Most psychology professors have published about 14 studies by the time they’re hired at top-tier colleges

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How competitive is your curriculum vitae? According to research published in the journal Scientometrics, psychologists have authored more than a dozen studies on average by the time they’re hired as a new professor.

“My initial interest was not in this area, but throughout graduate school, our program put a heavy emphasis on making sure that we publish, publish, publish, and every year I felt like I was always behind,” said study author Christopher Zou, an education researcher at Altus Assessments.

“By the end of the second year of PhD, my supervisor at the time thought that I was not productive enough – at the time, I had three publications, one third-author and two first-author – and I just didn’t think that made sense, but had nothing to back up my hunch. That’s when I realized that this was an empirical question, which lead me to this work.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 1,283 psychology graduate students. They also examined 744 graduate student CVs, 142 post-doctoral fellow CVs, and 201 CVs from recently hired psychology professors.

Zou and his colleagues found that the number of publications quickly increased with seniority.

The mean number of research publications for fourth-year graduate students was nearly 4. The mean number of publications among post-doctoral fellows was approximately 8, while the mean number of publications among new psychology professors was approximately 14.

But the same pattern was not observed when the researchers examined the zp-index, a measure of research quality. Post-doctoral fellows actually had higher zp-indices than new professors.

“The primary aim of this paper is to provide some benchmarks of progress for current psychology graduate students who are pursuing academia, and perhaps structure their program of research in a way that keeps their CV competitive once they enter the job market,” Zou told PsyPost.

The study does have some caveats.

“It’s important to recognize that the paper likely was influenced by a selection bias – generally speaking, I would assume that students with a stronger CV would want to participate in a study asking about their publication success,” Zou explained.

“Additionally, we generally restricted our focus on the top psychology research schools, which likely inflates the numbers. It would be interesting to see how these numbers might differ if we expanded the study beyond R1 research schools, and looked at R2 schools and liberal arts colleges.”

It is also unclear how long it will be until the current findings become out-dated.

“Whenever I’ve presented some of this work, I tend to get polarized reactions from the audience who either love it or hate it, even though all the study is doing is simply just presenting average publication numbers,” Zou added. “Some people seem uncomfortable with the notion of chasing after publications, as we want to ideally encourage people to pursue research for their passion, not for the publication – and I do tend to agree with that.”

“However, the reality of the current job market is that having a passion without a publication will make it much harder for you to land a job as a tenure-tracked professor. Perhaps times will change, and as the field of psychology is currently going through a paradigm shift as a result of the replication crisis, so too may the values we place in how we evaluate our fellow academics.”

The study, “The publication trajectory of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and new professors in psychology“, was authored by Christopher Zou, Julia Tsui and Jordan B. Peterson.