On giving advice to newly transitioned Assistant Professors

Dr Becca has a post up in which she ponders a perennial issue for newly established labs....and many other labs as well.

The gist is that which journal you manage to get your work published in is absolutely a career concern. Absolutely. For any newcomers to the academic publishing game that stumbled on this post, suffice it to say that there are many journal ranking systems. These range from the formal to the generally-accepted to the highly personal. Scientists, being the people that they are, tend to take shortcuts when evaluating the quality of someone else's work, particularly once it ranges afield from the highly specific disciplines which the reviewing individual inhabits. One such shortcut is inferring something about the quality of a particular academic paper by knowledge of the reputation of the journal in which it is published.

One is also judged, however, by the rate at which one publishes and, correspondingly, the total number of publications given a particular career status.

Generally speaking there will be an inverse correlation between rate (or total number) and the status of the journals in which the manuscripts are published.

This is for many reasons, ranging from the fact that a higher-profile work is (generally) going to require more work. More time spent in the lab. More experiments. More analysis. More people's expertise. Also from the fact that the manuscript may need to be submitted to more higher-profile journals (in sequence, never simultaneously), on average, to get accepted then to get picked up by so-called lesser journals.

This negative correlation of profile/reputation with publishing rate is Dr Becca's issue of the day. When to keep bashing your head against the "high profile journal" wall and when to decide that the goal of "just getting it published" somewhere/anywhere* takes priority.

I am one who advises balance. The balance that says "don't bet the entire farm" on unknowables like GlamourMag acceptance. The balance that says to make sure a certain minimum publication rate is obtained. And for a newly transitioning scientist, I think that "at least one pub per year" needs to be the target. And I mean, per year, in print, pulled up in PubMed for that publishing year. Not an average, if you can help it. Not Epub in 2011, print in 2012. Again, if you can help it.

The target. This is not necessarily going to be sufficient...and in some cases a gap of a year or two can be okay. But I think this is a good general rubric for triaging your submission strategy.

It isn't that one C/N/S pub won't trump a sustained pub rate and a half-dozen society level publications. It will. The problem is that it is a far from certain outcome. So if you end up with a three year publication gap, no C/N/S pubs and you end up dumping the data in a half-dozen society level journal pubs anyway...well, in grant-getting and tenure-awarding terms, a 2-3 year publication gap with "yeah but NOW we're submitting this stuff to dump journals like wild fire so all, good, k?" just isn't smart.

My advice is to take care of business first, get that 1-2 pub per year in bare minimum or halfway decent journals track going, and then to think about layering high-profile risky business on top of that.

Dang, I got all distracted. What I really meant to blog about was a certain type of comment popping up in Dr. Becca's thread.

The kind of comment that I think pushes the commenter's pet agenda, vis a vis academic publishing, over what is actually good advice for someone that is newly transitioned to an independent laboratory position. I have my own issues when it comes to this stuff. I think the reification of IF and the pursuit of GlamorMag publication is absolutely ruining the pursuit of knowledge and academic science.

But it is absolutely foolish and bad mentoring to ignore the realities of our careers and the judging of our talents and accomplishments. I'd rather nobody *ever* submitted to journal solely because of the journal's reputation. I long for the end of each and every academic journal in which the editors are anything other than actual working scientists. The professional journal "editors" will be, as they say, the first against the wall come the revolution in my glorious future. Etc.

But you would never catch me telling someone in Dr. Becca's position that she should just ignore IF and journal status and publish everything in the easiest venue to get accepted. Never.

You wackaloon Open Access Nazdrul and followers need to dissociate your theology from your advice giving.
*there are minimum standards. "Peer Reviewed" is one such standard. I would argue that "indexed in PubMed" (or your relevant major database) is another such. Also, my arbitrary sub-field snobbery** starts at an Impact Factor of around 1.something.....however I notice that the IF of my touchstone journals for "the bottom" have inched up over the years. Perhaps "2" is my lower bound now.

**see? for some fields this is snobbery. for others, a ridiculous, snarky statement. Are you getting the message yet?

12 responses so far

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    People giving advice should also keep in mind that when someone is writing under a pseudonym (like Becca), you don't her research, her collaborators, or her new institution.

    A good plan for one person is an unrealistic pipe dream for someone else.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    I use the same advice as when applying for colleges or residencies.
    1 Dream - perhaps out of reach, but if it happens, damn!
    1 Solid choice - a stretch, but definitely feasible.
    The backup plan - The best place that is a slam-dunk. For higher ed, it's usually your state university. For journal submission, a niche publication that is peer-reviewed and indexed.

    Should you add a second journal into that "solid choice" category? I usually don't because each round of review adds a few weeks and a few more reviewers, limiting the pool of new appropriate eyeballs available for each subsequent round of review. I believe it is better to get it in the literature. A lot of great ideas first get published in mediocre journals because they challenge the establishment (like the first evidence for atrial natriuretic peptides). It usually takes time and multiple papers to convince the world!

  • WhizBANG! what is your definition of "medicore journal"? I'd say that _at a minimum_ you should be publishing in society journals*, and if not there, in journals of equal stature in the field. Would you consider those "mediocre" because they're not C/S/N?

    So, if you're a microbiologist like myself, and Applied and Environmental Microbiology won't take your article, Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology would be a good journal to consider. If they dump on it, you could look to sending it off to Letters in Applied Microbiology, but if even they won't take it ... you better look at what you're doing.

    *This tends to help especially if you ever intend on making Society Fellow.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "mediocre journal" translates to the 25th%ile and below of journals to which the speaker would ever consider submitting a manuscript.


  • whimple says:

    In terms of furthering your academic career, I recommend quantity over quality. Quantity is easy to understand; quality is harder to define and appreciate. If it's not Science, Cell or Nature, it's pretty much just a line on a CV as far as the Dean is concerned. Lately some people have taken to including Impact Factors and H-indices on their CV/biosketch. I find this to be spectacularly ineffective at making up for a perceived lack of "productivity".

  • This is what I told Dr. Becca to do:

    Don't listen to these dumshittes telling you to "just publish it". Now that you have a tenure-track position, but you haven't even started yet, time is on your side, and you are in no rush to get this thing published. So long as getting scooped isn't an issue, just keep going down the list starting with the best journal still in play until it is published. The quality of the journal it gets published in is going to have a substantial effect on how it is perceived by grant reviewers when you write grants that build on the work.

  • becca says:

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! "On giving advice to newly transitioned Assistant Professors"
    Shorter DM: HEY! YAHOOS! THIS IS MY TURF! Don't you DARE start giving advice differently than I would! I will cut you! And your little dogs, too! PUNKS!

  • Shorter DM: HEY! YAHOOS! THIS IS MY TURF! Don’t you DARE start giving advice differently than I would! I will cut you! And your little dogs, too! PUNKS!

    Yeah, FUCKE DM!!!!!!!!! These new assistant professors should totally listen to logorrheic ignoramus eleventeenth-year grad students and amateur OPEN-SCIENZ enthusiasts when it comes to issues of professional science career advancement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • becca says:

    Uhm yeah. Because it isn't like this is an issue where presumably intelligent and informed people (you and DM) can suggest diametrically opposing approaches. And it's not like it's not totally DM's Schtick to give advice. And it's not like he'd ever feel territorial, ever. And it's not like I was totes just giving him a hard time for the sake of it.
    No. Clearly, when it comestoo Professional Science Career Advancement there is One Right Answer which the Esteemed Venerated CPP and DM dispense to the unwashed hordes, and anyone who says otherwise is a moron. Clearly.

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    There are plenty of other people worth listening to besides me and DM. This has nothing to with the fact that it is stupid to listen to logorrheic ignoramus eleventeenth-year grad students and amateur OPEN-SCIENZ enthusiasts.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    There are plenty of other people worth listening to besides me and DM.


  • antipodean says:

    The other thing I've been told to do is start trying to get one or two last author papers up in reasonable journals.

    Otherwise the formula paper>age<40 and they better be in reasonable journals and you'd better be first on at least 50% of them. Allegedly then you're OK...

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