Ralph got a good discussion about this going over on PEA Soup. You should check it out. In the meantime, let’s see what CDers think.
What’s the point of publishing? I say it’s to communicate true and interesting results. People of course have other goals in publishing — e.g. to get noticed, to stimulate conversation, to get tenure, etc.
What’s the point of graduate education? I say it’s at least largely to train people to produce and disseminate true and interesting results. Graduate students are researchers-in-training. People of course have other goals in pursuing graduate education — e.g. to get credentialed, for the love of it, to find a safe place to weather an economic storm, etc.
I say there should be a presumption against graduate students publishing. I suspect that the general point will be relatively uncontroversial. But maybe my reason for accepting it won’t be. [I should note that my reason is clearly related to Ralph’s #3 at the beginning of his post.] Here goes.
People being trained to perform some task are probably not yet proficient in that task. Graduate students are being trained to produce true and interesting results. Therefore they are probably not yet proficient at producing such results. If they’re not proficient at producing true and interesting results, then they probably don’t have any true and interesting results to communicate, in which case they are probably not in a position to achieve the purpose of publishing. And if you’re probably not in a position to achieve the purpose of performing a task, then there is a presumption against you performing that task. So there is a presumption against graduate students publishing.
The presumption is weaker for more advanced graduate students.
The presumption can of course be overturned, at any stage. This is where proper mentoring is important. If your professor, advisor, or one of your committee members, or someone else established in the field says to you, “You should try to publish this — it’s in good enough shape,” then that defeats the presumption. More advanced graduate students who are honest with themselves might even be able to overturn the presumption on their own, if upon careful reflection they think a paper is well-written and makes a genuine contribution. But generally speaking, getting an ‘A’ on a seminar paper or impressing your classmates over beer does not suffice to overturn the presumption.
Mark Schroeder made some excellent points about the educative and practical benefits of going through the peer-review process with journals. That’s a good reason for a graduate student’s mentors to stay closely involved with the student’s work: when appropriate they can encourage her to send the paper off and see what happens. That’s an important part of graduate education. But it doesn’t speak against their being a presumption in the first place. (And Mark might not have meant it that way, either.)
Factors extrinsic to the point of publishing might affect whether it’s rational for you to publish, or whether you all-things-considered ought to publish, even if it doesn’t achieve the point of publishing. And you might reasonably think that you’ll achieve the point, even though you won’t, in which case we wouldn’t blame you. None of that speaks against there being the presumption I’ve argued for.