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I have been approached by an international student about doing a PhD with me. As an MSc student in his home country he has published 3 articles in pay-to-publish venues, that are known to have little peer-review process, with his supervisor as second/senior author. These articles are not particularly good and likely would not have been publishable in more traditional venues.

I am struggling with how to evaluate these articles and the candidate. Should I simple ignore the place/type of publication and evaluate the work on its own? Can articles in pay-to-publish places really be fairly evaluated? I am worried that changing his behavior will be difficult. I don't want to accept a student whose goal is to publish things in pay-to-publish places.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted

From your description, it sounds like the problem is more likely to have been the MSc supervior than the student. As evidenced by some of the questions we've seen here, it's very hard for people new to academia to figure out which venues are reputable on their own---and the advice we give usually includes talking to someone in academia. If the supervisor's name is on the publication, that presumably means the supervisor encouraged publication in these venues.

Especially if it's a journal which does a small amount of peer review, I wouldn't assume, without further evidence, that the student has any idea that the papers weren't fully peer reviewed. If the supervisor isn't active in the international research community, I'm not sure I'd even assume the supervisor knows that.

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+1 because the advisor is more to account for the venue than the student at MSc level. Furthermore, if a PhD candidate were involved in any publications (editing process) it's a plus for doing a PhD. The OP should try to find out what the role of the candidate was in individual publications. If he did a lot of the editing, that could be a big plus reglardless of the venue. –  Fuhrmanator Feb 10 '13 at 23:45
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I second Pedro's answer, but I note that it's not actually clear from your description whether the journals they published in had peer-review. Note that some well established peer-reviewed journals charge publication fees to the authors. One example of relatively high-profile journal following that policy is Physical Review Letters (flat publication fee of $690 per article).

Now, if the articles in question were not peer-reviewed, then you should treat them as any non peer-reviewed publication: book chapters, arxiv papers, blog posts, etc. Read them, see what they're worth. (Well, you'd do the same thing for peer-reviewed articles.) In addition, it probably depends on your field, but at least in mine being a MSc student without peer-reviewed publications is not a hanging offense :)

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The journals are known for having a lite touch peer review process. Essentially you name the reviewers and get to chose which of their comments to deal with. I edited the question to clarify this. In my field you also do not need publications to get into a PhD program. –  StrongBad Feb 10 '13 at 20:50
    
My problem is I think I am treating them less then a non peer-review publication. There are reasons to publish book chapters (e.g., to be able to attend a conference) and arxiv papers are free and little extra work –  StrongBad Feb 10 '13 at 20:53
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(Just to be pedantic: Many book chapters are as rigorously reviewed as journal articles. It all depends on the book.) –  JeffE Feb 11 '13 at 5:44
    
@F'x PRL, as well as all the APS journal except the new PRX journal which is explicitly open-access (gold version of OA) do not imposes any author to pay something to publish. You can nevertheless transfer any articles to some creative commons if you pay for that. There is also a "free to read" politics the APS is using pragmatically. You also have to pay if you want preprint of your paper. This is nevertheless an outdated practise, since no more people send preprint by mail since arXiv exists :-) –  FraSchelle Jul 28 '13 at 9:15
    
@Oaoa PRL has a publication charge (“To help defray editorial and production expenses, authors of published Letters are expected to pay a publication charge of $690”)… they don't enforce it strictly, though –  F'x Jul 28 '13 at 9:28
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I have one addendum to the great answers by F'x Pedro, and Henry.

If you believe the work is good and your lingering concern is about that the student has some miscalibrated idea of what publishing should entail, talk to them about it.

If she/he is a Masters student, she/he probably isn't particularly set in their ways in terms of how they want to publish. A conversation with them — about this anything else that is worrying you — is a very sensible thing before you agree to spending the next n years working with them.

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That is indeed a tough question.

What would raise the most red flags for me is the fact that he does not have any articles in regular peer-reviewed journals. This raises, again in my opinion, the question if the candidate has simply bought himself/herself a publication list.

The student's academic merits should definitely be judged based on the content of the articles themselves, irrespective of where they were published, no question about that.

What would worry me, though, is this student's views on research, publishing, and the academic process in general...

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Someone who is just applying for a PhD in my field doesn't really need publications, so most people wouldn't buy a publication list. It is your last point that is really my issue. I am not sure what it says about his views on research and if I would be able to easily change those views. –  StrongBad Feb 10 '13 at 20:55
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