Friday, August 04, 2006

Perhaps the Worst Advice Ever

Daniel Drezner recounts some truly terrible advice he received as a young academic:

When I was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, a senior colleague once told me his secret to academic success: One bad article equals five great ones. His point was that the worst thing a scholar can do is to publish too much, as opposed to too little. Any substandard publication creates a black mark that is difficult to erase.

This sounds like a smug senior professor aiming to paralyze a junior colleague's creativity.

The truth is that producing bad papers is one of the costs of producing good papers. When you swing for a home run, you are more likely to strike out. The only way to avoid the occasional strike out is to quit the game.

Here is my advice to a young academic: You will be judged by your five to ten best papers. Your bad papers will be mostly forgotten. So be willing take risks, if there is a reasonable chance of a big payoff.