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I am a Ph.D. student in applied math (graduating) with the following difficulty. I have recently completed a work by myself where I think it has decent potential impact. But the work is in a niche in applied math, and though interesting to anyone, much more likely to be meaningful to people in my field.

I am playing the game of deciding between general prestige and finding a niche. Say I pick a general, prestigious applied math journal X. Hiring committees might actually recognize the name and instantly light up.

However, a better fit (but less known) journal Y exists. In journal Y, the editorial board is loaded with people I recognize (who are well-cited). If I submit here, I am throwing myself in with the dogs in my field. If well-liked, there are many upsides: the possibility of conference invitations, networking, better chance of more citations, etc. If rejected, I gave a bad impression early on in my career to many big names. Note that journal Y is also open-access (a legit one).

On the other hand, journal X has less risk/reward within my field and more of a name for hiring committees. In your experience (especially considering my career stage), what would you pick between these two? For what it's worth, I think acceptance in Y is more likely than X. This could help me get a job, but would it hurt me for tenure later on?

In applied math, I see conflicting ideas. Some people want desperately for connections to applications to be made while others want profound generalizable claims with some regard for application. My work is right in the middle of this tug-of-war.

I realize anonymous people cannot decide my life for me, but I am wondering if the answer is obvious for some reasons I don't know yet. Based on the mentors (and my advisor) I have spoken to, they seem to think it's somewhat of a personal preference, as long as both journals are decent.

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Since there is no guarantee that your paper will be accepted, my suggestion would be to submit to the more prestigious one first, imagining that it is harder to get accepted there. You can always submit to the other later if you are disappointed in the first.

Also, be aware that this is only your first (or early) work, and that you will have opportunity to publish again later, perhaps in the more arcane corners that fit your field best. But a wider reputation is probably best for a new academic.

But your advisor is correct. It is a bit of a personal choice and if you get it "wrong" it won't end your career.

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  • Thank you for your answer; it seems to make sense. Does your answer change if I tell you I have had (much inferior) work rejected by the more prestigious journal X in the past? – zugzug Sep 28 '18 at 23:53
  • @zugzug, no. If they even remember it will still be fine. They are more interested in the current work than the past. Good luck. – Buffy Sep 29 '18 at 0:02
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There are a couple of assumptions underlying your question:

  1. Having your paper rejected will give the editorial board a bad impression of you.

  2. Publishing in a more niche journal will publicize your paper more, within that niche.

Assumption 1 is false, as long as your paper isn't out of the journal's scope or outright bad. (It sounds like neither is the case.) Even if the editors judge your submission to be overly ambitious, they understand that being ambitious is a valid strategy.

Others may disagree, but I don't think Assumption 2 is particularly true either. I can't think of a paper in my field that I missed because the journal that published it was too broad. If anything, the opposite is true, because breadth roughly correlates with quality when it comes to journals. In any case, you can always send a preprint to people who you want to read it.

The other issue is timing. If you have plenty of time before applying for postdocs/jobs, I advise submitting to X. If you have no time, I also advise submitting to X (because you probably won't hear back from either X or Y in time for it to matter). If you're in the middle, either choice is defensible. It depends on your risk tolerance.

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