Most of us know the old adage of academia: "Publish or perish". It is no surprise then that most professors, and their students and post-docs, strive to publish as much as possible. Some departments even have a standard for a minimum number of papers a student must publish to get their degrees. But, does your publication record in graduate school determine the rest of your career?
This is a question that many academically-inclined students (and postdoctoral fellows) struggle with. Let's take a look at two extremes. Student A publishes several first-author papers in prestigious journals, while Student B publishes few or none. Does this automatically mean that Student A will have a better chance of landing an academic position?
While Student A might pride herself on her solid publication record, she cannot afford to sit back during her postdoctoral fellowship. Rather than looking at the total number of publications, search committees look for consistency in publishing. The question thy ask is can you publish papers in graduate school as well as during your postdoctoral fellowship? Unfortunately, I know several postdoctoral fellows with solid publication records from graduate school, who did not receive academic offers (or even interviews) because of a lack of papers published during their fellowship. This can be disheartening to postdoctoral fellows who are looking to do research in a novel area where they might not be able to publish.
What if you are Student B, with no publications from graduate school? A few years ago I spoke with Ramu (not his real name), who published papers in graduate school, but they were in a field that was so obsolete that neither academia nor industry took an interest in him. Fortunately, Ramu found a postdoctoral advisor whose research was more relevant and he was able to publish several papers. "I worked hard for three years to publish as many papers as I could, so I would be employable," he recalled.
Industry has a slightly different mind-set than academia. While they appreciate papers, they are more focused on the skill-set that candidates bring to the environment. Since industry is product driven and has a tight schedule, they are looking for highly skilled and productive individuals who can integrate very quickly into the work environment. Nevertheless, companies value individuals who like writing scientific papers, since many industry scientists do not like writing or do not have the time to.
Publishing papers can only be to your advantage, whether you are in academia or industry. While writing is (very) time-consuming, always keep an eye open for a research opportunity that can be published. Besides improving your CV, the quality of your research will also benefit from the careful analysis and peer review that is part of the publication process.
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet