Grenz Ricoeur Shelf

Grenz Ricoeur Shelf

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To Publish or not to Publish? That is the Question!

The dissertation writing process
When should a new theology PhD student look to start publishing? Its often said that if you ask two Baptists for what they think about something, you'll end up with three opinions total. So, this question doesn't seem as straightforward "yes" or "no" as it may seem. Everyone seems to have their own take on the question ranging from "as a PhD student one has no social or family life and is expected to publish high quality original material in addition to dissertation research in order to beef up one's CV" to "as a PhD student one is expected to forsake all else and devote themselves exclusively to their dissertation research. No cheating on your thesis folks!"

Over at The Jesus Blog, Chris Keith strongly discourages publishing before one finishes their dissertation (but see also the update he adds with some nuance that I think sounds pretty reasonable): answer is pretty firm. In general, you shouldn't be aiming for publication until after you've finished writing your PhD dissertation. The PhD is the single most important piece of writing for 99.9% of young scholars, and all efforts should be put into it. There will be the occasional exception where someone is able to publish something prior, but those should remain exceptions. I understand all too well the desire to have some publications on your CV straight out of the gate in order to compete in a historically insane job market. But, to the best of one's abilities, he or she should resist that pressure and try to focus on the PhD.
Deep breaths
However, The Thesis Whisperer has a post up by a recent successful PhD advocating "thesis by publications":
I wrote my thesis entirely as a series of publications. Now I’m joking, right? Certainly not. This approach splits the thesis up into manageable sections, or papers, or perhaps even mini Honours theses. Rather than having one deadline for one large piece of work, a thesis by publications allows manageable and achievable goals to be set, which provide more immediate and visible outcomes from the research.
Writing papers and submitting them to journals throughout PhD candidature allows progress to be monitored and evaluated as you go.
As I sat in my supervisor’s office for the last time, we discussed the possible scenarios from the examiners review of the thesis. They could reject it. It’s possible. Major changes, there’s a chance. Minor changes, wouldn’t that be nice? But regardless of the outcome, we both agreed that a thesis by publications was the best approach, both for enhancing the quantity and quality of research, preparing myself for a potential career in academia and most importantly for me, thoroughly enjoying my time as a PhD student. (emphasis original)
Wow! It sounds almost magical. I'm certainly all for enjoying my time as a PhD student. I'm also for being able to get a job when I'm done, as is my wife! (I'm well aware, but feel free to insert warnings and reality checks on the state of the theology/biblical studies job market here if you feel the need.) 

So, I thought I'd throw this out to any current PhD students, recent post-docs, or seasoned scholars - how should a new PhD student like myself approach publishing? Stay away from it and focus exclusively on the dissertation? Publish as much as possible in order to enhance my CV? Publish, but only material closely related to my dissertation research? Some other nuanced position? Are there journals to pursue or stay away from? What's the lay of the land? Let me know what you think.

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