Should you publish in grad school or engage in other areas of scholarly productivity? To be blunt, the answer is yes.
Well, every one coming out of graduate school has a Ph.D. Everyone should have good letters of recommendation. What do you have that will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd? You need some ink on your resume, when you go to apply for a job after you have finished your degree.
Now, let me share a little story that an old Sunday school teacher of mine shared with me. She was and still is an academic, and was president of the American Public Service Association, the main organization in the field of public policy. (This position is the equivalent of being president of the American Historical Association.) She asked me which candidate do you think will look better to a search committee: the person who has a bright, promising Ph.D. topic, but has done no publishing, has presented at a graduate student conference, and is only thinking about taking an article from the dissertation and submitting it to some journal; or the individual that has already had an article published, has written five published book reviews, already has their dissertation under review for publication at an academic press, has another article under review at a journal, has presented twice at legitimate academic conferences, and already has started some of the research for their next book project?
Think about it. The answer will not be long in coming to you.
But do not take that argument too far. You still needed a finished Ph.D. dissertation and good letters of recommendation. Those things are your foundation, but there are things you can do to add to that bedrock.
Some of you might be thinking that you want to teach and are not interested in doing that much publication work. That attitude is more than acceptable. As I stated back in Blog II you can have any type of career you want. You will, however, have to temper that attitude a little. As I mentioned in Blog IV the supply of history Ph.D.s exceeds the demand for them. As a result, even schools with primarily teaching missions can and do demand that their faculty publish. It might not be much, but it will be something.
The “I just want to teach” response is also something of a dodge. While each scholar will be stronger in one area over another, very few get a D+ in one area of scholarly activity (publishing), while getting an A+ in another (teaching). Your skills are going to be more tightly clustered. It is going to me more like a B+ in one and an A- in another.
In short: everyone needs to publish, even if only a little.
To be specific, there are four areas of scholarly production where you can help yourself. They are in increasing importance: 1) conference presentations, 2) review work, 3) article publishing, and 4) book writing. Over the next several weeks the essays in this blog will focus on those four areas.