Graduate students always have angst about what they should be investing their scarce time in, and many dream of a day or place where they aren’t stressing to finish research projects. That day will never come. There is only one track, and that is how it should be.
First, you should be focused on finishing your fucking dissertation. And, your dissertation should (1) have a point; (2) have promise for future publications; and, most importantly (3) be related to anything and everything you have published. Publications in and of themselves are not necessarily helpful. That is particularly true when publications are co-authored, especially when they are coauthored with people who are obviously guiding the research agenda (most especially when those people are faculty).
If you want to make it at the top, your main goal is the construction and accomplishment of an independent research agenda. YOU making a novel contribution to sociology, relating it to your dissertation, and giving assurance that you damn sure will finish that dissertation before you arrive at a job (and not simply because loser wimp faculty members agree to sign off on your piece of shit dissertation which is not becoming of a graduate of your program and may be an insult to alumni……ahem….).
Publishing in third tier journals is not at all helpful for attaining a position at a top tier university. When I was coming up for tenure, if it wasn’t in a top or second tier journal, it didn’t even count. It actually counts against you as a junior scholar for top tier places. Why are you wasting your time puking out stuff in third and fourth tier journals? You should be doing bigger and better things, and finishing your fucking dissertation. Any moron can publish in fourth tier journals, and throwing shit against the wall ensures that something will stick, even if you have diarrhea.
But, there is a caveat. It’s ok to publish in specialty journals or third tier journals if it is your own dissertation research, and if you don’t aspire to the heights of the discipline. AND, it’s better to have a few solid publications in third tier or specialty journals which are genuinely your own and focused on your dissertation research than it is to have a shit ton of disconnected articles with multiple coauthors. A scattered publication record looks worse than a slim one.
Worse yet, bulking up on small-time publications makes you intimidating for second and third tier programs, and counts you out for liberal arts colleges and fourth tier colleges. Why bother to interview someone with 12 publications coming out of a strong program when you are at Murray State or even my own humble institution? And, those same 12 publications count for nothing at Stanford, particularly if there are none in a top tier journal and if they are disjointed.
Yes, you must do research. Yes, you must publish it. But, more is not preferred to less, and less is often better than more. Quality matters more than quantity, and focus matters most of all.