Well-Rounded Academic or Publishing Machine?

“Look at academics. Most of them have a 40/40/20 role. That is, they spend 40% of their time on research, 40% on teaching, and 20% on service. So, if you want an academic position after you graduate, try and develop your skills or get experience in all three areas.”

When I started my PhD, this is the advice I was given. It seemed like very sound advice. So, I did my best to essentially carve out a 40/40/20 role for myself. Each semester I taught one or two units to develop my teaching skills. I volunteered to be the postgraduate student representative on a number of committees. I helped to organise the department’s 3 Minute Thesis competition two years in a row. If someone needed a PhD student to help with something, I was there.

Towards the end of my PhD, as I was drafting up my CV, I was really proud of myself. I had managed to tick the boxes in each category. In terms of publications, I had written one encyclopedia entry and had one publication. The publication had five studies in it (and was the culmination of years of work and most of my PhD) but on paper it was only one publication. But, I assumed that anyone would look at my CV and see that I could successfully manage my time and straddle various responsibilities and still publish research. After all, this is what most academics do.

However, two months away from finishing my PhD I attended a seminar for those of us about to graduate. The “Post-PhD” seminar had various senior academics discussing what they look for when hiring post-doctoral students. The main piece of advice that I gleaned from that particular seminar was:

“When looking at a CV the first thing the hiring committee does is look at your publications. Everything else doesn’t really matter.” 

What have I done? Cue spiral of doom.

Did I waste my time volunteering for committees, organising events, and teaching?

Perhaps I should have been a hermit who only conducted studies and focused on publications.

I have now essentially finished my PhD and I’m applying for jobs. While doing this, I’m trying to publish two pieces of research to increase my employability. The jobs and postdoctoral positions in my field seem scarce. Every day I go backwards and forwards between “I should have more publications, teaching was a waste of time” and “I am a well-rounded academic who has a variety of fundamental and desirable skills”.

I think I learned valuable skills teaching classes (see my earlier post on this). Also, by volunteering, I met so many people in our department that I normally wouldn’t. This increased my network dramatically and having a good network can help with finding employment opportunities (see Chris’ post on this).

But, I still wish I had more publications.

What are your thoughts on this? As a PhD student, should you be a publication machine or developing well-rounded academic skills?

– Alessa Teunisse

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