Academics' Forum: On Who to Publish With After Graduation
Allison S. Gabriel, University of Arizona; Joel Koopman, Texas A&M University
I’m pretty sure in academia that you always remember your first “big” publication. For me, it was my master’s thesis that got published in 2011. I’ll assume my reaction to the process is typical of a lot of other folks—from me not realizing that a high risk R&R was a good thing; to me panicking (shocking, I know) about the reviews and my advisor (Jim Diefendorff) laughing at me (I believe his response was “Oh, these aren’t even that bad!” and my response was wanting to faint since O-M-G these were the hardest comments in the history of comments); and, of course, to me taking a literal victory lap around the Akron I-O department when the email appeared in my inbox saying “accepted.” That first paper came with a wave of relief knowing that I had a chance on the job market. But, I also distinctly remember feeling—what else—panic at the thought of (a) having to publish again and (b) having to publish in the future without Jim. How, after 5 short years, was I supposed to create a pipeline to sustain a tenure-track line if I couldn’t focus largely on the research pipeline I was building in my graduate program?
This is a common concern I hear from graduate students and assistant professors, and it is a point of discussion at most PhD or early career consortia I have been a part of. Specifically, in those early years after graduating, do you need to separate from your advisor? What about anyone affiliated with your graduate program (e.g., current/former faculty members and graduate students)? You hear frequently when you discuss tenure that you need to be distinct from your advisor, and I agree that you should build a research identity. However, in 2015, I was part of a panel at the Academy of Management conference with Anthony Klotz about productivity, and he poignantly raised the following point: You’ve just built a solid pipeline with your advisor, a person who is likely one of your favorite coauthors—is it really advantageous, and even healthy, to give that up? A big part of successful collaborations is knowing how people write, think, and approach research, and it’s likely the case that you know how your advisor, or other people from your program, think better than anyone else at the point of graduation. If the mantra to get tenure continues to be “publish or perish,” it seems risky to take your pipeline and potentially start over.
What really motivated me to think through this topic was a discussion I had with Joel Koopman, a close friend and colleague of mine at Texas A&M University who is my guest author for this column. Joel was visiting Tucson to work on some research projects, and we were taking a walk through my neighborhood to kick around some framing ideas for a new paper we were writing. Our conversation, though, began to get sidetracked when we started talking about various advice we had been given since graduating about who we shouldn’t publish with (not necessarily from the same people, mind you, but everyone has opinions to share on this). Here’s a list of rules, and associated rationale, that we’ve heard over the years:
- Your advisor: You have to develop your own identity instead of being a “mini-me” version of your advisor.
- Other faculty currently affiliated with your PhD program: Bye, crutches!
- Current and/or former PhD students from your PhD program: How will anyone know who is really driving the projects?
- Faculty at your new program: You’re being “rescued” by them for tenure.
- Anyone at any school who is more senior: Your own contributions will be overshadowed by their seniority in the field.
- Publishing more than once with the same author team: Everyone is just tacking everyone on to projects and you can’t really be contributing, right?
- PhD students: Great in theory, but you need to work on that pipeline in your early years and PhD students may take too much developmental work.
- Other junior faculty: Risky because no one has a lot of experience.
- Your spouse/family member: This doesn’t apply to either of us, but we’ve still heard it!
- Your cat: Kidding! I’m just going for continuity with my last column. But, really…
If you look at that list, you have to ask yourself: Is there anyone left to publish with? After talking with Joel about this, what we realized was that these views—although well-intended—were taking the fun out of the publishing process by making us second-guess our research teams. This whole publishing “gig” is supposed to be fun, after all. More seriously, that list rules out working with all of the people who can help you develop as a scholar. So, what we wanted to write about in this column is how we have structured our own publishing pipelines in a way that hopefully sustains productivity and allows us to continue working with people we enjoy.
Working With Senior Scholars
Joel and I met at SIOP in 2013 through mutual friends from graduate school. We had both heard a bit about each other’s work, and were going to be one year apart on the tenure track (I had just taken my first job, and Joel was gearing up for the job market). After talking about research ideas with a few others folks (Chris Rosen and Russ Johnson in particular), we realized that there were a lot of fruitful opportunities to “join forces” and design a series of experience sampling studies together, because that is what we were truly passionate about. There was certainly a risk to this approach: Chris and Russ were already well-regarded senior scholars who had ties to each of us (for Allie, Chris and Russ came from the same PhD program; for Joel, Russ was a member of his dissertation committee at Michigan State). Yet, we felt strongly that the research and professional development we would gain from this collaboration outweighed the risks. Instead, being mindful of the potential issues, we have designed our projects in such a way that each person is able to clearly contribute (e.g., we know exactly who is handling data collection, who is largely cleaning and analyzing the data, and who is going to collaboratively write the theoretical overview). This approach has been successful and—more importantly—a great deal of fun for us to be a part of, and because of this, we feel that we made the right choice.
Working With Junior Faculty
A benefit to working with senior scholars is their breadth of knowledge and experience; with a team of junior faculty, you are working “without a net.” Although this experience has seemingly felt a bit more challenging and carries a potentially larger risk, it is also a great way to develop different skills that may have been more central at other PhD programs compared to the one you were a part of (e.g., some schools may focus more on writing theory; others may have more classes focused on unique sets of methods and analytic approaches). We both have several projects with people who we have met randomly at symposium sessions, at doctoral consortia, or, to be perfectly honest, at the hotel bar in the center of the conference, and several of these individuals have become close friends over the years. Because of this, not only do you have an excuse to hang out at conferences and have long Skype calls, but you can leverage the singular focus and motivation that comes from everyone hearing that ticking of the tenure clock in the background. Plus, as has been the theme of other Academics’ Forum columns as of late, it is nice to have a support network of people who are in the process with you, and truly “get it.”
Bringing PhD Students Onto Projects
Both of us had really positive experiences with our PhD advisors, and because of this, it became important to both of us to involve PhD students in our research. Although developing students can certainly take a great deal of time, they can truly be a “force multiplier” because PhD students allow you to divide and conquer in a lot of unique ways. For example, although they do a deep dive into the literature or run through analyses, you as an advisor can spend more time focusing on the broader theoretical framing and positioning of the paper. In an effort to tackle some of the issues associated with authors noted above, we have involved PhD students in projects with senior colleagues as well as our own advisors. Working collaboratively with your advisor and your advisee is a really cool, and often amusing, experience—it’s cool to see the lineage of advisors and advisees on a single paper, and it’s amusing to see how many of your advisor’s habits/techniques you have picked up on and are now passing down to your advisee. Plus, the irony of telling your PhD advisee in front of your PhD advisor that “the reviews aren’t that bad” when a high risk revision comes in is not to be missed.
So, Should You Just Ignore the Publishing “Rules”?
Collectively, we have spent 8 years (4.5 for Allie; 3.5 for Joel) trying to figure out who we should be publishing with as we try and “make it” in this career. We still experience a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt about our own publishing records, but there is one thing that we know for sure: This career is a lot more fun when you’re publishing with your friends and people you truly trust. If we look at our CVs, this may be the one consistent feature of all of our publications. Of course, this has led us to violate almost all of the rules we listed above, and maybe that’s okay. Sure, we’ve tried to diversify our author teams and minimize our risk as much as possible, but even still, each of our publications can be criticized for one reason or another.
We realize that this isn’t exactly the most upbeat note to end on, so our advice on this topic is this: Love what you are working on and who you are working with, and try your best to forget about the rest of the rules. Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to craft the perfect CV, you should focus on doing good research and having fun doing it. If that means publishing with your advisor every now and then after you graduate, then go for it. If you work well with a particular group of scholars, then you should start as many projects together as you want. If your passion is working with doctoral students, then we think that is fantastic. Because if we’ve learned anything else in all of the advice we have been given, it’s that we are really, really lucky to have these jobs, and you shouldn’t let stress about who to publish with diminish that.