Prompted by a post by Justin Bengry on History Compass … (You can go read it. I’ll wait. …)
When should you publish your first monograph?
For people in disciplines that value books (as opposed to those that mainly or exclusively publish journal articles), this question has become somewhat fraught as the length of time between finishing the PhD and securing a tenure-track position is extended.
The question breaks down into are several related areas:
- how much of your dissertation can you publish as articles without endangering the possibility of publishing the whole thing as a monograph
- when should you seek a book contract for the “book of the dissertation”
- when should you actually submit the manuscript to the publisher (e.g. do you want the book to come out before you get a tenure track job, or stall it so it “counts” for tenure)
Your doctoral supervisor (and indeed the entire department) has an interest in you getting a tenure-track job. It is in their interests to give you good advice.
That said, sometimes their knowledge of the labour market is limited. Assume that they have good intentions, but don’t treat their advice as gospel. Things have been changing fast.
Clarify the basis of any advice
You might want to ask one or more of these questions of anyone who offers advice.
- Have you been involved in a hiring process recently?
- Why do you suggest that?
- I am concerned that the current state of the labour market has changed the requirements in practice. Do you have any evidence to reassure me?
You might also want to consider whether the advice you are being given is based on trends in one type of institution (e.g. research intensive institutions with graduate programs) and whether that necessarily applies to other types of institutions where you might apply (or even prefer to work).
As with any research you do, it is a good idea to consult multiple sources.
Anyone who gives you advice will be able to suggest other people you could ask. A specific request is more likely to be productive.
- Do you know someone I could talk to that has been on a hiring committee in our discipline in the past 5 years?
- Do you know anyone who works in [specific type of institution] that I could talk to about how hiring works there?
Remember, you aren’t looking for work. You are looking for information that will help you make good decisions about publishing (and other kinds of experience) and how to present yourself when jobs are advertised. Make sure you get permission to use the referrer’s name when making your request.
You are also building your own network and can seek advice from those people. Conferences can be particularly useful for seeking out people informally and asking about their recent experiences with hiring.
In actively seeking out advice, the following questions might be useful.
- (of those involved in hiring recently) How many applicants did you get for the last job you advertised?
- What criteria did you use to make the first cut? (down to a manageable number for detailed consideration)
- What were your expectations regarding publications going into the process?
- Did they change when you saw the CVs of the actual candidates? How?
- How important were publications in your deliberations?
- Was it common for applicants to already have a book contract or a book in press?
- How many publications did those on your short list have, roughly?
- What was the most frustrating thing about the process?
- Is there anything candidates do that damages their chances?
- Is there anything that stood out positively? Anything you’d like to see more often.
You can also listen carefully when people are talking about hiring and other processes to gleen some of this information. For example, they may (without breaching confidentiality) complain about annoying things that happen in a lot of applications. Or note that they were impressed by how many people did a particular thing.
If you hear established academics complaining about how unreasonable it is to require people to have published a book to even get an interview for a tenure-track job, I would take that as a sign that this is happening often enough for them to worry about it.
The hiring and promotion criteria reflect the values of the institution. Departments are looking to hire people whose activities are in line with their priorities and who are going to make a contribution to their institution and department.
You should be publishing because you have a contribution to make to academic debates in your discipline or interdisciplinary field. And you should publish them in a way that makes the maximum impact on the advancement of knowledge in that field.
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring committee.
If you were looking at an application from someone 3 years out, who had held a post-doctoral fellowship, what would you expect to see in their publications list?
If it wasn’t there and you interviewed them anyway, what would you want them to say in the interview to reassure you that they really are capable of producing the quality and number of publications that you expect of a colleague? What evidence would you want to see?
This post was edited July 9, 2015.