I want to challenge the key assumption - made by nearly everyone - that
choosing not to publish your work in the highest impact factor journal
you can convince to accept it is tantamount to career suicide. It is
ubiquitously repeated by everyone from the most successful senior
scientists to first year graduate students. And, judging by their
publishing practices, most of them must believe it to be true. But I
don't think it is.
If that seems like heresy, it's because it is heretical. Michael put it more strongly than I would have but I mostly agree.
Since I mostly agree, there's no point in repeating his arguments in favor of that heretical position. I'll focus on a shade of emphasis where we disagree.
In my new position
am part of the team that reviews cases for promotion, tenure, and reappointment across all schools and colleges at the University of Connecticut (other than those at the Health Center). A few years ago, I served on the Faculty Review Board, a group of faculty that provides advice to the Provost on promotion, tenure, and reappointment cases where there might be a negative decision.
In those contexts, I've had to judge the credentials of economists, poets, political scientists, artists, sociologists, and philosophers, not to mention the credentials of those in natural science fields well beyond biology. I can't pretend to judge the scholarly qualifications of candidates based on direct reading of publications (for fields where publication is relevant), except in a few fields close to my own research, or the creative contributions of those involved in literature, the visual arts, or performance. I can only judge based on the assessments of experts in those fields and some sense of the quality of the venues in which a work has appeared.
I know, for example, that it is much more significant for a musician to have presented a solo performance with the New York Philharmonic in its regular concert season than for a musician to have performed the same work with the high school orchestra in my hometown. And it is a much more significant achievement for an evolutionary biologist when she publishes her work in Evolution
than when it appears in the Journal of Northeastern Connecticut Evolutionary Biologists
So how have I used that kind of assessment of journal quality in judging promotion and tenure cases? By seeing whether the quality of scholarship suggested by the venues in which it appears is consistent with the evaluations of external evaluators who are expert in the field. It's not, "Oh, this gal has a paper in Evolution
. She gets tenure." It's "Oh, this gal has a paper in Evolution
. That's a demanding journal, getting a paper or two in there suggests that she is doing very good work, and that's consistent with the high praise that external reviewers are heaping on her. She's someone we want to keep around."2
So on that, Michael and I agree. Choosing not to publish your work in the highest impact factor journal
you can convince to accept it is not
tantamount to career suicide.
The shade of emphasis on which we disagree is this: You do
want to publish your work in high quality journals.3
I've emphasized here the purely practical impact that will have on your prospects for promotion and tenure, but there's an even more basic reason. Your work isn't done until it's communicated. And it's much easier to reach a wide audience of receptive readers when your work appears in high-quality journals than when it appears in obscure journals -- even, I'm afraid, if those obscure journals are open access.4