Grad school pubs

Mar 06 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

A interesting conversation broke out on twitter this evening when @thelabmix asked:

@drugmonkeyblog @ProfLikeSubst @Namnezia Hey profs, are grad students crippled by lack of pubs from PhD?

Drugmonkey responded with:

whether the person published or not as a grad student reflects lab more than individual potential @TheLabMix @Namnezia @proflikesubst

I couldn't agree more with this, other than to add there are certain fields where it's damn hard to get papers out earlier in the game. Field ecology is the first one that springs to mind, but there are many others. But assuming that a student without major* pubs at the end of their PhD is not going to be successful is a short-sighted view.

Everyone is going to base their opinion on their own experience and mine was that I didn't have things actually published out of my thesis when I was looking for a postdoc. What got me the job was a combination of good timing and strong letters. I was able to get everything from my thesis out within a year of leaving and managed to crank out some solid pubs from my postdoc that got me the job I have now.

So do I depend on pubs from grad students when evaluating their potential as postdocs? Doesn't seem like a great idea to me. It is obviously important to know that people can write and that they have some pubs in the works, but if they are not in Pubmed, I'm not going to sweat it.

*By major, I mean first author pubs related to their thesis

20 responses so far

  • Clay Clark says:

    We have a requirement that students must have at least one first author pub before graduating. Journal IF is not considered, however. I agree with DM that lack of pubs sometimes is a problem with the lab - e.g. PI slow to submit papers - but in those cases the referees should state so, and the papers usually come later. But, in some cases the problem is that the student hasn't been very productive. In that case I wouldn't want the student as a post-doc. I guess I ride the fence here and say it's case-by-case.

  • Yael says:

    Doesn't it matter in F32s though?

  • gerty-z says:

    In my field, I think it is important to have at least 1-2 pubs from your graduate work. If you have no pubs you will not be very competitive for fellowships. I'm sure it is different for different fields, but it is very much frowned about in my dept. if someone leaves w/o ANY 1st author pubs. That said, I'm sure that there are some great grad students that come from lab situations beyond their control that have prevented them from publishing. Still, unless I knew the PI, I would be really hesitant of a grad student *IN MY FIELD* that didn't have anything published when they graduated.

  • Digbijoy says:

    In my field (experimental solid state electronic devices), I've known now-established and renowned professors, NAE fellows, etc. who have had just one or two 1st authored publications during their PhDs in late 80s. ......depends on the area or work, little bit of luck (in experimental works), nature of the problem, etc.

  • ecologist says:

    My take? The job of a Ph.D. advisor is to train a student in the skills needed to function as a scientist. One of those is the process of writing, submitting, revising, and eventually publishing papers. If a student graduates without producing any publications, the advisor has failed. Don't really care what the field is.

    If the student's thesis research project isn't compatible with producing publications, then it's not appropriate for a Ph.D. thesis project.

  • TheLabMix says:

    I think this is a common fear for grad students up until they have actually published something. Of course, there's something to be said about having a healthy sense of urgency about getting your research into journals. Here in the UK, our PhD programs are strictly 3 years long in the biomedical sciences, and it certainly doesn't take long to feel like that time is moving faster than you'd like.

  • Postdoc says:

    I was in this situation. I had two pubs (one first author and another... that co-first-author thing) from early in grad school, but my PhD was comprised of four different protopapers. One of them was in review, another was scooped, and the other hadn't yet been submitted when I defended. The fourth I'm still working on, two years later (actually, continuously working--it's methodologically hairy and involves lags).

    Graduating without anything published from my thesis was psychologically crippling. I felt like a fraud and an impostor. It did not help me hit the ground running as a postdoc, and I still feel embarrassed about it. I managed to get two of the thesis papers published in my first year as a postdoc and land a fellowship, but I still feel like I failed to clear an important hurdle.

  • Postdoc says:

    p.s. A co-author did introduce an approximately one-year delay (no exaggeration) in getting my first thesis publication out the door. I like to think my adviser explained that in my letter.

  • Deon says:

    It can vary hugely by field. In computer science, we don't need the massive teams where everything filters through the PI (and we're more conference driven as well). I think I had seven first-author pubs prior to graduating, and I wasn't even close to being competitive for top-notch postdocs even, never mind tenure-track R1 spots.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I think it is critical to get pubs from one's phd and never said it wasn't. All I am saying is that as long as someone has papers in the works I would consider them for a postdoc position even if they were not published at the time of moving on.

  • Deray says:

    I find myself in that situation right now. My boss wants me to graduate in the summer and I haven't published a first author paper yet. I'm actually terrified of even asking for a post-doc. I guess I'll have to trust her recommendation letter to land me something but it is nerve-wracking.

  • I work in a field at the cross roads of bio and STEM fields.
    It is usual for a grad students to have first-author pubs; in our department it was out of question to defend a dissertation without any pubs.
    On a side note, I would rather use to see if the pubs are indexed than use Pubmed. Pubmed is good, but does not index every journal; especially if the journals are at the cross-road fields as I am in.

  • Bashir says:

    I had 2 pubs with one under review when I got my postdoc. Things can really vary in my area, depending on the lab size and method used. The rate (and cost) of data collection varies significantly. Zero first authored pubs would be unusual. Anywhere from 1 to 4 is pretty typical.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I had one popular literature publication while working on PhD. I published PhD research during the year after graduating, while a new TT Assistant Professor. This was BPD, before postdocs. We hired a faculty member with no prePHD publications because her department did not permit same. She became our most productive faculty member. Go figure!

    Funny story. A colleague did a really fantastic dissertation, but did not publish from it and was thus denied tenure. This was around 1970. He has been publishing portentous papers based on his PhD research ever since. He visited, and tried to use my computer, which has all the letters and number worn off the keys. Turns out he is not a touch typist. He remarked, "Now you understand why it has taken me so long to finish my dissertation."

  • BLG says:

    As everyone has pointed out, it certainly depends on your field and your lab. One thing that I would be cautious of, however, is a student from a productive lab that did not have pubs. I published as a grad student and felt that my adviser made getting a paper out very easy (e.g., adviser always returned comments within a few days, paid for publication costs, etc.). The fact that some other students in the lab were really struggling to get papers written and submitted under what I considered ideal conditions was something of a red flag in terms of their ability to deal with more stressful situations.

  • Assoc Prof says:

    Actually, field ecologists who have a future in the field typically do have at least a couple of first-authored pubs from their dissertation before they finish.

    There are some ecology projects that require multiple field seasons and corresponding labwork, but there still remain lots of topics and questions that can be addressed with relatively brief but high-quality work that can end up in very good, if not top, journals. A solid dissertation should have a few projects that are designed to be finished well before the thesis is over, so that the grad student does have papers out before finishing.

  • B says:

    I'm a PhD student, graduating this year in theoretical soft matter physics (e.g. biophysics, colloids, emulsions, liquid crystals, etc...). Even within my university and within this field, there is a lot of variance. When I applied for postdocs, I had 5 papers from my grad work published and one submitted, which is toward the high end for similar students; I estimate 3-5 is typical. Some graduating students I know have not yet published with their advisor, but still have received post-doc offers on the strength of recommendations, unpublished work, and advisor's reputation. However, these students are within groups that are 1) very well respected, and 2) are known to publish rarely. Without those factors, I would be very skeptical of an applicant without any PhD papers. Even in these cases, I think the grad students are not being well served by their advisor - navigating the publishing process and dealing with reviewer critique is part of the scientific training we should get.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I joined our faculty in 1965. We did not have a masters program until 1968. I published a paper with undergraduates in 1967. I've helped undergraduates publish on a couple of other occasions, and have a number of publications with MS students. I have a couple of colleagues who published their first paper at 12 and 14 respectively. New distribution records for snakes, I think.

  • mac says:

    I agree with you about not evaluating potential by pubs right at the end of the PhD and while I saw the dissent above I'd agree that field ecology tends to be a little slower. I had two pubs from my dissertation out but they were both smaller things that didn't represent the most important things to come out of my dissertation - just the parts that could get out fast. I had one of my main papers accepted and one in review when I got my postdoc and I'm grateful they saw my potential rather than the raw numbers. In the end I got 9 pubs out of my dissertation which is pretty good in my field but it takes time to get those data and get them out. One of my experiments ran over 2 years. Another paper from the diss involved 3 years of data collection. Yes we can do shorter projects but that narrows the work and that has long-term costs too. I'm glad that my postdoc could see beyond numbers and look at the depth of the work too.

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