Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why don't people publish articles from their dissertation !!!

This is a pet peeve of mine. Somebody writes a dissertation, and then does not publish journal articles from the dissertation. Perhaps they drop out of the field, or perhaps they publish only chapters for edited books. But a dissertation doesn't really exist as a professional publication; although dissertations have to be approved by a committee, they are not peer reviewed. There are some real stinkers out there.

In the past few days I've come across two more cases of this. One is a dissertation on a theme that I have long been interested in, but have been disappointed that there was not a detailed targeted study of the phenomenon. So I see a citation to a dissertation on just this theme, by a student of one of the archaeologists to popularized this theme. I can't get the dissertation online, and various searches turn up no publications by the author. Arghhhhh....... The second example was a text in which a young professional archaeologist (Assistant Professor, PhD ca. 5 years ago) waxes poetic over the important advanced he or she made on a particular topic in their dissertation. OK, let's take a look. There are a few book chapters on other topics, but no journal articles and nothing at all on the particular topic in question.  Arghhhhh........

Perhaps I am running up against people who wrote their theses following the "dissertation as process" viewpoint, in place of the "dissertation as product" viewpoint that I favor. The first views dissertation work as a learning experience; a student learns to set up a research design, gather data, analyze it, write it up, etc. It is not important whether the topic is important or not, or whether anyone cares about the research, or whether it gets published. Adherents to this approach think that graduate students should not waste time publishing articles - that takes precious time away from reading everying published in the field.

The "dissertation as product" viewpoint suggests that a dissertation is a professional work that should be judged in the same way that a published book or journal article is judged. The topic should be relevant to current disciplinary concerns, and the work should be an important contribution to knowledge. If one follows these concerns, then the student will learn to do research along the way. And when the dissertation is done, it should be easy to crank out a few journal articles in rapid succession

The "dissertation as project" approach sounds crazy to me. I can't imagine writing a dissertation merely as an exercise to learn methods. As a professor, I can't imagine accepting a dissertation on a non-important and irrelevant topic, so long as the student learned something along the way. But at a former university I had some colleagues who believed in this approach. I was completely baffled when they would say that students should not publish articles, but then reading Krathwohl helped put this into perspective; Krathwohl was where I found this terminology (diss as project and diss as product) (and Krathwohl is the best guide I know to organizing a social science research proposal).

Krathwohl, David R.
    1988    How to Prepare a Research Proposal: Guidelines for Funding and Dissertations in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 3rd ed. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.

Anyway, if you write a dissertation, please please publish some articles. Some of us out here might be interested in what you are doing. (and please keep this in mind for MA papers too).


haecceities said...

In Sweden a dissertation thesis counts as a publication so even if no article is written, the thesis must be available in book form (and in recent years they are often also available in electronic forms).

Bone Girl said...

Thoughts on whether an archaeo dissertation should be published as a series of articles or a book? I've planned the former (better peer review, easier online access), but have been approached by publishers for the latter.

I also want to add (for those perhaps sending out book chapters or articles to non-peer-reviewed journals): What I've learned so far in attempting to publish my dissertation research is not to put the cart before the horse. Just because your final chapter is the most interesting doesn't mean you can publish it before you get the foundational chapters peer reviewed and in circulation. (Oops.)

Some answers to "Why don't people publish articles from their dissertations?" Because the peer-review process can be long, hard, and dispiriting (times however many articles you want to spin out). Because after graduation, the grad student no longer has the same access to established professors to read drafts or give advice. Because the grad student is on the job market, which takes up an amazing amount of time, or is teaching or working, etc. Not that that excuses not publishing, just the amount of time between graduation and publication.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Smith,

What are the pros and cons of publishing chapters of a dissertation as articles and book chapters (around 3-5 articles and 1-3 book chapters), versus publishing the dissertation as a monograph with maybe an article or book chapter coming from it?

Which strategy do you think is better for an archaeology graduate student writing their dissertation that anticipates being placed on the tenure track position in an anthropology department?

Michael E. Smith said...

@haecceities - This tradition of publishing dissertations has both good and bad aspects. The good part is that the theses become much more readily available. The bad part is that such a publication has not gone through the same kind of review process as a regular book. So some of these books are of lower quality, and it becomes difficult to evaluate a person's publication record (have they published a real book, or just a printed version of the dissertation?).

@BoneGirl and Anonymous- It is difficult to answer this query in the abstract. I think one's publication choices depend on the nature of the material, the kind of field one is in (e.g., archaeology more closely related to sciences or humanities; books are a much bigger deal in the humanities than in the sciences), etc.

Personally I much prefer journal articles. Many more people will read journal articles than books, and so one's work will have greater impact; also, articles will appear much faster than a book. And then in evaluations for tenure, a book based on a dissertation does not count very much - a crucial criterion is research and publication BEYOND the dissertation. I remember a contentious tenure case where one faction in the department insisted that this person's book went considerably beyond the dissertation, whereas another faction claimed that it was the same work, with just some minor rewriting.

But then some departments require a book for tenure, whether dissertation based or not. I was once turned down for a job at one of these departments (shortly after receiving tenure at my first university) because I had not published a book (after being told at my interview that I would get a job offer soon). Now, whenever I publish a new book, I think about sending a copy to that department!

But enough stories, I generally favor the journal article route. Yes, books have prestige. But journal articles will get the work out there more quickly and to a MUCH larger audience.

Anonymous said...

Have patience. Maybe they did write articles, but they are forever lost in the editorial limbo of Latin American Antiquity. A PhD from five years ago. Hmmm. If they submitted the paper then, they should be getting the first set of reviews any day. Patience.

karen.schollmeyer said...

Unfortunately, I agree that lag time between writing a dissertation and the appearance of articles is related to the lengthy journal review process. Many of us are aiming for the “higher profile” journals in anthropology when we submit articles from our dissertations, both because dissertation-level research tends to have broader impacts (or so we hope) and because we are on the job market and need the journal name-recognition on our CVs (or so we think). Unfortunately, many of those journals are particularly plagued by long review periods and long lags between acceptance and publication.

I am in the throes of this myself; I submitted an article from my dissertation to a journal widely praised (on this blog, even!) as having quick turnarounds, and am still waiting for reviews over five months later. I know this is not atypical, but the 2011 tenure-track job application cycle begins all too soon, so the wait seems particularly agonizing to me now.

Unless the “normal” wait time between submission, reviews, acceptance, and publication changes in our field (a change we desperately need!), I’m afraid the only answer is to force ourselves to submit publications from our dissertations *while we’re still writing them.* It’s so tempting to wait, figuring our articles will be better if we’ve perfected the chapters they’re based on and the string of arguments they’re linked to. But, when it’s accepted as normal to wait well over a year between submitting an article and having any hope of seeing it in print, we really shouldn’t be waiting to submit.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Karen -- Yes, it is really tough when journals take a long time. I think delays in the review process are one of the big professional problems in archaeology today. It's hard to suggest easy fixes, since ultimately most delays come from reviewers taking a long time, and getting good reviewers is a big problem for most journals. Some journals are more efficient than others in pushing through reviews.

Your situation was certainly not the kind of thing I was complaining about, though. One was a ten-year old dissertation, and the other was almost as bad, although I can't give the details here.

But I do think that students should not wait till their dissertations are done to publish papers!

Anonymous said...

This is the second time I have published with LAA. First time took 11 months to get reviews back. Now 8 months have passed and no reviews. I wonder if part of the problem in journal delays is that many journals do not have permanent managing editors that persist the cycle of editors. That way, at least, there is not a huge learning curve when new editors take the leash and have to get their own folks to run the journal. CA is pretty successful with a fairly tight 4 month turn around because they have had the same managing editor (not the main editor) for years. Crazy frustrating. I hear Ancient Mes is worse, though, which is why I am afraid of them. Editors gotta get their game tight...

Anonymous said...

@ anon. Interesting. There does seem to be a weird dilemma in publishing these days, especially as many journals only appear as electronic pdfs, though they are not really considered e-journals, which lack the prestige of typical journals. I recall a previous post talking about a very short, almost too short, turn over for JAA. That can be compared with, as you say, the excessively long delay with some journals (I wonder if LAA should just get reabsorbed back into Am Ant, which would help unify the society anyway and allow more investment in a permanent managing editor). Does the short turnover for well-respected journals suggest a decline in scholarly quality as these massive publishers turnover work like commodities on a market of ideas? Perhaps. But then at least you don't have to wait an excessively long time for others.

The edited volume route probably is a bad idea for new PhDs as they only help the editors (and then only if the volumes are really recognized as good, which is uncommon).

I think one problem, however, in the lack of publishing is that some grad programs simply do not instill a feeling of scholarly obligation toward publishing and, instead, indoctrinate grad students to think it is only about networking (cough, cough, Harvard, cough, cough). Others, however, instill a feeling that grad students should not publish because they have nothing important to say or that they do not have the social status to be taken seriously in the superficial positioning of ideas. This is sad because grad students, much more than tenured faculty, take a ton of time and care to ensure quality due to the fact that they are grad students. Moreover, grad students nowadays are trained in such a wide range of concepts and theories compared to older profs that their ability to make broad comparisons are likely much stronger.

what to do, what to do...

Anonymous said...

I am a PhD student at a major university and am planning to do exactly as you say, publish parts of my dissertation as articles. My department and even my own supervisor, however, are against this practice as they prefer students to focus on their dissertation. I have gone ahead and published 1 article in a peer reviewed journal as well as an edited volume that has garnered very positive reviews to my department's surprise. I think it is bad practice to advise students of today to not publish during their PhD research. If they want us not to publish, then they should stop hiring people for Post-docs and lectureships who already have publications. We know that the job market is tough and are not fools to follow the "no publication" advice.

Anonymous said...

I have the following question: is a newly-minted PhD more likely to get a research position or lectureship based on the PhD or on the number of articles written? Meaning, will the articles or related publications (e.g., edited volume) get someone that coveted interview or is it the subject of the PhD and the letters of recommendations?

Michael E. Smith said...

A good dissertation without publications suggests that one is not productive or able to write and publish articles. A collection of journal articles suggests that one IS productive, and that the dissertation is probably good (in order to generate papers). Book chapters are MUCH less indicative of quality than are journal articles. Book chapters may be brilliant, but they can be suspect because of the lack of peer review. And they get less visibility and have less impact.

Anonymous said...

In the US and many European countries I know of, the PhD thesis is supervised and approved by a committee of people you know and work with. As a result, the thesis is not considered a peer-review product and there may even be suspicions that well-networked candidates in a good relationship with their committee may have their thesis approved more easily.

However, this is not the case in the UK, where your thesis is examined in a private viva by two people you may have never met: an internal and an external examiner. They read the whole thesis and they may be very demanding, usually making tough peer-review comments, and often request that you review whole parts of your dissertation before accepting it.

Therefore, I find it unfair to make generalisations and say that a UK PhD thesis is not peer-reviewed, after the pains we have got through to get it accepted.

Ijime said...

I'm currently pursuing a hybrid dissertation - I submit three journal articles to peer reviewed journals, then write a (lengthy) introduction and conclusion to tie the three articles together. This is the dissertation - three publications and an intro/conclusion. It's an academic sandwich.

That said, I am worried that pursuing this route will hurt job prospects. Will people see this as an 'easy way out' in the dissertation process? Or will a publishing track record speak for itself? The hard sciences do this frequently, but it's relatively new to archaeology from what I understand.

But I agree with the points you bring up Dr. Smith. I think a huge solution to the process is e-book publishing. It is a relatively painless procedure to format a dissertation in to an .epub file, and then convert that to a .mobi and upload it to, or other digital book services. They can be free as well.

In fact... what is the limitation to having edited volumes take this route? Have a digital editor select anonymous peer reviewers, go through the normal process, but release an e-book and a build-to-order book option for folks not on the internet bandwagon yet. A huge plus to this is cost control - avoiding a traditional publishing company could make the volume cost $10 - $20, as opposed to $Lots - $Prohibitive.

writing thesis dissertation said...

May be they don't want to let anyone get full access to their dissertations which they have done with difficulty :)

Jennifer Birch said... is a good place for people to post pdfs of their dissertations online. (Though it is of course no substitute for peer-reviewed articles based on the dissertation research.) I've posted mine and have downloaded a number of others there.

Anonymous said...

As several people have already noted, I think you've overlooked the issue of review times and their effect on publishing the results of research. Maybe reviewers should take a good hard look at their workload (or time management skills) before agreeing to review an article. In the natural sciences there is a concern with a three week review process. In archaeology it is more like 7-12 months. Maybe you should blame the journal editors and reviewers (i.e. not the graduate students) for the pattern you've identified. In other words, maybe it may not be a lack of people of trying to publish their research, but could just as easily be a result of the laziness of reviewers and editors. Given the nature of the incentives to publish in academia, what would be the point of making a dissertation available for free when it doesn't benefit the author in terms of professional qualifications?

Michael E. Smith said...

@Jennifer - Good idea to post your dissertation on Most dissertations are posted through ProQuest, but Academia makes them more visible and accessible to interested parties.

@anonymous - The slow review time for many archaeology journals is a separate issue from whether one publishes papers from one's dissertation or not. But even if it takes a year for reviewing (slow) and a year for production on a journal article, it still beats most edited volumes; these typically take more than a year in preparation, plus a couple of years for review and production. I have a couple of papers "in press" in edited volumes that have been sitting around for five and ten years. If I had the time and energy I'd pull these and send them to journals, but entropy wins out. But if one wants to publish from one's dissertation, slow journal review times is not an excuse for failing to publish.