Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Too Old School?

I had a meeting with a graduate student today about preparing for the job market. It was illuminating in the usual way: students often go very far in their graduate education before considering the realities concerning employment, salary, teaching loads, geography, and such.

Anyway, I think this issue has come up before, but I'm curious about whether others would agree with a bit of advice I gave. The student has been invited to contribute an essay to an edited collection and she asked whether she should accept the invitation. I told her no.

Now, let me make clear that although the edited collection is not coming out with Oxford, and it not being edited by some world famous philosopher, it is not a Pop Culture and Philosophy volume, either. I take it that an invitation to contribute to a collection edited by a leader in one's field for a major university press is a no-brainer: accept. I also take it that a fluff piece edited by a marginal scholar in a silly and embarrassing series for a vanity press is also a no-brainer: pass.

But what about an invitation from a decently recognized scholar for a volume of with a decent line-up for a decent press? I still say no. Any paper that would be good enough for such a project would be better placed in a peer-reviewed journal. Views? Too old school?

15 comments:

Robert said...

Spot on.

729 said...

I'm finding that the case that you've laid out is too under-described for me to get a sense of whether or not I'd agree with your advice and have a sense of how old school it is (or isn't). I would want to know what overall aim the edited volume has and its intended audience. This is because simply by considering some very good edited volumes in my own field, there are notable cases in which scholars have contributed essays that would not be publishable in peer-reviewed journals--*not* because they fail any scholarly standards, but because the essays aim, for instance, to provide informative reviews or overviews of a topic or issue, or the history of an issue, etc. I have no idea from your description whether the graduate student has been asked to contribute an essay like this on her topic of expertise, or if the volume is presenting essays that would, indeed, be essays that someone so early in their career would be better off submitting to peer-reviewed journals.

I take it that the "old" verses "new" school contrast may have something to do with career building, and that the "old school" way is through peer-review publication plain and simple. But it seems to me that the "new" school way doesn't have to entail some complete rejection of peer-review publication. If the grad student has some of these, or has papers currently in review, an invited paper on her CV may not be so very damaging. Given the amount of time it takes for papers to get through to acceptance at journals, the invited paper may support and help demonstrate that, in the meantime, the student has achieved a degree of respect in her field. But, then again, I'm not sitting here looking over her CV, so I can't determine if there are also any publications and/or papers in review and lots of scholarly activities (conferences) that would, I think, provide a context supporting an invited paper. If her CV is sparse, or there are other issues you perceive, I would tend to agree that it might not help, and would be better off being in review at a journal.

PA said...

I am inclined to think that an invited piece in a perfectly respectable edited volume is a perfectly respectable thing to have on one's cv. It's certainly not as as good as having an article published or forthcoming in a top journal, but it's better than listing an article as merely submitted to a top journal and may be just as good or better than having it published or forthcoming in a poor or middling journal. Moreover, whether or not it will be beneficial to a job candidate depends in part on the kinds of schools she applies to. At a top school it might count for little or nothing, but at a middling research school (like my own)it would be a benefit. So I guess the upshot is that whether she should accept or decline the invitation depends on how soon she intends to be on the job market, the likely prospects of this paper at the top journals, and what sorts of schools she can realistically expect to be hired at.

Anonymous said...

"But what about an invitation from a decently recognized scholar for a volume of with a decent line-up for a decent press? I still say no. Any paper that would be good enough for such a project would be better placed in a peer-reviewed journal. Views? Too old school?"

Hard to say. It may be that any paper good enough for the collection is good enough for a journal, but the refereeing process is an imperfect detector of goodness and can take ages. When I look at the people our department interviewed (research oriented but not a PhD program), someone who had a paper in, say, Phil Perspectives and nothing else was guaranteed an interview and we were never able to land them. Maybe when you get to more attractive departments, these invited pieces carry less weight.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about this topic, because I've heard this advice from several people - but I've also gotten very different advice from others, particularly those on hiring committees at smaller schools and liberal arts colleges.

From those folks I've been told that a willingness to publish is itself a virtue, even if the quality of the journal/volume is not particularly high. Sure, it's important to have high caliber work out there, and one should not convey the sense that they can only publish in non-peer reviewed places, etc. These publications, however, are not seen as a negative, and may indeed be a small positive.

Might it depend on the type of jobs one is applying for? Is the advice in the post more apt for those looking for more research oriented positions? Or do you think applies across the board?

Anonymous said...

Follow up by the previous anonymous poster:

I did not mean to take a stand on part of the issue in this post, namely whether the paper would be better placed in a peer-reviewed journal (on the presumption that if it is good enough to get in both, one should prefer the journal). I apologize if this takes it a bit off topic. I was more playing off the possibility that the paper might not be good enough to be published in one of the better peer-reviewed journals, and if so, whether it should be published in this kind of collection.

Neil said...

I accept most such invitations. They are an opportunity to extend a view for which one is already known, or to make a tweak. I think that the quality of edited collections generally are on the rise.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I say Yes, given the following:

---She has no other publications (at least at a good-great journal) on her CV.
---She has nothing else under consideration at a top journal (that is likely to be picked up either at all or in time for market season).
---The invited paper itself either isn't good enough to get picked up by a top journal or likely won't get picked up in time for market season.
---She is a middle of the road candidate likely to attract only middle of the road depts.

I say No, given the following:

---She has at least one publication already forthcoming in a top journal.
---The invited paper is good enough to be likely picked up by a top journal.
---She is a top-tier candidate likely to attract top-tier depts.

Anonymous said...

I think it matters what the paper is on and the subject of the volume. Some topics (certain areas of applied ethics, for example) are hard to place, not only because a lot of the work in the area is bad, but because there's a limited audience for them. The journals that do exist for them are not very good, and they will likely be seen as too narrow for, say, Philosophy and Public Affairs. Such papers might be more happily placed in a well-edited anthology specializing on the topic (agricultural ethics, say), assuming the contributors are decent and the editor and press at least reputable. A decent anthology might therefore be the best home for such a piece. But if it has a broader appeal, so that it might reasonably appear in a variety of journals, then that's probably the better path.

Anonymous said...

One consideration that hasn't been mentioned here yet is this: Is there value in fostering a relationship with that editor and fellow contributors? If your area of expertise is embodied in some definite and active community--such as bioethics, as opposed to Ancient Greek philosophy--then that ought to be considered in the decision to accept the invitation or not.

Relationships can go a long way in some fields, perhaps many fields. While philosophy has traditionally been a solitary discipline, it has become less so in recent years, given the internet and new areas that encourage collaboration, such as x-phi.

So, yes, the initial negative advice to the grad student, in my opinion, *seems* to be too old school in that it continues to see philosophy as an independent, journal-driven field. But more details, such as the grad student's field, are needed to make a proper determination.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point, 7:15 anon!

Philosophers need to learn how to pool their talent together to make some coordinated effort in solving problems. The old and busted way of writing a paper, waiting to get it published, maybe have someone criticize it, offering a defense, rinse and repeat, is inefficient and at times antagonistic rather than productive. So relationships and cooperation need to be embraced, if we are to move philosophy as a discipline forward in the new century.

Anonymous said...

Obviously one shouldn't publish crap nor should one publish in crap places. But this idea that one should only publish in the top journals and that (almost) everything else smells a bit shitty is a bit too old school. There is more interesting work going on in philosophy than hits the pages of the top journals. From feminist philosophy to comparative philosophy to very formal work... it's not easy to get a look in at JPhil, PPR, Mind etc.

Fritz said...

"But what about an invitation from a decently recognized scholar for a volume of with a decent line-up for a decent press? I still say no. Any paper that would be good enough for such a project would be better placed in a peer-reviewed journal. Views? Too old school?"

For anyone except a student who is at least in the top half of a top 8 PhD program and therefore has some chance of getting a job at a top 10 department this is simply bad advice. For students who want and really do have a chance at those few jobs in a given year the answer depends on further details about the case (other publications, other writing samples, strength of anticipated letters, topic of the paper).

Anonymous said...

I'd advise the student to try for a "two-for-one." Accept the offer. Write two overlapping but different papers. Submit the more important of the two to a journal and the other to the anthology.

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