Publish or perish

Publish or perish

"Publish or perish" refers to the pressure to publish work constantly in order to further or sustain one's career in academia. The competition for tenure-track faculty positions in academia puts increasing pressure on scholars to publish new work frequently.

Frequent publication is one of the few methods at a scholar's disposal to improve his or her visibility, and the attention that successful publications bring to scholars and their sponsoring institutions helps ensure steady progress through the field and continued funding. Scholars who focus on non-publishing-related activities (such as instructing undergraduates), or who publish too infrequently, may find themselves out of contention for available tenure-track positions.

A scholarly writer may experience pressure to publish constantly, regardless of the academic field in which the writer conducts scholarship. One physicist, for example, sees evidence of shoddy scholarship in the field. In the 1990s, graduate students and untenured assistant professors in the humanities and social sciences may have experienced more pressure than academics in the sciences, but after 2000, the pressure spread into other disciplines and the phenomenon came to influence the advancement of tenured associate professors to the coveted full professor title in the United States. Because of declining enrollments in MBA programs, business school professors are also significantly under pressure in the mid-2000s.


Research-oriented universities may attempt to manage the unhealthy aspects of the publish-or-perish practices, but their administrators often argue that some pressure to produce cutting-edge research is necessary to motivate scholars early in their careers to focus on research advancement, and learn to balance its achievement with the other responsibilities of the professorial role. The call to abolish tenure is very much a minority opinion in such settings.


There are a number of criticisms of this phenomenon, the most notable being that the emphasis on publishing may decrease the value of resulting scholarship, as scholars must spend more time scrambling to publish whatever they can manage, rather than spend time developing significant research agendas.

Publishing pressure is also felt by many undergraduates (and some graduate students) as the pressure to publish-or-perish (and to secure research funding) detracts from the quality of instruction professors can provide. The rewards for exceptional teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level rarely match the rewards for exceptional research, which encourages faculty to favor the latter any time that teaching and research come into conflict .

Many universities do not focus on teaching ability when they hire new faculty, and simply look at the publications list (and, especially in technology related areas, the ability to bring in research money). This single-minded focus on the professor-as-a-researcher aspect may cause faculty to neglect or be unable to perform some other responsibilities.

Another important aspect of professorship is mentorship of graduate students, an aspect rarely assessed when new faculty are admitted to a department.

More importantly for the humanistic disciplines, teaching, passing on the Tradition of Litterae Humaniores, is often placed in a very secondary position in research universities and treated as a non-scholarly activity, to the detriment of high culture. Hanson and Heath have commented on this problematic point vigorously in their polemical book, Who Killed Homer.

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