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By this, I do not mean I did not obtain significant research results. My supervisor has told me to finish up a draft of paper for submission, I wrote it, then after few months, he told me to correct some parts and did more experiments on certain area, I followed all his instructions and wrote a second draft to him. And until now, it is already one year after sending my draft to him, and still I have no idea when he will publish it.

Actually, this not only happens to me, it happens to all the members in my research group. The average time my supervisor publishes our results is about 2-3 years after we have finished all the required experiments. The results just become idle. I would like to ask, if this is a common phenomenon (and the possible reasons behind it), if not, what I (and my colleagues) can do about it? You know as a research student, having publication is very important, it is really frustrating.

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Why are you relying on your supervisor to publish these results for you? –  xLeitix May 2 at 7:17
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Do you know if it has been submitted for publishing/review or not? In some areas such delays between submission ang publishing are typical even if your supervisor does everything promptly. However, I'd say that being capable to publish your own results without help of others (and occasionally despite resistance of others) is a mandatory prerequisite to graduation; and waiting a year or more isn't showing such capability. –  Peteris May 2 at 7:26
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You mean I can bypass my supervisor to submit paper on my own? without his consensus? My paper should include him as a correponding author… –  bingung May 2 at 8:17
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@jc2254 Can you elaborate why your paper should include him as the corresponding author? If he's a co-author, then that's one thing; but it's perfectly possible (and expected in many areas) to have papers authored by you alone. Students should consult with their advisors/supervisors only because that helps to make a paper better and publish it quicker; but if it doesn't help, then their agreement (or any involvement) isn't strictly required, barring some intellectual propery/funding attribution issues. –  Peteris May 2 at 8:22
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Have you asked him the question "Hey, whats up with you not publishing my paper? Its been a year now you know..."? –  Jakob May 2 at 13:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

This seems like a strange situation, since it is very counterproductive for both you and your supervisor. If this is indeed common in your group, I am sure several ideas have been scooped by the time they finally get submitted. Unfortunately, I really don't have any decent idea why your supervisor would act this way.

The most important thing to do is to talk to your supervisor and don't let him/her dismiss the issue. This may seem like an aggressive approach, but you can disguise it as a learning experience, e.g. "Please tell me what is wrong with the current manuscript because I believe it is ready for submission, oh wise one". Whatever you do, remain polite.

A few approaches you can try (all of which are reasonable, so don't be shy):

  • Send reminders and send them often. Ask what you can do to improve the manuscript. If your supervisor has no further suggestions to change the manuscript, ask where you can submit it to directly. Don't wait for him/her to wake up. This approach may lead to your supervisor turning it into a ping-pong match, asking you to make trivial but time-consuming extensions again and again. In this case, confront your supervisor and explain your perspective.
  • If you can find an appropriate call for papers, ask permission to send the manuscript there. Calls typically have deadlines and are not necessarily a downgrade in terms of venue quality. This includes conferences and journal special issues. Having a hard deadline might help.
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Thank you very much for the suggestions. Of course we have talked to our supervisor, he just said 'ok, I will look and see if anything to add', after few weeks we asked again, and he again said 'I will look into it'. We don't want to be annoying and make him angry, but time really goes very fast…there are some cases my supervisor asked us to repeat some experiments few years ago to publish… –  bingung May 2 at 8:08
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This is beyond weird. I've done one iteration of what you describe (tell a student I'll look into it and then drop the ball for a week or so), but I can't imagine doing this for that long. –  Suresh May 2 at 15:26
    
@jc2254 I had similar (not that bad though) situation. Just come to him and say: "I'm sending it to Whatever Research Journal on Friday, are there any last changes?" Take it into your own hands. If there are several authors besides you and your supervisor, do it together. If there is some postdoc in your co-authors, he can easily have the authority, say "John is planning to send it tomorrow, just letting you know". Make it so as if he is not really required for it. If he'll be fine with it, then just go ahead. This is what I used to do anyway... –  sashkello May 3 at 12:46
    
After looking at many comments and answers, I think what I can do is to talk to my supervisor. There is a risk of conflict but seems there is no choice...I am from engineering, and I haven't seen my group members or other groups having students published without going through the supervisor. While I know it is technically possible to submit my papers directly, I still not sure it is appropriate or not, but this really remains an option if discussion with my supervisor failed. –  bingung May 4 at 16:22

Finish writing the paper yourself. Send your supervisor a final draft, inviting him to submit his comments on the paper and suggest some changes.

If your supervisor does not wish to collaborate on the submission, it's possible he will be OK with you finishing and submitting the paper yourself, perhaps as the sole author. Make sure to acknowledge his capacity as your supervisor at the end of the paper, if he is not included as a co-author.

If it's your data, and you wrote the paper, you have every right to publish it by yourself as long as you offer your supervisor the chance to collaborate or object.

Best-case scenario? Your own paper gets published, or your supervisor gets jolted back to reality and collaborates with you on finishing the paper together. Worst case scenario? Your paper gets rejected (don't fret, that can happen often!), so you have to head back to your supervisor or Academia.SE for advice on re-submitting it or choosing another journal.

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I am not sure whether bypassing the supervisor is a good idea for a starting researcher. There may be good reasons why the supervisor is delaying submission. Additionally, judging by the OP I assume the supervisor is a co-author. Submitting without the consent of any of the co-authors is a very bad idea. –  Marc Claesen May 2 at 9:14
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@MarcClaesen I agree, it's a bad idea. But I don't think that writing to your supervisor with a draft, asking "do you have time to help me author and submit this paper? I would really like to publish these results soon" bypasses him at all. My point is that if he won't collaborate, the OP should ask if his/her supervisor has any objection to publishing the results as a single-author paper. TL;DR: "if you don't have time to help me, is it OK if I finish this by myself?". –  Moriarty May 2 at 9:26
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@Moriarty: If a co-author doesn't actively consent to the submission of a paper, that is sufficient grounds for withdrawal or retraction. Never submit a paper without the active agreement of all co-authors! –  aeismail May 2 at 10:16
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@aeismail I wrote the answer poorly. The OP's supervisor should either agree to (a) collaborate on finishing the paper, (b) let the OP finish and submit it (possibly as the sole author), or (c) explain why (b) is not allowable. I don't advise submitting without discussing your intentions with the other parties first! –  Moriarty May 2 at 11:30
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" totally unrealistic if the paper has been written by student alone." - depends on the area. –  Suresh May 2 at 22:40

In a comment, OP added:

Of course we have talked to our supervisor, he just said 'ok, I will look and see if anything to add', after few weeks we asked again, and he again said 'I will look into it'.

Try to understand why your supervisor behaves likes this. Some hypotheses:

  • Your supervisor prefers to spent time on some other work.
  • Your supervisor has to focus on some other work for external reasons.
  • Your supervisor prefers to spent time working with someone else.
  • Your supervisor finds the paper boring and avoids working on it.
  • Your supervisor is a perfectionist and wants to avoid publishing a non-perfect paper.
  • Your supervisor has bad time-management skills and forgets to look at your paper.
  • Your supervisor doesn't really want to publish this for some reason.
  • ... many more possibilities ...

It is important to understand why your supervisor is behaving like this, in order to react appropriately. For example, if your supervisor has very bad time-management skills and keeps forgetting your paper, it is probably better to ask about this much more often than every few weeks.

Options for understanding your supervisor better include just asking him or her about it, or asking someone who successfully collaborated with your supervisor in the past. Maybe some former grad students of your supervisor figured out how to effectively interact with your supervisor and you can learn the trick from them.

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