Some anointed folk publish in top journals during their PhD and spend their lives publishing in the Leiter-top-10. Most of the rest of us presumably have very different experiences. (My only publication ever in the "top 20" is an invited one.) I want to share some of mine to give young people a sense of 'what it's like.'
I am from the generation that was still actively discouraged from publishing while writing my PhD (obtained, 2002). Unfortunately, during my research I falsified the central hypothesis that guided my dissertation, so I was left without a coherent narrative (and, thus, no monograph). I had no idea how to write a journal article (see my tips here; and Cogburn's). Unsurprisingly, my first eight or nine submissions were rejected often with dismissive referee reports (and long delays, of course). I suspect that in addition to my lack of skill in writing articles, journals were not very interested in learning about Adam Smith's philosophy of science. (I even had job-lecture-audiences snicker at the mention of "Adam Smith;" eventually I switched to Hume.)
All four of the core chapters of the dissertation had a very hard time getting into print; they accumulated more than 30 rejections altogether. One (the most a-historical) never got past referees, and I eventually discarded it. One (on Hume and Newton) took eight years and countless rejections (even from journals (!) where the editor-in-chief had asked me to submit it after hearing the material presented) before it appeared in Enlightenment & Dissent, an intellectual history journal--along the way I had inverted my thesis. Another paper, on the methodology of the Wealth of Nations, was regularly savaged by referees (I once received an eighteen-page, typed, single space small font report, which taught me a lot on Smith's digression on silver among other things), and was published in a wonderful, super-niche journal (even by the standards of history of economics [a small, insignificant field in economics])--bless Warren Samuels' soul. Only the fourth, on Smith's proto-Kuhnian philosophy of science, appeared in a respectable philosophy, specialist history journal; it received extremely critical reviews, even from the journal's referees and editor that eventually (after two R&Rs) published it in 2005. It is now my most cited paper; a google scholar search suggests it is the most cited paper in the history of the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
Is there any moral to be derived from N=1, who was educated in a pre-blog, pre-print, pre-professionalized era? With extreme caution, of course, here are four:
- Dissertation chapters tend to make lousy journal articles. Journal writing is a distinct skill (that, in my case, involves a certain kind of 'dumbing down' even though 'clarity' is gained).
- I was extremely lucky to hang on in the discipline on my pedigree and my supervisors' network alone. (After all, I got rejected by a lot -- tenfold? -- more hiring departments than submission accepting journals.)
- Don't get too depressed about rejections and try to learn from the referees' insights.
- With less funding (and, thus shorter time) allowed for dissertations and the existing hyper-competition in the discipline, it makes sense to plan one's dissertation in relatively focused, 'modular' fashion so that one's 'findings' make for journal-size publications.