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I read that whatever you publish before beginning a tenure-track job does not count towards tenure, so it might be wise to wait with those publications until a tenure-track position is reached. (I read this in the book The Professor is In, by the way)

On the other hand, I would imagine that a tenure-track position is obtained quicker (or: at all), if one has publications, and to have more publications seems generally better than to have less publications (with some other assumptions here, regarding equal journal impact factor and so on)

What do people think? Is there a strategy which might make more sense than others? Does it make sense to hold back? Or not really?

edit:

Here is the quote I am referring to in the book, I hope it is ok to share this here:

“Write your dissertation with an eye to the publications that it will become. As I have said, you need at least one refereed journal article while you are still ABD. At the same time, be aware that publications that date from before you accept your tenure track job do not typically count toward tenure. So the balance is delicate indeed. You must publish enough to get a job without prematurely exhausting the supply of material you will need for tenure. That is why I recommend writing a master’s thesis, which will give you material for a publication without cutting into your dissertation material.”

From: Kelsky, Karen. “The Professor Is in : The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.d. into a Job

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    I think the advice Karen is giving is specifically to be aware of the issue and especially to hold things back in the time between when you have gotten the tenure-track job and started the tenure-track job. (I think that this would mostly apply in fields where you can get a piece from submission to acceptance in under 6 months.) Publishing during those 6-8 months will neither help you get a job nor count for tenure. – Dawn Jun 1 '17 at 17:02
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    I edited this to clarify tenure-track vs. tenure. I hope that matches the intention of the OP. – Dawn Jun 1 '17 at 17:04
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    The answer is likely field-dependent. In my field, you want to do absolutely everything possible to get the best tenure-track job and only then worry about getting tenure, as that is more straightforward in comparison. – Thomas Jun 1 '17 at 17:24
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    The Professor is In's advice about getting a publication out of a MS thesis and waiting until tenure-track position to start publishing dissertation results may not work well for many in practice: my advisor encouraged/required his students to publish several articles before he would approve of scheduling a defense. – Mad Jack Jun 1 '17 at 17:25
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    I read that whatever you publish before beginning a tenure-track job does not count towards tenure. This is wrong at my university and, I'm pretty sure, many similar US institutions. Well, I guess anyone who relies on a self-help book to plan their academic career deserves whatever is going to happen to them as a result. – Dan Romik Jun 1 '17 at 20:22
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I read that whatever you publish before beginning a tenure-track job does not count towards tenure,

The first part may be formally correct at some universities, but this restriction is impossible to enforce in practice. Your reputation has a high-quality researcher doesn't depend on only your faculty publications; it depends on all your publications. The people who write your tenure letters will write about your best work (in their opinion), regardless of when you published it. Pretending that your pre-faculty publications simply don't exist would be stupid, even if it were possible.

A much more accurate statement is that your tenure case will focus on your publications since being hired as an assistant professor. Faculty publications are more important, but that absolutely does not mean that pre-faculty publications don't matter at all.

(I am assuming a reasonable tenure process, where the committee actually makes a good-faith effort to assess the quality and impact of the candidate's research record, as opposed to merely counting CV bullets. Sadly, some departments are stupid.)

so it might be wise to wait with those publications until a tenure-track position is reached.

This is absolutely wrong. Competition for tenure-track faculty positions is fierce—a typical tenure-track position, even at a mid-ranked department, attracts hundreds of applicants. Submitting anything but the strongest possible application is foolish.

Candidates for tenure-track jobs are judged primarily by the quantity, quality, visibility, impact, and reputation of their research record. All else being equal, applicants with more good publications are much more likely to be hired than applicants with fewer good publications, not only because they have longer CVs, but because they can attract stronger recommendation letters (because the references have more research to talk about).

Normally, of course, all else is never equal, but here I'm comparing your changes if you publish more versus your chances if you publish less.

In my experience*, getting a tenure-track faculty position is considerably more difficult than getting tenure. Most PhDs do not get faculty positions; most assistant professors do get tenure. Worry about getting the tenure-track faculty position first.

(*I'm a full professor at a highly-ranked American computer science department; I've written dozens of tenure letters and have many years of experience on hiring and tenure committees.)

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    This is the correct answer for computer science (and I suspect most fields). However, there are some fields where getting tenure is just as hard as getting a tenure-track job and where the tenure decision may rest on one or two publications. – Thomas Jun 1 '17 at 17:55
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    @Thomas there are some fields where getting tenure is just as hard as getting a tenure-track job — Can you give any examples? – JeffE Jun 1 '17 at 17:59
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    Not from experience, but I've heard the economics tenure process is brutal. – Thomas Jun 1 '17 at 18:04
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    In many economics and public policy departments, there is a minimum number of papers required for tenure (or at least a known range you have to get in to have a realistic shot at tenure). Other departments may have a minimum number of points required, with higher-ranked publications being worth more points. Those papers are only counted after you are in a TT position, you do not get to count earlier papers. – Dawn Jun 1 '17 at 20:58
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    At least in the sciences, the tenure committee can usually distinguish quite easily between the work that is from after candidate is hired and setting up program at university, and what is finishing up stuff from before. Nobody is very impressed if all the work published since being hired is 'old' work based on PhD or postdoc or simple extensions of older stuff that took a while to get published. It basically suggests that perhaps the candidate's trajectory forward is not very strong (and even worse, smells as if candidate won't have much ambition if granted tenure - (i.e.,will stop) – Carol Jun 3 '17 at 17:35
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I think the main takeaways of this paragraph are "be aware" and "the balance is delicate indeed". I think the advice in the book about one article and a master's thesis is a bit humanities-centered, so let me try to elaborate.

I am a public policy person trained in economics. I interviewed with econ and public policy/affairs/admin departments. These departments typically had a stated minimum number of tenure track articles needed to get tenure, and pre-tenure publications did not count. Some departments had a point system with various points allocated for the different journal rankings, and you had to get a certain number of points. Some of the best departments had a guideline number to give you the best shot at tenure without having a firm number.

Here is what you will do:

  1. Find out how many publications are considered "good" on the job market in your field (i.e. how many publications the average new hire at your school has, not how many the average candidate has)
  2. Publish that many papers, plus perhaps 10-20%
  3. If you have more potential papers and you are near the end of your degree, talk to your advisor about continuing to work on these papers so they will be published (not submitted) after you have started your tenure-track job. A bonus of this is that you may be able to do some additional analyses during that time and increase you shot at higher ranking journals.

Obviously you don't want to hold back papers if you haven't hit the "good number" for your job market. But, for instance, one of my colleagues had published several things, and so didn't feel any need to push her dissertation research out. She got several TT offers and Ivy League post-doc offers without that. She can now take her time with these papers and make some additional improvements and maybe they can hit top journals.

You should especially consider holding things back/perfecting them in the time between when you have been offered the tenure-track job and started the tenure-track job. (I think that this would mostly apply in fields where you can get a piece from submission to acceptance in under 6 months.) In my field, although all publications may improve your letters, publishing during those 6-8 months will neither help you get a job nor count numerically for tenure.

The idea is NOT to minimize pre-tenure-track publications but to have a research project with a stream of publications ready to deploy once you hit the tenure-track.

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  • -1 for advocating gamesmanship, a self-defeating approach to managing an academic career and to life in general. – Dan Romik Jun 1 '17 at 20:11
  • How, exactly, is this user advocating gamesmanship? I do not really understand. – George Welder Jun 1 '17 at 20:23
  • @DanRomik That is interesting! I do support being strategic as a job market candidate and junior faculty member. I suppose this may come partly from being an economist and teaching about game theory. However, I don't see any reason to encourage a student or junior faculty member to work against their own best interest. – Dawn Jun 1 '17 at 20:41
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    This answer does not reflect only my own opinion. I got some "holding papers" advice from my committee chair. I also had a conversation with my TT department head who noted that I need to be strategic about when my papers come out, because it will look better if I have a steady stream of papers rather than several clumped in year one followed by a dry spell. – Dawn Jun 1 '17 at 20:43
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    @Dawn I don't disagree that people should work in their own best interests, but it looks like you and I disagree on what those interests are and how to best further them. As I said, I think the approach you are advocating is self-defeating. It may lead someone to a job (even that is a premise I don't necessarily agree with) but it won't lead to greatness or to maximal happiness, fulfillment, or contribution to society. And my opinion, like yours, also seems to be shared by others. – Dan Romik Jun 1 '17 at 21:22

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