A comment in this question says: but spending some money to publish in a high rank journal can open more funding opportunities in future, doesn't it?. In another post, JeffE writes in this answer:

Personally, when I read a CV, I only spend a second or two on the self-declared research interests and jump straight to the publication list..

If a candidate (either for hiring or for a grant) has good science but the publications are not in the most prestigious journals, but in slightly less known journals (but still journals that are not obscure), does that significantly hurt their chances? Or is it really the content that matters and is the venue of publication less important?

Note that my question is specifically about the venue of publication. These related questions do not answer my question:

  • For a related question see here.
    – user4511
    Mar 14, 2013 at 9:45
  • 2
    Not really a full-fledged answer but I believe having a publication in a high-rep journal can be the last touch of spicing on a dish that is your research profile. I know individuals that are very talented, have great track records but haven't really made it to the bigger scene based on the lack of that 5 minutes of fame you would get from a publication in a famous, high impact journal. Likewise, I have met scientists who don't seem to know what they are talking about, but have GREAT publications if you only consider where they are published.
    – posdef
    Mar 14, 2013 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


There is probably not a single truth here but I would make the following statements:

Having a good publication record is the basis for basically everything in academia. The question is then what is good? As a fresh PhD student citations will be near zero (I am guessing in most fields). Having publications in citation index listed journals is therefore a definite plus. Having several as first author is a must (see What does first authorship really mean? for a discussion) I would also argue that having papers not part of the PhD (even if not first authored author) is a plus since it indicates activity.

As a new post-graduate you need to improve the publication record as best you can. You need to show that you do your own new work but also be part of collaborations in some mix. Building a publication record takes time and will partly be up to your own efforts and in some way also by chance (you never know what opportunities lie ahead).

To get employed, you can basically only compete with a good publication list. Everyone knows this takes time and I am guessing all fields have their own "standards" as to what is a reasonable publication rate. In my field where papers are based on field investigations, 2-4 papers per year is considered acceptable, the longer-term average should be towards 3-5. The rate is thus an aspect that should not be over-looked.

Typically you will have a dip post-PhD because it takes time to build or get into a new environment and to start writing new papers. Having something on the back burner for that period may thus be useful to bridge the gap.

As a final note, the citations will be more and more important after a few years. In my field it usually takes a few years to start getting citations because the results will inspire someone to apply for money, go into the field for new investigations, and then write papers. In a lab or theoretical environment such response times may be lower so check with seniors in your field what applies. A good question to ask is perhaps if there are ways to promote ones work to increase citation records, I do not have the answer to that question.

Bottom line: publish in as good journals as possible. Good quality counts but a reasonable publication rate is also necessary. Citations will come with time.

  • 4
    Having several as first author is a must — ...unless you work in an area that does not recognize first authorship, like mathematics or theoretical computer science.
    – JeffE
    Mar 15, 2013 at 3:34

For what it is worth, this question is discipline specific. In natural sciences, you have to go through 5-8 years of post-docs, and the question of how to get a professor position is such a distant future that you shouldn't even bother at this point, and have to concentrate on getting into a productive post-doc position (rather than the one that will simply suck up all of your energy on 60+ hour work weeks, without giving much in return). In some fields, like economics or statistics, you get a tenure track position right after the Ph.D. In some other fields, like some branches of sociology or anthropology, there is no "research", but there is "scholarship" instead, and the first question you are asked is not "How many Nature papers do you have?" but "What is your book about?".

Having said that, my impression (I am a statistician, also worked with psychologists and economists) is that generally the perceived order of importance is:

  1. The prestige of the top journals that you published in as the first or the solo author
  2. Whether you have papers in top journals in the field, no matter what order author you are
  3. The share of top journals in overall record: if you have 20 publications with only 1 being in a top journal, that's arguably a worse record than 10 publications with 3 top journals (although it depends on a particular university; in some academic incentive systems, you are better off publishing 5-6 crappy papers a year without every attempting top journals)
  4. Citations will hardly come into play until you are about 5+ years into the game post Ph.D. (going for tenure in economics or statistics; going for tenure track positions in physics or biology, although I can only speculate about these fields). For some departments, citations may never come into play if you have publications in top journals, which are assumed to generate citations semi-automatically.

As a grad student, you are still learning the rules of the game. Treat academia as such; don't assume that good research will prevail -- it might, but it could be too late for you. You have to be aggressive in pursuing top publications, invited presentations, etc., and a lot of people just don't have it. You have to recognize whether your personality suits academia, and try to seek other venues if it does not. (I don't know if there are psychoanalysts specializing in placing people into academia, but that would be a golden niche for somebody :) ). In many disciplines, there is as much or even more good quality research being done in industry than in the university setting.


Despite the importance of hiring, many departments do not devote all that much energy to it (at least, not until the field is narrowed down to a handful of top candidates being invited to give job talks). For these departments, it can make a big difference if they know that you at least passed the (often considerably greater) scrutiny afforded by publication in a top journal.

Not having publications in top journals will not necessarily sink your chances, but it will limit your chances to those places that don't make it a de facto requirement. Check out the publication records of recently hired faculty members at institutions you're interested in to get a hint of what your CV ought to look like.

(Note: getting a good postdoctoral fellowship is typically much less publication-dependent, at least in those areas of the biological sciences with which I am familiar.)

  • getting a good postdoctoral fellowship is typically much less publication-dependent — ...except in theoretical computer science, said the broken record.
    – JeffE
    Mar 15, 2013 at 3:35
  • getting a good postdoctoral fellowship is typically much less publication-dependent - That's not my experience (in any area of computer science that I am familiar with). (I'm agreeing with JeffE, with the addition that in my experience it's not limited to theoretical computer science.)
    – D.W.
    Mar 15, 2013 at 5:08

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