speak and convey your opinions matters more than how you look (as long as neat and tidy). Nothing is worse than being sweaty and nervous in a pant suit hiding in your chair when a sweater and court shoes would let you stand up and be heard. Be comfortable and confident and the rest follows.

  8. It seems to me that you DO have a publishing strategy – you just never framed it in those terms in your own head. Maybe you should go back to your committee and say you have taken their advice (people always like to hear that),and here is your publishing strategy written down – and then paraphrase your final para starting with “…I feel pretty sure….” and ending with “…”Things are progressing…” and then give details of some of the progression and the minutiae of the paper you have already submitted to. That seems a strategy to me.

    Also, what is the difference between a ‘research strategy’ and a ‘publications strategy’???? You can’t have one without the other, in either direction. You certainly have a ‘research strategy’.

    As adalal said, “maybe some well-placed conversations are all that’s needed…” – but when you have them, I stronly suggest you BE POSITIVE and pro-active and DO NOT APOLOGISE or feel guilty. At least make them believe you know what you are doing.

    My experience is that i was disadvantaged by being persuaded to ‘wait until you get more/better results’. In retrospect, i should have published what I had, when I had it, when it made a coherent story even if that story wasn’t yet complete. In the end, I presented at a small, local conference and it was well received … particularly the problems I had, which were held up to students for years afterwards to help them to NOT fall into the same holes. Perhaps it had a greater effect that way, but it certainly didn’t help either my publication record or my self-respect.

  9. One thing that is important about publishing sooner rather than later is that you want the people to have had the time to digest and start to cite your work. A guy at my place was indeed holding out for a Nature paper in year 4, and he did get it, but on account of it did not travel very much (so as not to show people the data) so at tenure time that hurt him, he did not travel enough, people did not hear of him, an while most did hear about the Nature paper it had not been around enough for his letter writers to claim it was really influential. His tenure decision was really rocky (first denial, then in year 7 acceptance; he’s doing great now).
    You should definitely have high criteria for your work, as you apparently do, but papers still need to come out sooner rather than later. I would say that if you were in my department people would tell you that they were concerned with no papers at the end of year 2, and I am in a physical science field. The unwritten expectation is that in year 1 you are ramping up and wrapping up papers with old group, in year 2 you are already submitting first papers with your own group and maybe some collaborative ones, in years 3 and 4 you publish your most important papers (from the tenure perspective) that people who write the tenure evakuation letters will discuss, as these are the papers they will have seen discussed at conferences and these papers will have time to garner citations by the time tenure decision comes around. (Year 5 papers are important, but more so for the number. Unless they make a huge splash, they generally don’t get discussed much by the letter writers, at least in my experience.)
    Good luck!

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