Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strategic publishing

I am entering a phase in my career that I always dreaded on the outside looking in at the TT. This is the phase of strategic publishing. At this point in my career, I need to think about how, when, and where to publish in terms of the impact to my tenure file. So now, in addition to the science, the target audience for the work, and the impact factor of the target journal, I also need to think about the time to publication, my rate of publications (will there be big gaps? a feast or famine pattern?), and the possibility of someone either scooping us or publishing very similar experiments before we can (much more likely).

I was largely shielded from this reality at National Lab--we needed to have 2 papers a year, but that isn't too hard with appropriate levels of collaboration. Merit increases were definitely tied to having high impact publications, but since the timeframe was year to year, I just published when I was ready in the "best" journals that would publish the results.

I am finding this kind of depressing. I was always the type of researcher who mocked the "least publishable unit/slicing the salami" style of publication, but now I can really see the temptation. I can see the changes in my own work already--there is some data we have now that we are writing up as a communication. If I were still at National Lab, I would probably hold it back for some additional experiments, but I am too worried about other groups working in this area publishing first to let it go longer. It is too risky to me to hold on for more data, since we have a full story already. I really wish this weren't the case, but there it is.

I need to have a good publication year this year, and that is starting to trump other considerations. This is one of the realities of the TT that I knew was coming, but is still upsetting. I am still in a good place, after all, I have data that is good for publication in excellent speciality journals, but it is harder than I thought it would be to make the call.


Bashir said...

I understand the issue with scooping, and least publishable units.

What would happen if there were "gaps". I don't see how anything could be concluded if instead of 2 publications for 2 years, you had 0 and 4. The timing of the publication process is just so variable.

Namnezia said...

My strategy was to get some decent but not so flashy papers out within the first couple of years and then try for the flashier stuff once you have established that you can publish independently. I wouldn't sacrifice a potentially good paper to a crappy journal unless you are getting desperate.

Of course I still don't know if my strategy will pay off...

GMP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GMP said...

I second Namnezia's recommendation. You need to have something on your own in year 2 or 3 at the very latest, letters/communications are fine.

Let me repeat the horror story of a colleague who held off for a GlamourMag and published zilch before it (it came out in year 3 of his TT I think). His tenure case didn't go so well because (a) the work didn't have the time to permeate enough into the community before tenure time, so he was still not known, and that one paper wasn't as big of an immediate splash [picked up in fame later] and he also didn't travel or discuss the work as much as he should have [again, holding off for GlamourMag] (b) he wasn't able to bring the total publication numbers to a respectable levels after a 3-year famine, even though he published quite well after the GlamourMag paper. Bottom line -- it may be a GlamouMag, but it's still just one paper.

If you have something solid, just get it out as soon as you can in a decent reputable journal (with preferably short turnaround times). It's good for the students and good for your case. Once you have accumulated some papers, and have a few senior students and junior ones in the pipeline cranking out less flashy work, you can afford to start holding off for something flashy on the very good data.

Don't feel bad, it's not selling out. Consider this just a temporary adjustment in tactics to optimize your output and ensure tenure.

Massimo said...

That is one of the great things about looking at citations, rather than publications. If you papers get cited, who cares where they are published ? If they don't get cited, the fact that they are published in journals of high impact will make little difference, I think. In general, my sense is that publications are important mostly to the extent that they offer an assessment of one's international profile and reputation. I don't think that the TT is the mere "bean counting" that many describe it to be.

GMP said...

If you papers get cited, who cares where they are published ? If they don't get cited, the fact that they are published in journals of high impact will make little difference, I think.

Totally agree. But, a caveat: with TT, the clock is ticking, and sometimes papers take a few years to pick up in the number of citations (depends on the field's pace)...

Professor in Training said...

You need to have something on your own in year 2 or 3 at the very latest

In the biomedical sciences, this may not be feasible. At this point, it's important to show progress and that papers are in the pipeline.

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comments! This has been helpful to me in solidifying decisions I knew all along I had to make. That sellout feeling is a hard one, even if publishing now is the right decision for me and my students.

I think your strategy is the right one for me. especially since there is a chance I will get some credit for my time at National Lab and therefore go up a little early. I need to get some independent publications out there to do that.

I appreciate your thoughtful comments, as always. Having tried for GlamourMags at National Lab, I know that even getting eventually rejected can sometimes take more than a year of back and forth, which is time I don't have. At this point, I am deciding between tiers in much more specialized (but well regarded) journals.

I agree with GMP that you are correct in the long run, but I need to publish in order to get cited! I still have the naive belief that good work will rise to attention no matter where it is first published. But it certainly is easier to get noticed in top tier journals. National Lab was dominated by bean counters, and I do see more and more of it in academia as well. I don't think it is a bad thing to consider, although I certainly don't believe that the accountants are as dominant here.

Thanks for the comment. As a physical scientist, I am expected to have publication worthy stuff right off the bat. I think it would be pretty scary to be a biomedical researcher and spend such a long time in data limbo.

Yael said...

DM and Dr Becca are biomed scientists, but I thought the discussion here and here might be of interest. Love your blog!!