I can't be sure, but my instinct tells me that I am about to step in a minefield. I want to seek your advice on how to handle the situation. Here is the brief story:

The background: my PhD thesis is almost ready for submission and I am now working on turning it into several publishable papers. I have identified a few potentially suitable outlets, with one of them a special issue in a prestigious journal in our field edited by my advisor's ex-student (who he has been close with and has influences on). One of the essays in my thesis fits perfectly the scope of the special issue that has a deadline 3 weeks. I want to revise my essay to fit the requirements and submit to the special issue, but my advisor has been trying to stop me using three reasons: (1). It takes a long time to write a paper for a top journal and I wouldn't be able to make it; (2). The journal usually publishes highly technical papers and my multidisciplinary mix-method paper does not at all fit methodologically (actually, the special issue calls openly for these types of papers); and (3). If I rush to submit my paper, it'd certainly be rejected and if I then revise and re-submit it to other less prestigious journals, I'd likely run into the same reviewers and be seen very badly in this community. When I told him that I felt comfortable meeting the submission deadline, that I understood the possibility of getting rejected and would take it as a learning experiences, and quoted the section of the "call for paper" that shows my method actually fits the scope, he seemed to lose his temper, became quite upset, and sent me a message saying something like "it doesn't work this way" and another journal (similar level of prestige, but he does not publish there often, and it is edited by other scholars) would be a better fit. His arguments obviously are not convincing to me.

More background: I sent him this essay 6 months ago and he seemed to start working towards this direction since then. Actually, the idea of that special issue might be from him (he as a highly influential academic in this field organized a workshop soon after with many people from different disciplines coming to talk about this topic, and he mentioned back then that he'd write a few papers based on the workshop, probably planning to publish in this special issue). And I also asked for his advice on selecting journals for the other four papers from my thesis, he pointed me to those lower-ranked journals which I think is not a fair evaluation of my work (I have received very positive feedback on my thesis from other academics in our field), neither a good-willed gesture an advisor would show to his students. So I now have the strange feeling that he might be trying to slow down my progress as a young and promising scholar in the same are. He is seen as a world renowned so-called "guru" in this field. I am also concerned that he might have already used my ideas (interesting and new) in the essay that I sent him 6 months ago to write his papers and might have already submitted them to the same special issue.

My question: what should I do now? I feel it is a right thing to do to submit to the special issue. But I am afraid that might expose him if he'd done something unethical (he is about to retire and it is certainly not the most graceful way to go). I am also afraid that he might sabotage my job search for tenure-track positions as he will be one of the two key references for me. However, I also feel strongly about standing up for what I believe is right, and not to tolerate unethical behaviors around me. I think tolerating such exploitation (if it actually exists) would only reinforce such behaviors and empower these human sharks.

Please share your thoughts and offer your advice. Thank you in advance.

  • 3
    It sounds like he doesn't think your work is good enough for whatever journal you're talking about and doesn't want you to leverage his connections to get it in anyway. You are in no way in the right here.
    – user120011
    Apr 24, 2020 at 16:33
  • Is your advisor a co-author on this or no?
    – Buffy
    Apr 24, 2020 at 17:54
  • Please avoid vandalizing the content of your posts. Apr 30, 2020 at 12:22

3 Answers 3


In essence, you're peddling in conspiracy theories: You're claiming some dark motive in your adviser's response for which you have no real proof. You also claim that he might sabotage you, without actually having any concrete evidence nor do you show any reason why he might do so. Moreover, your adviser actually gave you three quite sensible reasons why he thinks that your current plan isn't good that you dismiss out of hand.

Here's the thing about life: If (i) someone says something that actually makes sense, then (ii) that's usually what is actually the case. In your case, I very much believe every reason your adviser gives you: It genuinely is hard to write a paper in 3 weeks; I'm going to claim that it's impossible. If he says that the journal generally published a different kind of paper, that's something that can be checked by why not just believe an experienced researcher and author? And finally, if the community is small, you do risk running into the same reviewers and your adviser is correct that there is a stigma attached to having reviewed someone's half-finished manuscript. Nearly every other statement by your adviser in your question also seems totally reasonable to me.

So I see no good reason to believe any of your conspiracy theories. I think you fundamentally need to adjust your assumptions about people indeed meaning A when they are saying A.

  • Look, your adviser has many years of experience in (i) figuring out where papers are most likely to be accepted, and (ii) how long it takes to write a good paper. Why are you arguing? I too agree that writing a paper in 3 weeks isn't going to work, even if you can adapt from other sources. In your case, it takes 2 authors multiple rounds of proof-reading even if you were essentially ready -- that alone is going to take a couple of weeks. Apr 25, 2020 at 14:21
  • @user13399399 -- I'm not sure where you're going. Posting questions here implies that you are looking for answers or opinions you don't already have. I gave you mine. It's of course your prerogative to disregard them. Apr 26, 2020 at 22:24

I am inclined to agree with Wolfgang on this in general. However, it can sometimes happen that senior scholars don’t fully appreciate the career stage of being a junior scholar. Here, it may make sense for you to try for the best journal you can and risk getting rejected as not a good fit. I think there is a distinction between getting rejected for fit and quality. It is not clear if this is being fully considered.

You might try negotiating in one of two ways: you could propose that you spend a week working toward the deadline and see if you get far enough that he agrees you will be able to produce a quality manuscript. And/or you could propose sending it to some third party for a “friendly review” and recommendation on which of the journals to try for. Basically, I would recommend you get to work (rather than make accusations) and the “winner” of this argument will become self-revealing.


I see no reason to think that anything unethical is happening here. I'm not saying you are definately wrong, these things do happen, but I see no reason to think this is the likely explaination. Unless you have other evidence, i'd be very careful about saying anything to anyone else about these accusations, as you risk turning what is now a slightly irritable difference of opinions into a major breakdown of your relationship with an importnant source of support.

I agree with others. If this journal really is a "top" journal, there is no way you can write a paper in 3 weeks. I say it takes at least 3 months to pull a paper together for a glam journal.

For the fit, I guess it would be possible to do a pre-submission enquirey as to fit. Paritcularly if you already have some professional connection to the editor in charge.

Re-review is a real problem. You don't want to just chuck something in on the off-chance as at best you are burning the people best qualified to judge the work as potential reviewers.


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