I am a year 2 PhD student doing my research in the area of time series analysis. Since year 1, I'm always aiming to publish in high impact factor journal (Impact factor >= 7) or top conferences, maybe due to the fact that my university is not a top 10 university in the world and I do not want anyone to belittle what I have done for my PhD.

Not sure if its stress, I got to the point where I'm kinda paranoid thinking if I can't publish in such top venues then my PhD is practically a fail. I want to ask if this kind of thinking is correct? How will my PhD be valued if I cannot publish in top conferences or high impact factor journal?

Sorry for any grammar mistakes, and I really appreciate any advice given.

  • Closely related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/11765/… Sep 30 '19 at 3:42
  • 26
    Impact factors are a hugely flawed metric. Some people still pay attention to them, which can't be helped, but it's best to focus on doing good, worthwhile, research, and then publishing in the most appropriate venue for that work.
    – Flyto
    Sep 30 '19 at 3:47

The goal of a Ph.D. is to learn to be an effective scientific researcher. If you accomplish that during your Ph.D., then you will have been successful.

Moreover, early in one's career, high-rank publications don't actually correlate strongly with being an effective researcher. They're much more about happening to be in the right research group at the right time with the right guidance.

Now, if things line up for you and it happens that your Ph.D. also generates some high-rank publications during that time, it will make your next stage easier, but it is by no means necessary.


  • Most post-Ph.D. careers do not require high-rank publications. Highly focused fields, industry, teaching-centric colleges, and many other areas will care about the solidity of your work much more than its glamour.
  • Interesting work often takes a long time to mature, and important work often shows up in high-rank venues only after it has been incubating in multiple publications in "bread and butter" venues over the course of years.
  • If you do want a career that will be boosted by high-rank publications, one or more postdocs are an excellent period to obtain such. They also let you demonstrate that you are the important factor, and that it's not just that you happened to get lucky in your Ph.D. subject and advisor.

In short: stop worrying and instead just focus on doing something interesting and worthwhile with the work you're doing now.

  • 3
    "high-rank publications don't actually correlate strongly with being an effective researcher." - citation needed. I get the idea, but in my experience this is not correct.
    – Behacad
    Sep 30 '19 at 13:58
  • 4
    @Behacad There's likely some field dependence, and I didn't say it's not correlated, just that it's not strongly correlated.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 30 '19 at 14:18
  • @Behacad jakebeal used enough hedge words that the statement must be true - not necessarily useful, actionable, or meaningful - but it must be true. No citation needed.
    – emory
    Sep 30 '19 at 17:00
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    @Behacad You seem to be overlooking the key phrase "early in one's career." For somebody who's 10 years into their career, absolutely publications are indicative. For a new Ph.D., all I really know is that you aren't incompetent: but are you actually really good, or is it just your advisor and your timing?
    – jakebeal
    Sep 30 '19 at 19:54
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    @Behacad "you need to be intelligent, organized, not a perfectionist or a procrastinator": or have coauthors/advisor that fit this description. Also "you need to excel enough to join a lab that has money and heavy hitters ": for a PhD student, joining such a lab isn't usually based on being an effective researcher, since you are not yet established as one. Oct 1 '19 at 16:29

Publications are important but not essential. Yes, peer-reviewed articles in higher ranking journals in your field matters in many fields. However, publications should not be seen as the only worthy outcome of your PhD. Many PhDs do not lead to publications but are still very worthwhile. Many fields do not focus on high impact journals, especially fields that are new with no established journal structures. Having a PhD in an up and coming field likely lead to high ranking articles later on. It may be harder to produce work in a parent field that may not be as supportive but persisting with the PhD to develop the field is still very worthwhile. A PhD will play an important role in establishing you in a moving field.

To see yourself as a failure without a high-impact article is setting yourself up for depression and ongoing anxiety. Fields such as the creative fields do not produce journal articles for example. Fields such as performing arts or fine arts where expression and setting fits better than traditional biblometric measures in other fields. Your environment and networks matter too. So if your institution does not have a track-record of producing research in high impact journals, then you have an unreasonable expectation. Your expectation and pressure to publish may not have the infrastructure during your time during your PhD. However, you have a longer term plan, you can set yourself up well for future collaboration that can lead to such publications.

Consider also whether your PhD is vocationally focused, ie. training you for a profession rather than just being research focused. Many PhDs are an entry way into various professions. For example, a PhD in data science would be highly valued in the current job market, even if you do not produce high impact articles. To expect a high-impact article from a PhD that is focused on professional training would unnecessarily discount the worthiness of your PhD.

  • 2
    "Many PhDs do not lead to publications and are still very worthwhile." I what fields would that be. In the fields I know not getting any publications normally equals not getting your PhD.
    – mmeent
    Sep 30 '19 at 7:42
  • You are right. In many fields publications are just about a requirement for a PhD. But many fields it is not, as I said in my answer, the creative fields, new fields where there are no established journals can make it harder to publish. But a strong PhD can help establish an area of investigation.
    – Poidah
    Sep 30 '19 at 7:44
  • In the UK, at least in physics, there is no requirement for a publication in order to be awarded a PhD. That is pretty consistent across all universities. This needs a country tag. Sep 30 '19 at 11:53
  • Publication requirements do not relate to countries but rather to disciplines or broader fields. I can't think of any case where countries regulate or have an opinion about publications. Country tags therefore may overgeneralize and may lead to stigmatization as well.
    – Poidah
    Sep 30 '19 at 12:18
  • @Poidah What are "the creative fields"?
    – jakebeal
    Oct 1 '19 at 12:48

TL;DR - your PhD is a means, not an end, so it's a fail only depending on what you aim to achieve by it. Focus on the research, the rest will follow.

if I can't publish in such top venues then my PhD is practically a fail.

This really depends on what you're trying to get out of it. If you are seeking to land a position in a top university then yes - you will most likely not be able to achieve this goal if you don't publish in top venues. That does not mean that your PhD will be a 'fail'. From a strict academic perspective - hiring committees/potential postdoc advisors look for your potential to make an impact. The main signal for that is publications. But how many and what kind varies widely. I have seen hiring committees prefer a candidate with one or two big publications over one with 4-5 mediocre ones (which to me makes sense, but to others it may not).

How will my PhD be valued if I cannot publish in top conferences or high impact factor journal?

The honest truth is that if you are not able to show capacity for publishing in good venues, it will not reflect well on you. However it is not the end of the world. You can still successfully graduate if you publish in other venues and your manuscripts are interesting. However, the burden of proof will be on you - you'll need to show how your work matters and why it is good. This is much harder to show than simply neatly stating your top-tier publications.


tl;dr: Disseminating results is a long process which you're pursuing.

I can't publish in such top venues then my PhD is practically a fail.

You should think of publication in these venues as means, not an end, nor a criterion for success. Your success would be partly inherent - having achieved objectively-significant result (well, of course there's the question of what's objectively significant, but let's assume you're self-criticial enough to judge that); and partly through the dissemination and impact of your results on other researchers and in practical applications. It is your job as a researcher - and forget about that stupid Ph.D. - to disseminate your work. If you got it into respectable and well-attended/followed conferences or journals - you've gone a long way in that direction; if not, you'll need to work harder to interest other people in it. That could be by: Talking to other researchers about your work; publishing follow-up work that links your results to something fashionable, or is just another go at a decent publication venue; looking for collaboration opportunities on implementing your results; writing software, or a book, or creating a physical model or what-not, of your work - and exhibiting that somehow; giving non-official talks (e.g. at colloquia) when visiting research groups and institutions, about your results; and so on.


The first question that you need to ask yourself is ‘What do I want to do with my PhD when I get it?’ In general, there are three grand schemes that you might want to fall into:

  • Get a PhD for prestige.

    In that case, you want to make sure that you actually keep it (i.e. don’t follow the example of quite a number of German politicians); everything else doesn’t matter.

  • Get a PhD to enter certain industry positions.

    In this case, while the contents of your PhD will matter (at least in part), the more important aspect for getting hired and salary negotiation is what you can actually do. You might have spent five years exhausting experimental options that didn’t lead to anything publishable because the hypotheses turned out wrong or unhelpful. But you still have your five years of experimentation, research, data analysis and so on.

    I keep getting told that hiring departments don’t care about a publication list at all, they only care about skills, tasks and a quick description of results in your CV.

  • Get a PhD to pursue an academic career.

    This is the only area where no publications during PhD may cause issues – if they even do. For example, a number of (if not all) postdoctoral funding programmes will require a list of publications and sometimes a set of key publications. However, a thesis is a publication by default, so that can be entered and in the absence of other publications the thesis will be evaluated accordingly.

    During your postdoctoral research phase, you will most likely change group and have a chance to work on new projects that might give a better output. Or you might find that your successors in your PhD group complete a project after you left so that can be submitted as a publication with (also) your name on it after your departure. Thus, no publications during PhD does not mean you’ve lost the game – yet. If your postdoctoral period also remains low on publications it might be time to start considering alternative career paths. (It should be pointed out that the vast majority of PhD’s will never be able to successfully pursue an academic career as there are far fewer professor positions available than PhD positions.)

Disclaimer: this answer was written by someone on their second postdoc position with no publications (although a total of three from previous groups are ‘in preparation’).

  • 2
    Disagree with this outlook. The title should not be the object of attention; the work should. The title should be considered merely as a formal recognition of you having conducted worthy research.
    – einpoklum
    Sep 30 '19 at 22:23
  • @einpoklum If you’re planning on going into academia, sure. The other two options he mentioned might have other criteria for a successful PhD.
    – nick012000
    Sep 30 '19 at 23:50
  • @einpoklum I agree with you on what should be the case but I also note that especially in Germany a number of politicians have submitted very academically uninteresting dissertations to receive the prestigeous Dr in front of their name. At the beginning of this decade, these came under scrutiny by various wiki projects beginning with the possibly most prominent case of Guttenberg. It led to the curiosity of a former federal minister for research losing their PhD and because she never completed her diploma she was without title.
    – Jan
    Oct 1 '19 at 4:40

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