A graduate student writes:
What do people think of grad students making their work available online early in their careers? It seems pretty common for students still doing coursework to post paper drafts on Academia.edu, even when the drafts are far from publishable, and I'm not sure if the potential advantages outweigh the potential costs. Having your name known is probably good, as are generating interest in your research, starting conversations with people working in the same area, and maybe showcasing your potential; on the other hand giving people a preview of your immature work might cut the other way if rather than recognizing in it scholarly potential they just see bad grad student papers. Having early drafts online also means that reviewers for a journal can google the title of your paper and see who wrote it, thereby removing anonymity. I recently had a paper of mine show up in a collection of links on a blog I'd never heard of and suddenly Academia.edu was informing me of dozens of views per day. For a moment I was excited, but then I remembered that people were reading a hastily-composed workshop draft. I think the ideas and prose represent me well but there are sections missing and the argument needs substantial work (as I learned when certain parts of it got shredded at the workshop). I thought about taking the paper down and leaving just an abstract, or removing it altogether, but I never made it past worrying. Did I err in leaving it up for public scrutiny?
We did touch on aspects of this topic briefly once before, but these questions are more specific. I'll note that this is a major issue in academic law because of the substantial use of SSRN. The question there is when junior faculty or job seekers should put their work on-line; my advice is not to put anything on-line until they think it's ready to be submitted for publication. The reason is simple: first impressions are sticky, and if you put a half-baked piece of work on-line, you're unlikely to get a second chance with that reader. I think the same advice applies to grad students--great to put work on-line that's at a stage where you and the faculty you work with think it's ready (or very close to ready) for submission to a journal, otherwise not.
What do readers think? Faculty, please use your name; students may use a distinctive pseudonym, but must include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.