Wednesday, 30 January 2013

How Much Should You Publish?

I often ask myself the question: How much should I publish? There seems to be a variety of opinions on how much a professional, or aspiring, academic should publish. Answering this question is vital for PhD students and academics who are looking for a tenure-track job.

When it comes to research-based institutions, the answer seems obvious: the more publishing, the better. In fact, you can be denied tenure if you don't publish enough. But how much is enough? Do you need to publish a book to receive tenure? Does your book need to be with a university press? Are certain university presses valued more than others? What about journal articles? Do you need to write a book if you have published a certain number of journal articles? Do all your journal articles need to be peer-reviewed to count towards tenure? These are important questions.

Answering these questions becomes more complicated when you factor in liberal arts colleges and regional state schools. How important are publications when compared to teaching experience? The standard answer is that research-based schools care more about publishing than teaching. But what about liberal arts colleges and regional state schools?

There seems to be no universal answer to what liberal arts colleges want in a professor. I know of cases in which people have actually taken publications off their cv when applying for faculty positions at liberal arts colleges in order to show that they care more about teaching than research. Supposedly, committees at liberal arts colleges can be suspicious of applicants with lots of publications because that can mean a) that person will spend most of his or her time researching and not teaching b) that person is a better writer than teacher c) that person will only take the job as a last resort and intends to move on to a R1 institution. Analyzing this information is fascinating, if you think about it.

In my experience, when I taught at various liberal arts colleges, several of the faculty were content not to publishing anything other than the occasional book review. Yes, they could say that they were "working on" such and such project. But, of course, that "project" would never come to fruition. Why wouldn't professors at liberal arts colleges want to publish? In many cases, I believe there is a simple explanation: they teach a 4-4 (or higher), have committee/advising/club work, and, most importantly, are not required/encouraged/expected by their chairs and/or administrators to publish. If you don't need to publish anything for tenure (or very little), and you are not rewarded for your productivity (recognition, promotion, reduced teaching load, etc.), why would you want to teach a heavy load during the day and spend your spare time in the evenings, away from your family, working on publications? If you teach a heavy load and are not encouraged to publish, wouldn't you only do research if you wanted to leave your school for an institution that did not require as much teaching and valued a higher level of productivity? Or, are there faculty at liberal arts colleges who work on writing projects simply out of intellectual curiosity (or perhaps duty)? Of course, there are liberal arts colleges that are very concerned about publications of their faculty members, and even require them to publish heavily despite a high teaching load.

My original motivation for becoming a professor was to teach. I enjoy interacting with college students and teaching subjects in my field. But I came to believe that I needed to publish to secure a job, whether that would be at a liberal arts college, regional state school, or R1 institution. As I worked on various publications, I developed a love for research in addition to teaching so that now I get anxious if I am not working on a writing project. But even with more than five years of teaching experience, I still don't know how much an academic should publish and how productive a candidate applying for a faculty position should be in order to land the elusive tenure-track job. And, is it possible to publish too much? Perhaps you can enlighten me by answering these questions.

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