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More publications or better journals?


iequaljoan
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Hello!

I'm currently an M.A. student in Media Studies. I will be applying next year to interdisciplinary Af-Am and Lat-Am Studies programs.

For practice and curiosity, I've submitted articles to a couple of lower-tier journals--meaning graduate student journals and the like--and have been accepted. Should I go through with this or just wait until I can get a paper into a top tier journal? Do departments care about publications during the admissions process? Will it actually look bad that I published stuff in journals of this ilk?

What do you think?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Publications never look bad for graduate students, unless you're doing sloppy work or over-doing it (trying to cram like 8 publications in will probably mean that you're sacrificing quality for quantity, for instance).

Be proud of your accomplishment—you've had publications accepted. Go ahead and publish them.

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Take this with a grain of salt, as I'm in the sciences:

For us, there's a threshold. A second or third tier journal publication is fine, anything much lower than that and it's not always beneficial. Are these all peer-reviewed publications?+

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The answer is probably field-specific. For my field, a good end result from a project would be a conference presentation or two (or more, on different aspects of the project), maybe a proceedings paper and eventually a top-tier journal paper. The choice of journal depends on the target audience that you are trying to reach. It could make sense to publish in a less prestigious but more specialized journal if you believe that your work interests the readers of that journal in particular, or for other similar reasons. But I don't think it makes sense to publish in a lower tier journal just to have the publication on your CV when you can put in more work and publish in a top tier journal. I guess an exception would be if you don't think the project can improve any further yet has reached a more-or-less satisfactory conclusion. In that case it'd be a good idea to consult with your advisor and ask whether (any) publication of the work is advisable. Remember that future employers will assess all of your published work and in some cases it's better to have one less publication than to have a bad one.

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The previous two make an excellent point that I overlooked: my advice is pretty humanities-specific (or possibly English specific). There's some ethos behind my feelings—I just came from a conference in which, during a roundtable on professionalization, the mentors told us that publications are rarely a bad thing for a graduate student, unless you're being really sloppy about it—but it may be more specific to my field. It's also good to get into the habit of cyclical projects: that is, always having a project on the back-burner while you're working on a current one. Unless you think these pieces have a lot more potential and don't represent your best work, I don't think you should hold onto them. At some point, projects have to be "finished."

Eligen brings up another good point: are the journals reviewed? If so, I'd say it's not dangerous to publish in them, even though they're grad-student specific.

In sum, if I were speaking to someone else in English (or in Rhet/Comp), I'd tell them this: unless the journal was just absolutely awful or your piece was really sloppy, I don't see how it could hurt you on a PhD application. (Job market search might be a different story.) Adcoms in my field wouldn't be expecting top-tier journals in a PhD applicant—in fact, a single-authored publication in any kind of reviewed journal would be fairly competitive.

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