Recently, I received this query:
Hi Jo, I’ve been trying to publish my dissertation for a while now since completing it 7 years ago. The manuscript has been rejected twice and reviewers have noted that the data is too dated. My question is should I keep trying or just let it go? I am applying for tenure in a few months and have other publications but none of them are based on my dissertation. How much does it matter in the tenure review process if I had published from my PhD thesis or not? I look forward to your reply. Thank you!
I’m betting “Joyce” isn’t the only person struggling with this issue, so I’m going to share my response to her for the benefit of others.
I can’t answer the question about how much it matters to the tenure committee.
That is something you should ask colleagues in your institution. There are general principles but institutions vary in their values and priorities. They also vary in the types of evidence they seek.
Someone should be giving you guidance on the requirements and how to prepare. Your head of department? A mentor in your faculty?
I can, however, give you some general advice about the kinds of things to consider.
The tenure process should be one of confirming that you will be a good colleague/employee who will do the kinds of things the institution values. Research is a big piece of that.
They are looking for evidence that you can do publishable research, that you publish regularly, and that you will continue to do so. That last one is something a lot of people seem to forget about. Ideally, this process isn’t just about counting things.
Publishing from your dissertation is rarely enough for tenure
It doesn’t really show that you can do publishable research on your own, or that you have come out from under your supervisor’s wing.
Most importantly, if you have only published from your dissertation, there is no evidence that you have a program of research that will continue for the next 25 years.
That said, a dissertation should contain publishable research. It doesn’t need to be published as a book. Articles come out more quickly and allow you to move on to a next project. I’ve written more about this at the Careers Café.
The fact that you have other publications may be strong
It depends on where those other publications came from. If they are scattered and largely reactive to opportunities to collaborate then you might still be in trouble.
One piece of advice I wish someone had given me earlier in my career is that promotion committees look for a trajectory in your research. That means a program of research that you are developing and driving forward. Your program of research may include collaborating with others (even your former supervisor) but there will be some kind of unifying theme.
Most people do not have some kind of big strategy right out of the gate. It’s okay to oscillate between responding to opportunities that arise, and reflecting on where you want to go so you have better criteria for those responses. You also want to figure out what you opportunities you can create, and what you can do to be well positioned for future opportunities.
Edited 10 October 2016.