One of the questions that many graduate students ask is whether or not they should try to publish chapters of their dissertation in journals along the way. Given the pressure to publish and the competition on the job market, the answer may seem obvious. However, in some cases it’s not that simple. Here are some of the things you might want to consider.
On the positive side:
1. Publishing an article or two does give you something to put on your CV. It can be an indication that you are someone with promise for future publishing success, as well, and some institutions place more weight on refereed articles than they do on books.
2. The readers’ reports can help with you with your revision process. You should be getting feedback along the way from your advisor(s), but outside readers have no vested interest in your success in graduate school (they don’t even know who you are), so their assessments will (or should) be unbiased and fair. Being shown a glaring methodological error in chapter 2 of your diss can allow you to fix it chapters 3-5, as well.
3. If your article is well-received, then it can be advanced press for the eventual publication of your book. People who loved your article may be very eager to get their hands on your book.
On the other hand:
1. Some scholars are of the strong opinion a graduate student’s energy should be wholly devoted to finishing the dissertation, and there is some reason for that. Finishing is hard, and the more potential distractions one introduces, the more chance one might be overly delayed in finishing. (And the extra work involved in formatting and preparing a journal article will take considerable extra time.) If your advisor thinks this way, then you need to proceed cautiously.
2. Some people – and some institutions – are ‘book people.’ Articles are fine, but they are primarily interested in seeing if you can maintain an argument that supports the weight of an entire book. They may assume that your pre-doctoral articles are from the diss, so they may tend not to count them very heavily when you apply for a job at their school.
3. Some publishers will not publish a book if any part of it has already appeared in print. The press of the Society of Biblical Literature, for example, has this specific condition in the contract. If you have in mind the ‘perfect’ publisher for your project when it’s done, then it’s a good idea to do some research sooner rather than later to see if they have a policy. Even an informal question in the book center at a conference might suffice.
At the end of the day, you should think through this and make your own decision based on your situation, desires, and commitments. Just know that people who have taken both routes have gone on to very successful academic careers.