I am in my fourth year of my PhD, a rather rocky journey which has involved my original supervisor being fired with little to no notice and various interruptions due to COVID.

I am working in the field of biological modelling, and both my former supervisor (an expert in the field but not very involved in my research) and my new supervisor (less of an expert, but very involved and a senior academic at my institution who has supervised dozens of students over multiple decades) are happy with my progress and never expressed any concern.

I have now tried a total of four submissions to different journals, and was always faced with a rejection. The latest, to an Elsevier journal, desk rejected after a few days. The previous rejected with rather disappointing feedback, lacking any substantial weakness or points where I could improve. (They even mentioned I didn't cite some key authors, of whom instead I had cited multiple papers...)

I am now worried I will reach the end of my PhD without publications, but especially without understanding what the core weaknesses of my work are. Even presenting my research at various symposiums nobody ever really raised any serious concern. My supervisor mentioned it might be because we are "outsiders" to the field, but that explanation doesn't fully convince me.

Any advice?

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    Hard to give advice without knowing the work. Assuming you indeed did good research: Make sure that other things (formatting, quality of graphics, cover letter etc.) are on a top level. And still it is always a bit of a gamble. You might just have been unlucky. Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:27
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    "Outsider" is a realistic judgement. Your field may be closely "guarded" by its self-declared guardians. Perhaps give seminars at those groups for them to get you to know better? Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:56
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    Publishing is hard. How much advice and help are you getting with the actual publishing part of your work? Framing your work into a paper, choosing an appropriate journal, etc etc? Your advisors could be perfectly happy with your work but if you aren't getting their advice on these steps you may not be presenting it well.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


This can happen when a paper is sent to the wrong journal. This may often happen with an inexperienced researcher. A Ph.D. student normally could get advice from the advisor on which journals to try next. When there is no one "very involved" with your research area to advise you, what to do?

Look for journals that have recently published papers on topics similar to yours.

After being rejected from a top journal, try a less prestigious one. In the future, after you have more experience with publishing, you will be better able to judge what level journal to send your papers to. But also note: if your papers are always accepted by the first journal you send to, then you are aiming too low.

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    "Outsiders in the field" suggests this answer may be the reason - wrong journal. Desk rejects also indicate that. It is also possible that the OP is getting scooped but doesn't recognize it yet.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:46
  • Yeah wrong or a very high impact jorunal.
    – stephanmg
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:52

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