Monday, March 23, 2009

Quantity, not quality

A couple of weeks ago, there was a nice discussion over at Leiter on what makes some philosophers more productive than others. If you haven't read it, go read it, then come back. Ok. You're back. Awesome.

The thing of it is, is that I want to be productive. I know a bunch of people who aren't interested in producing new philosophical work-they're happy just to teach. I like teaching, but I see producing scholarship as a key component of my role as philosophy professor. It's something I really want to do, and something I like doing.

It's lucky I do, too, since I'll never get a job, even a "teaching" job, unless I can prove that I have the capacity to be a strong researcher. And as people have pointed out in comments, if you want to have something to show off by the time fall rolls around, you need to send stuff out right fucking now.

This is my key problem. I have several things I'm working on. Some of them are in OK shape. Some of them are really getting there. But none of them are really terrific-all of them could use at least some work. I'd like to take some more time to work on them, deepen them, make them better. But I feel like I'm not really being judged on my ability to produce deep, interesting, important work. I feel like I'm being judged on my ability to get a bunch of things into print.

(Of course I realize that there is a relationship between the quality of my work and my ability to get things into print; I also realize that I'm being judged on the quality of my writing sample, not whether it has been published. My point stands. That just means I should focus on producing an awesome WS and getting a bunch of mediocre shit into the journals.)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't try to "deepen" your submission. You're likely just to make it worse. Most articles that get published, even in A-level journals, make a fairly compact point but make it well. If you're directly engaging recent literature from good journals or presses of high repute, you can assume that the topic is "deep" enough.

Most journal articles are high concept pieces, in the sense that their basic claims are easily conveyable in a sentence or two.
"Deepening" an article, by fleshing out areas of interest tangential to your main claim, is in general a waste of time.

Bobcat said...

Yes, you're being judged on your ability to get things into print. If you get into a journal people have heard of, then most departments will look favorably upon you.

Anonymous said...

There is a correlation between quality and what gets into print. There are those scholars who focus on pumping stuff out by writing on a "hot topic" until every time you see their name in a journal you say to yourself "It's so-and-so writing on such-and-such again." There are also those scholars who "write" (better term would be assemble) terrible books that are just collections of poor quality previously published articles. But if you look hard enough you can find gem-like articles in the journals one would not normally read. Scholars take chances in the papers that get published in those journals that would never be allowed by editors and reviewers in the "top" journals. A great example is Philosophical Frontiers, a neat on-line journal with up-an-coming scholars taking chances and generating debates that will eventually make it into the "top" journals. Take a look! These are the grassroots idea mills. Try publishing your stuff in them!

Anonymous said...

Well, unless you are going to get a job in a high profile place early on in your carer, one effective strategy is to focus on getting not-embarrassing even if not outstanding publications early on, and to figure that buys you time to work on the outstanding publications after you have a respectable publication base to work from. On this model, at least you are being productive from the start, and even if you never produce anything really outstanding at least you've got a track record of productivity from the get-go. That's good for hiring, tenure, and so on, even if it isn't as ego pleasing as landmark publications. Of course, you also run the risk of being a frequent publisher of crap, but if you are concerned to publish the costs of being a frequent lightweight publisher seem to me less than the costs of not publishing at all.

Anonymous said...

"But I feel like I'm not really being judged on my ability to produce deep, interesting, important work. I feel like I'm being judged on my ability to get a bunch of things into print."

You ARE being judged principally on the former, and thus you should work ONLY on your writing sample. Your sample, and little else, is what shows your "ability to produce deep, interesting, important work," and it's the biggest factor in landing you a job. Having published some other stuff will hurt you if it's mediocre... so just sink all your energy into your sample.

Popkin said...

Focussing on one's writing sample sounds like terrible advice to me. My understanding is that not all writing samples get a close read, if they're read at all (many positions receive hundreds of applications after all). And even if you're writing sample gets a close read, what are the chances of the committee member in question being sufficiently expert on the topic to recognize the value of your paper? And even if one member of the committee reads your paper closely and likes it, how much weight is that one person's opinion going to carry with the rest of the committee (the rest of whom may not have devoted as much time to your paper and may not have understood or liked it for whatever reason)?

On the other hand, if you've got a publication or two, that fact seems more likely to carry more weight with more people.

Anonymous said...

Unless you're graduating from NYU, Princeton, or the University of Chicago, 12:02's advice is poison.

Anonymous said...

NYU, Princeton, or the University of Chicago??? Those are the three philosophy programs whose graduates can focus entirely on their writing samples?

Sometimes the comments on this blog are profoundly clueless.

Mr. Zero said...

12:02's advice is also poisonous for those of us who are out of grad school. We need to prove that we can publish while VAPping.

Philosophy Prof said...

Actually, I am in a very good research I department, and we don't care much at all about publications when we are hiring. All of us know first-hand how arbitrary the referee process can be, and also that some book publishers (like Peter Lang, Continuum, Edwin Mellen) publish their books without a review process at all. We use our own judgment to figure out who the best philosopher is, independently of whether or not the person has publications. I would guess that the more Leiterific a department is, the more applicable this would be.

Glaucon said...

I don't want to sound like a dick (being one is fine; I just don't want to sound like one), but why would you think that your "mediocre shit" is publishable?