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Is it better to have a publication in a high/medium-rank journal co-authored with a very famous professor or would it be better to publish the same paper solo, in a lower-ranked journal?

I am asking this considering the fact that sometimes, writing a paper with an expert in the field opens doors to more opportunities in terms of higher-level journals. Of course it is not always the case, but assume for this question that it is. What would be the best thing to do?

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    This is really impossible to answer since there is no way to define the terms. How "low" is a low ranked journal? How "famous" is that professor? Why would you submit to a low ranked journal in the first place? Why would a famous professor work with you in the first place?
    – Buffy
    May 17, 2021 at 11:22
  • I am not looking for a mathematical answer, but a general idea of which situation is more desirable. I am asking to try to understand how publication works: it is better to do things on your own even if the result may be less satisfactory in terms of the journal where you publish or is it better to "rely" on someone expert and famous professor in the field and to publish a research together, maybe in a more famous journal? May 17, 2021 at 11:34
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    It's not really a choice one can make. A research project develops as it naturally develops, and either that natural development involves a famous professor making a contribution that warrants co-authorship or it doesn't. May 17, 2021 at 11:59
  • Define "better"! May 17, 2021 at 13:30
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    I'd think that if your paper is good enough for a top journal, it should be accepted there regardless of whether there's a famous co-author. And if it's not, it should not. So if you are good enough to write a top publication on your own, try it alone at top level. (I am aware that some people even with experience think a top publication depends on having a top name on it, but that's not my experience - much peer review is with blinded authors anyway.) May 17, 2021 at 15:09

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Technically, this probably isn't an answer, but information that I hope will be valuable to you in your early career.

It isn't really a matter of either-or, here. But, you want to publish "good" papers in "appropriate" journals working with "helpful colleagues" when possible. What is "better" is better papers, actually.

Publishing low quality papers, in whatever journal, does you little good. The "fame" of a co-author might actually cloud your participation/contribution and might, when taken to the extreme, result in misconduct: i.e. "gift" authorship.

But collaboration is good. Not because it "puts points on the board" (which is IMO a foolish quest) but because it leads to better papers, deeper insight, and the faster advancement of a field. The collaboration can be, and usually is, among peers, though student/advisor collaborations are also common.

So, the advice is to write the best papers you can, collaborating as appropriate and as valuable, and submit to the best journals that you can. Think more about the fun of research and the advancement of the field and less about "winning" some imagined game.

Write a lot of good papers, singly or in collaboration, send them to good journals and your career has a good chance to succeed.

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Exactly my dilemma many years ago. Moreover, I am from small european country which is not exactly well known for its scientific contributions. I thought that I dont stand a chance publishing in top tier journal. The paper I was tried to publish was already rejected in top-tier journal in my field, however, I tought that reviewers didnt even read the paper properly. Adding renowned professor, who I am friend with, could have helped but I tought it was my responsibility. I thought that if I cannot publish in top tier journal all by myself that I do not deserve to be a researcher.

So I decided to try to publish my paper as the only author in the best journal in the world (at the time) for my research field and the paper passed like a charm. Reviewers were fantastic and had good ideas how to improve the paper. In the end, tha paper was published and it ended up better than I envisioned it because of the review process.

After that, the number of people who wanted to collaborate with me on similar topics increased, which resulted in publishing even more papers (in collaboration with others). In fact, I may say that I started to enjoy my life in academia, collaborating with other researchers and doing research itself.

Being brave sometimes pays off.

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