For PhD students in economics, it is publish or perish!

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Oct 10, 2019
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I completed my PhD in economics fifteen years ago where practices about research valuation and recruitment started to change in my discipline (i.e. economics) in France. At that time, a young doctor can obtain a permanent academic position (as junior scientist or assistant professor) even if (s)he has no academic publication. Indeed, in the past contributions in a PhD thesis can be developed around a strong main theme (and synthetically presented as a book) and there was no requirement about publications (notably, papers published in peer-reviewed journals). Besides, (institutional and individual) research valuation based on journal ranking was quite absent in France.

Current research valuation and recruitment in France
 
From then on, things are entirely changed in my discipline. Research valuation based on scientific publication record was introduced very gradually. Journal ranking therefore becomes highly important in this process. There exist some lists of journal ranking in economics and management as those prepared by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES), but some business schools and universities also have their own rankings.


The current recruitment process for an academic (and tenure-track) position in economics and management consists of two steps: (i) the recruitment committee preselects a shortlist of candidates for job interviews, (ii) the committee establishes a ranking among the preselected candidates based on the job interviews. Furthermore, there is a prerequisite for young doctors who want to apply for a young tenure track position (i.e. ‘maître des conférences’ or equivalently assistant professor) at a public university in France: they need to obtain the ‘qualification’ awarded by the National Council of Universities (CNU). I observe that an applicant who has no academic publication does not often obtain the CNU qualification. Even worse, (s)he is almost surely eliminated at the first step of the recruitment process, regardless of other qualifications or skills. A candidate with publications in top field or top tier journals will generally get the job. Regarding (private) business schools, although they may not require candidates to have a CNU qualification, they are even more interested in their scientific publications.

Therefore, I can definitely answer the question ‘Is it publish or perish for PhD students?’ in my discipline with a ‘YES’.

Some advices

My advices to present and future PhD students would be the following. Conducting a doctoral research in my discipline is sometimes a strategic issue, given several constrains related to the duration (a typical PhD study is generally completed 3 or 4 years after the master degree) and the publication process (which takes more than one year, from first submission to final acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal).


Thus, a good strategy is to write the doctoral thesis as a collection of several essays, each of which can correspond to a paper that is already published or publishable in an academic journal at the time of the defense. Particularly, the thesis should contain an important contribution, known as ‘job-market paper’, of which the PhD student is usually the sole author (or coauthored with other researchers than the supervisor). This piece of work gives the proof that the young doctor can conduct independently her/his own research.

After the defense, if the young doctor does not have any publication yet, (s)he should perform a post-doctoral research in order to improve her/his publication record. Indeed, we can observe that a great majority of young doctors spend one or two (or even more) years as post-doctoral researcher before participating in the job market for a permanent academic position. However, the race for publications should not be to the detriment of quality. Indeed, in most of recruitment committees for academic jobs in which I have participated, we assess both the quality and the quantity of candidates’ scientific publications by a deep examination of the content published in these works and by an extensive use of some authoritative journal rankings.

Go to the profile of Phu Nguyen-Van

Phu Nguyen-Van

Senior scientist, National Center for Scientific Research, BETA (CNRS, INRA, University of Strasbourg)

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