Graduate school and advancing the field

19 08 2011

I wrote earlier about the notion that the pressure to generate lots of data and publishing many articles early in the academic career may not be conducive to generating big ideas. A recent article in the APS Observer by Travis Riddle and Jeff Craw spoke to the possible detrimental effects of pressure to publish as a graduate student. There are good arguments in favor of and against getting lots of data into the literature, even if it’s not of the best quality.

I think the goal of graduate school is to practice being an academic while under the tutelage of a mentor. Practice, yes, but publish 8 articles, of which 4 are first author? I think that leads to a kind of single-minded focus that might not be the best for training a scholar who can think broadly across the discipline and even across disciplines. I agree with the authors of the article:

“the relatively short duration of graduate school and the demands of publication usually pressure students to publish early and often; consequently, students may approach research in a manner that is antithetical to fostering a great research mind.”

You might even apply a similar reasoning to the tenure clock.