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In this site, I quite often see answers containing this "Publish or perish" sentence.

What does it really mean? Is it limited to a particular academic system (i.e. U.S.) or it is the general case all over the world?

Lastly, is it possible to be a researcher without concerning about "Publish or perish"?

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    Note that this can not be reversed. It's quite common to publish and perish. – gerrit Apr 7 '13 at 15:16
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First a disclaimer: I personally do not agree with some "ways of life" I am going to describe and already upvoted other answers :-).

is it possible to be a researcher without concerning about "Publish or perish"?

YES, albeit probably only in atypical settings.

  • firstly, at this site, we tend to forget that academia is not only the first league of the few top-notch research universities, but includes a MASS of smaller universities and research institutes in all sorts of small, hidden corners of the world which tend either not to produce academic output in terms of journal articles, books, conference papers, etc., but at which they live and breath by e.g., primarily education, local politics, etc. Yet, on paper they claim to do research, so working there, you would be officially a researcher. I am speaking for instance about universities in countries, where rigorous science and high education, for whatever reasons, does not have a very strong tradition. At such places, doing research would resemble a kind of a cargo cult. Most often, at least at some stage in the career, you still need to publish something. E.g. a dissertation would probably suffice. But often an interview with such a researcher in a local newspaper would count at the place more than a first-class academic journal. Being coined an expert on X by the local media a single time would allow you to survive at such a university for a decade (at any level from a PhD student to a Full Professor) without being concerned with perishing. If there is a desperate lack of teaching staff, then you do not have to care even for being any good teacher either and you wouldn't perish. I know personally people who are are doing some research (or at least everybody around says so) for decades without moving from a place and without publishing even a technical report and do not perish.
  • to a more optimistic note, though being pedantic now, you can easily be a researcher and not publish in the industry. Many industrial researchers do not primarily work for the benefit of the humankind (as you could see said in academia), but for the benefit of a company.
  • finally, I speculate there could be some special professorship positions where you do not have to worry about publishing anymore, because you are not about to perish anymore.
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    This is such a great and informative answer, I liked how you described different perishing levels... Thanks! – seteropere Apr 7 '13 at 1:54
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    Honestly, I do not understand why my answer got so many upvotes. IMHO, JeffE's answer is the right one. – walkmanyi Apr 8 '13 at 8:14
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For graduate students, it means "Publish or you won't get an academic job." In many parts of academia, not getting an academic job is considered equivalent to death.

For assistant professors, if means "Publish or you won't get tenure." In many parts of academia, not getting tenure is considered equivalent to death.

Lastly, is it possible to be a researcher without concerning about "Publish or perish"?

Sure, of course.

If you're publishing.

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    In many parts of non-academia, academia is considered a kind of death, and academic is used as a pejorative word for solutions built on assumptions of a simplified, idealized reality. At other times it is a synonym for nitpicking over what is not relevant ("the difference is academic"). So, maybe it should be publish or get a real job. – Kaz Apr 6 '13 at 20:18
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    @Kaz if it would be an answer and not a comment you would down-voted to the ground ;) I strongly agree with you, people that are related to academia talk about it like it something sacred. In real life, it just means getting grants and make students work on some academic-bubble projects (90% of the time). – NPcompleteUser Apr 7 '13 at 11:28
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    @Kaz is absolutely right — Lots of non-academics have no respect for academics, just like lots of academics have no respect for non-academics. Humans are apes; we do apey things. – JeffE Apr 7 '13 at 19:44
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    @NPcompleteUser: Can you elaborate on what you mean by "academic-bubble projects"? – Faheem Mitha May 13 '13 at 20:37
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    facebook, twitter..what are they producing that is valuable? — Human communication. – JeffE Sep 10 at 22:15
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I will add to JeffE's answer by stating:

For researchers, it means "publish or you will not get more funding". Funding is evaluated based on the strength of a proposal but if you are not showing a strong regular publicationr record, the interpretation might be that "you use money but do not produce", hence a risk not worth taking.

Lastly, to answer JeffE's question (thereby emphasizing his implicit statement): No!

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It is possible to be a researcher without worrying about PoP only if you're not being paid to be a researcher. If you are being paid to do research, then publication is the most basic way of measuring whether you're doing anything.

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In addition to prior answers, the Publish or Perish application can be mentioned, which is a software program that retrieves and analyzes academic citations. It uses Google Scholar to obtain the raw citations, then analyzes these and presents the following statistics:

  • Total number of papers

  • Total number of citations

  • Average number of citations per paper

  • Average number of citations per author

  • Average number of papers per author

  • Average number of citations per year

  • Hirsch's h-index and related parameters

  • Egghe's g-index

  • The contemporary h-index

  • The age-weighted citation rate

  • Two variations of individual h-indices

  • An analysis of the number of authors per paper.

The results are available on-screen and can also be copied to the Windows clipboard (for pasting into other applications) or saved to a variety of output formats (for future reference or further analysis). Publish or Perish includes a detailed help file with search tips and additional information about the citation metrics.

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From Wikipedia:

"Publish or perish" is a phrase coined to describe the pressure in academia to rapidly and continuously publish academic work to sustain or further one's career.

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