Question of the Day – First Author Publications

Not including CNS type papers, how many first author publications do you believe make someone competitive for a faculty position?

33 responses to “Question of the Day – First Author Publications

  1. Fellow Tired Mama Scientist 2.0

    Curious… By CNS type papers, do you mean case studies and short reports?

  2. Isis the Scientist

    Cell, Nature, Science. Basically, glamour type pubs.

  3. My impression is — this is totally subfield- and connections-dependent. Just one or two as a postdoc (plus a couple as a grad student) can suffice.

  4. Fellow Tired Mama Scientist 2.0

    Not just subfield and network dependent, methinks. Doesn’t it also depend on how LONG the person was a postdoc? I was once given advice re: applying for jobs as a postdoc… doing it early (within first 2 years) and few papers doesn’t look bad because of time it takes to publish. Whereas a 4th year postdoc would have some explaining to do if they didn’t have a little more to show, no?

  5. This is *very* dependent on field and subfield. I do experimental high energy physics, where papers typically have many hundreds of authors, listed alphabetically. This is very much an outlier, of course, but it really does vary considerably. There is no single good answer for this.

  6. Isis the Scientist

    So then don’t give a single good answer. Qualify it with a subfield. Mthats why I asked the question deliberately broadly.

  7. I’m not sure about these days in my field, but my advisor in astronomy only had 4 first author by the time he started at our large (though not terribly prestigious) state school ~5 years ago, none of which were in glamour journals. Though he also had ~20 N>1 author papers…

  8. With or without a post-doc, in life sciences (either biology or basic sci depts in med schools) you need about three. Its not hard and fast. For example, if you had pre-doc funding (F-award , or NSF DDI grant) less is OK. If you’ve had a postdoc, three is minimum, with another per year of postdoc. Also, the search committee upon which I have sat, take a hard look at those papers – do you have 3 LPU’s or one big thwack of a major data driven paper? The assumption that is often made (right or wrong) is that if you are independent & working hard, you should get 3-5 pubs from a PhD.

  9. This would depend in part on the applicant pool. I don’t think you evaluate CVs in isolation when looking at faculty positions; you’re comparing them to other people in the pool. And maybe other recent applicant pools.

    That said, I’d say five is a reasonable number. Most of the biology doctorates I know are typically about three papers. Two papers seems a reasonable output for a post-doc (again, depending on length of appointment; I’m thinking about a two-year post-doc). Papers from subsequent post-docs may not be out when the faculty application is submitted.

  10. I don’t understand what you mean by “not including CNS type papers”. Are you asking how many first-author papers someone needs if they don’t have any CNS papers? Or are you asking how many additional papers they need in addition to a CNS paper? Also, what do you mean by “a faculty position”? There is a big difference in the prior publications expectations at a community college versus a regional state university versus an elite private university.

  11. Isis the Scientist


  12. For PUIs (primarily-undergraduate institutions), apparently 1-2. I am starting a new position at a liberal arts PUI. At the time I interviewed, I had one sole first-author and one co-first-author publication from my grad work (plus 4 other papers), and 1 sole first-author manuscript in preparation from my postdoc work. A friend was hired at another PUI with 1 first-author paper (plus other papers). [We’re both in the life sciences, and we’re both expected to continue to do research with undergrads at our new institutions.]

  13. I got a faculty position in organismal biology at a PUI with 3: 2 from my master’s and 1 from my doctorate (no postdoc). I also had ~6 co-authorships, one a CNS. All of my colleagues have more experience than me, postdocs, etc., so I imagine for this place I had the bare minimum.

  14. I had 8 first author papers and 6 other papers when I got my first job offers this year (I don’t have any CNS pubs). I’m in biology (evolution), now on faculty at a non-major branch of a state university system. I know that people have gotten offers with fewer papers than that. I had 4.5 years of postdocing under my belt by the time those apps went out, so one would expect a good number of pubs by then, but I’m a very steady publisher, so my number of pubs didn’t suddenly jump up that year.

    Potnia Theron – Where do people hire biologists without postdocs? The only place I’ve seen that is SLACs, but is there somewhere else as well?

  15. No CNS papers. 3-first author research papers from post-doc, technically two from grad school (my old boss was old-school and put his name first), one first author review and 5 other manuscripts with various positions on the author list. That being said, while I landed what I think is an awesome TT-job at a med school (two academic interviews, one industry interview resulting in two solid offers) it wasn’t like I had Princeton, CalTech or Johns Hopkins knocking at my door.

  16. (note: I am the anon from upstream) While I am not sure what it takes to get a faculty offer in astronomy these days (seeing as the data point from my advisor was from ~5 years ago), I should note that having ~4 first author pubs coming out of grad school is not terribly uncommon… (2-3 is more common, >5 and you tend to be golden on the postdoc market).

  17. Viola: I’m at a large primarily undergrad institution in a state university system. We’ve hired a couple of people straight out of their doctoral programs with no post-docs. It can happen, though it’s definitely unusual.

  18. I have been on our engineering department’s hiring committee for several years now at an undergraduate institution. We look for a handful (2-5) of solid (eg. IEEE) conference papers (don’t all have to be 1st author) and 1-2 journal articles depending on whether or not they have been a post doc (which is less common in engineering than science).

  19. Since author lists on experimental high-energy physics papers are alphabetical, we look at number of publications, and look to letters of recommendation to address the candidate’s individual contribution. Invited talks at conferences are another indicator of the quality of the candidate, although postdocs are often not invited to give these. Once we are looking at tenure and promotion, then the candidate would be expected to have given at least one invited talk.

  20. Thanks, Zen – that’s useful to know.

  21. @Viola: In some biology sub-disciplines, a Phd project is your own, not your advisor’s. Lots of field-oriented studies (e.g., ecology, behavior, biological anthropology), the student is essentially a PI. These theses tend take longer (ie 5-7 years), and often result in more pubs. To do this work, the student often needs to get some form of funding on their own. These students also typically do more teaching (TA, or even their own classes) to support themselves. Good students like these tend to have a pretty good skill set when they come out and are competitive. There are also not a lot of postdocs in this area – since PI’s tend not to have big labs or big money.

  22. I am in a physical science field. I was hired at a MRU directly from a PhD with about 13 or 14 journal publications, most of them first author, and a whole bunch of conference papers. Postdocs are becoming increasingly more common in my field and recent hiring freezes everywhere seem to have created a glut of talent in longer-than-usual postdoctoral appointments. My postdoc, who is currently on the TT job market. says that the people who are being hired are coming out of longish postdocs and typically have with 30+ publications.

  23. I had 18 first author pubs (no CNS papers) when I got my first faculty job – from my PhD and two years as a post doc. A post doc in my lab is interviewing at the moment and she has 12 first author papers, again from her PhD and about 2 years of post doc work. In evolution and ecology, I’d expect applicants to MRUs to have at least 10 first author papers, less if some were published in the tabloid journals. At least that was the minimum that seemed to emerge from the last couple search committees I sat on.

  24. I’m in biomedical sciences at a major public medical school. I got my tenure-track position with 3 first author pubs from grad, 3 from my 5 year post-doc, plus another 6 total with reviews and 2nd/3rd author pubs. None were CNS, but a couple are in journals with IF ~8. A couple are very well cited. I did not have independent funding.

  25. Neuroscience. I tracked ~20 positions last year that each interviewed a handful of interviewees. Only a few of those did NOT have a CNS paper. I would say the average first-author pub number was 4.

    I have a CNS paper, a small grant, 7 FA papers between PhD and two postdocs, and got one (1) interview (and, thankfully, the job).

  26. Neuroscience. PhD + postdoc = 5 first author, 1 of these CNS, plus another co-first under review. 3 second author. No fellowship. Going on the job market now with 2-body problem and low expectations.

    I have no idea how some people publish so much. Getting my first first-author postdoc paper out was 2 years of full time, undivided effort before submission, then another year of essentially full time work of revisions.

  27. Neuroscience
    me: 5 first, 1 second from graduate school (IF ranged 4-7), then 3 first, 2 second from one postdoc over 3 years (IF 15 for all), no C/N/S
    wife: 4 first from grad school (IF 4-7), 4 first, 1 second from two postdocs over 6 years (IF >7 for all), 1 C/N/S.
    both of us hired to independent TT positions at private MRU.

  28. Ecology
    I had 12 total first author when I was hired at a public R1, plus a few non-first author. This followed 3 yrs of postdoc.

  29. 4. Just to throw a number out there. First authored, experimental.
    Though in my area that number is going up as the postdoc requirement goes up. Straight out of PhD wasn’t too uncommon pre 2008.

  30. Pingback: On patience and honesty | Scientopia Guests' Blog

  31. In physiology, CNS publications are as rare as wings on a pig but a handful of first authored pubs in field-specific journals always look good (AJP, JAP, MSSE, etc). When I applied for and got my TT job, I had 5 first author publications from grad school and I think 1 published and 1 submitted from postdoc plus a handful of middle author papers. I’m at an R1 but not one that’s famous for physiology.

    Am on a TT search committee at the moment and this is similar to what we’re looking for. The applicants range from clueless n00bs who haven’t even finished grad school to a few with postdoc experience and good non-CNS publications. One or two have independent funding that could travel but they aren’t necessary our top applicants for various reasons.

    Also, the requirements to be competitive will likely depend on the institution and department to which you’re applying. My guess is that physiology departments within a medical school will want to see good pubs and independent funding compared to standalone physiology departments or those within other colleges or schools.

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