Suppose someone is pursuing PhD in mathematics from a third class university and their supervisor has little knowledge about their own field. Is it possible to publish a good research paper in good journal?

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    Are you asking whether one from a "third class university" (whatever that is) can write a good paper or if papers from third class universities can get published in good journals?
    – user111388
    Sep 18, 2020 at 12:54
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    Possible yes, but in most cases much harder than with a supervisor that knows the field quite well and has published in the top journals. Sep 18, 2020 at 16:08
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    If neither of you have much knowledge about the field, it will be difficult to write a good paper. Probably at least one of you will need to have good knowledge in this area. Writing a good paper is the first step to publishing one in a good journal. Sep 19, 2020 at 8:10
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    Totally agree with the previous comments. One more thing: if you are talented, you still need an excellent supervisor to harness your talent and write a paper the right way. If your supervisor is not good “in his own field”, then your only chance is the presence of a third co-author who knows the game. And if your supervisor is not even good at making connections, that’s when things start to get rough.
    – MathMax
    Sep 19, 2020 at 8:24
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    The supervisor has little knowledge about their own field? Why would they claim it as their field (of expertise) if they have little knowledge about it?
    – JRN
    Sep 20, 2020 at 3:11

5 Answers 5


Yes, it is possible. The institution doesn't matter. The advisor doesn't matter. What matters is the content (and correctness) of the paper, along with a judgement about its "novelty". Those judgements will be made by reviewers and editors, independent of where the paper originates.

Good writing helps, of course.

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    While this answer is logically correct, I expect some perspective about the advantages of having a strong advisor and a good research environment might be helpful.
    – Kimball
    Sep 19, 2020 at 13:54
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    I applaud the....idealism in this answer, but I think @user129707's might be more realistic.
    – Matt
    Sep 20, 2020 at 21:11
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    @Matt, I accepted the OPs characterization of the paper as a good one. I once had a major paper published by TRANS-AMS while affiliated with a noname place in an out of the way spot. I'll also note that diamonds come from coal mines. An editor who bases decisions on the affiliation is an idiot.
    – Buffy
    Sep 20, 2020 at 21:33
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    I, as a reviewer (physics, journals with IF in the 10⁰ through 10¹ range), don't recognize 99% of the affiliations I encounter. I'd be surprised if someone actually cared about that line apart from curiosity. Of course this could be different for editors.
    – The Vee
    Sep 21, 2020 at 11:18
  • @Buffy, I belive the main point of contention here is the OP's definition of 'good journal'. If that is to mean 'scientifically well-regarded', then your answer is definitely correct and better than mine. If, on the other hand, OP was talking about 'highly visible, flashy journal', then desk rejections are a thing and high profile affiliations make it easier to get through. Given that editors act in a corporate environment, I cannot even condemn them for acting this way. That being said, the fixation on 'impact factors' in lieu of academic content is a sad thing!
    – user129707
    Sep 22, 2020 at 13:00

TLDR: It is possible, but in practice it's much easier to get the same paper published with a 'Big Name' university in the affiliations. Coming from a 'Third Rate' university, you will need a glowing cover letter to convince the editor to send your paper into review at all.

What has been said so far is true in principle, but not necessarily in practice. Since the OP explicitly asked about the possiblity, the other answers are technically correct but disregard the mechanics of the publishing process: Not all papers get into the review stage. Before being sent for review (i.e. before the scientific importance even has a chance of being assessed by actual experts), the top journals have an editor vet submissions before sending them out. And by 'top journal', I'm not talking only Science and Nature. Nowadays, even journals with mid-single digit impact factors have desk rejections.

This editor has little time for each submission and also is likely to get into trouble if they send too many 'duds' (papers of poor quality that subsequently rejected by the reviewers) into review, because it can be very hard to find reviewers. If there is a 'Big Name' associated with the submission, there is very little risk for the editor in forwarding your paper into review because if it is a dud, the 'Big Name' university provides protection ("I did have my doubts about this paper, but since it came from 'Big Name', I thought it might be worth giving it a shot.").

If you think you have made a significant scientific breakthrough in your paper, then you may have a chance with a sufficiently strong cover letter to your submission. Make it clear what the contribution is and why it is very important. Don't make it "Dear Editor, please find attached my submission. Sincerely yours,...", but make it "Dear Editor, in the attached paper, I've partially solved longstanding problem X / I have shown that method Y can be extended by Z, making problem X finally accessible" or the likes. The cover letter is a sales pitch. Big Name universities are a brand, and if you do not have such a brand attached to your name (yet), you must sell the paper harder.

If - as is the default - you still get your desk rejection, publish in a well-regarded low-tier journal and watch the paper get cited. The next paper has a better chance of getting through the editor.

Another option is Open Acces journals, which can have a very high impact factor and are a bit easier to get into, because your university has to pay a substantial fee. However, beware of predatory journals (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beall%27s_List).

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    Otherwise relevant. But I want to warn the unwary reader of your "impact factor" scale. In math that figure of "merit" works on a different scale. It is possible for a very good math journal to have impact factor 0.8 (1990s calling). The reason: a good math paper, length12 pages, may cite 6 papers only - the ones that are absolutely necessary background without which the contents of the current one simply cannot be understood/verified. Whereas a medical paper consists of 3-4 pages of content and 3-6 pages of citations of "related work" (largely irrelevant for understanding the present piece). Sep 20, 2020 at 18:45
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    (cont'd) When I started writing papers for engineering journals, the citation culture was already markedly different, and took me a bit by surprise. Still not quite what they do in medicine. Sep 20, 2020 at 18:47
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    @JyrkiLahtonen The other tricky bit with impact factor for math papers is that it is usually computed by the citations in the first 24 months after publication or something like that. Math papers often have a much longer shelf life and it is not uncommon that most of the citations a paper gets only appear when it is already 10 or 20 years old.
    – quarague
    Sep 21, 2020 at 12:05
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    @JyrkiLahtonen you are correct, thanks for clarifying. There are highly regarded journals with an impact factor of less than 1 in my field (theoretical physics) as well. Impact factors on an absolute scale say little about scientific quality of a given journal but a lot about the quality of that journal's marketing department. And of course they depend on the number of scientists in a given field, their quantitative output and the typical number of citations per paper.
    – user129707
    Sep 22, 2020 at 13:14
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    Coming from a 'Third Rate' university, you will need a glowing cover letter to convince the editor to send your paper into review at all. - While I agree with the general spirit of this answer, this statement doesn't make sense in mathematics, where cover letters are meaningless.
    – Kimball
    Sep 22, 2020 at 15:13

Yes but your research better be plenty good enough for that journal.

Coming from a poor school gives you a big disadvantage with the quality of your research to start with. But you could be good enough to improve to the higher level of that journal.


Yes it does not matter where you come from if the paper is good enough (and you can pay the fees) a journal will publish it.

One issue that could arise, if you/your supervisor is less skilled is being able to turn your good idea into a good paper (so that a good journal would publish it). This needs a good knowledge of the subject area to know how to sell the paper, what are the interesting questions in your field, and how your work fits in and improves your field.

Good papers are not just about having a good idea but being able to sell the idea. This is done though the choice of plots, what you discuss (and what you leave out to stop the paper becoming too long), the literature you cite, and the overall presentation of the paper. I've seen many papers that after reading them many times I eventually realize the authors did good work, they just worded their paper poorly and as such the papers end up in lower tier journals.

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    I reviewed one (CS) paper whose central section was a perfectly sound mathematical proof of a theorem that had absolutely nothing to do with the introduction or conclusions of the paper. It was as if the two authors hadn't actually been talking to each other. Sep 21, 2020 at 10:41

If you're worried about the impact (on how "good" your paper is) of not having local access to colleagues with a deep background knowledge of the field, you could try submitting to a journal that has an open, public review stage prior to its formal, traditional peer review, to get access to a pool of expertise. There exist some journals with such a process that can reasonably be described as "good journals".

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