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Should you publish your dissertation as a journal article or an academic book?

Once the dissertation is accepted, the question of whether to publish journal articles or an academic book is one that faces many new Ph.Ds aiming for faculty positions. When weighing these options, consider what is standard in your discipline, as some fields reward books while others reward journal articles. Your dissertation committee and director are excellent sources of advice on this question.

For most academic jobs where publications count, the stature of the publisher is crucial to the impact your publication will have on your career. Publishing with a university press known for its important titles in your field, will provide a superior impact. But a press that required a subvention on your part would be less valued.

The story for academic journals is a bit simpler, but similar. You should aim for publication in those journals that are widely regarded as top ones: ones in which the most significant, most cited articles are routinely published. Some, such as Science and Nature, range broadly over all the sciences; others may be specific to your field. Again, your choice of target journals will be a reflection of the standards of the university or college where you are, or hope to be, published. There are also other magazine-journals, such as Scientific American and the American Scientist, that publish important work but for the general reader and not so much as a communication between scholars in your discipline.

Again, your dissertation committee and director are excellent sources of advice on these questions. Additionally, if your dean is approachable, he or she can tell you how journals in your field are weighted in the tenure and promotion committee’s deliberations.

Most fields have a set of expectations regarding publications by younger faculty, so establishing your initial reputation with well-placed journal articles may be the best initial strategy. That strategy also should get you published more quickly than a book contract with a university or top academic press would. Much depends on the standards in your discipline and expectations for employment.

Another question that may come up is whether you publish with co-authors, such as the chair of your dissertation committee, or other students who provided significant contributions to your results, or whether you publish solo. There is a trade-off between solo publications and multi-author publications: the dissertation director or principal investigator for the grant under which you did your work may be highly regarded in your field, and that reputation might help in your work’s acceptance; however, multiple authors also can mean that the significance for you can be diminished. If you do co-publish, be sure that all authors on your articles approve of the article before you submit it based on their detailed reading of the draft and their confidence in your data and their analyses.

A final caveat: deans and promotion committees expect that your publications will contain significant work done after your dissertation. Thus, developing a research program that goes beyond the topic of the dissertation is important in order to show your capacity for independent work (the assumption is that your dissertation was written with the substantial input of your director and committee). So don’t expect that you can rest your promotion and tenure on the work reported in your dissertation, whether published as a monograph or as articles.