I am a Ph.D. student and I wrote my first paper. The term open access is a new concept for me. I already watched YouTube videos about the subject, so I now understand that you have to pay a fee to the journal to get your paper published.

The question is: can I just go for traditional publishing or am I obliged to pay for open access if the journal offers it (example journal)?

3 Answers 3


Most journals labeled "open-access" are "open-access only". You don't have any other option for these. Because they are open-access, the journal can't make money in more traditional ways like selling access to university libraries - who would pay to access content that's already open? (I'm aware I'm simplifying a bit here) Be wary that predatory journals also fit in this category, so while there is nothing wrong in principle with open access you do want to make sure you're only paying for publication in legitimate journals.

Other journals use a more traditional model, but also offer an open-access option, often in part to comply with funding agency requirements that require authors to publish with some level of open-access. These journals will give you a choice when you submit, but make sure you are complying with the requirements of any funding you've received. Also note that many journals (including reputable ones) require some page charges for authors whether they are open-access or not; open-access costs more, but non-open-access isn't necessarily free.

If you want to publish under a different model than a journal offers, you need to find a different journal.

Two other things to think about: 1) PhD students shouldn't ever be paying out of their own pocket to publish; funds that pay for students to do research are often also available to pay publishing costs. Talk to your advisor. 2) Some journals have some sort of discount for financial hardship, which you should be aware of in case you can qualify.


To add to Bryan Krause's answer: In my area (stats/math) in the traditional subscriber-paid journals you can make the choice whether you want open access or traditional after being accepted, you don't have to choose upon submission. Most of these even allow you to have the accepted version (before final edits) open access on arxiv or other preprint servers. Also hardly any journal enforces page charges - these are usually optional. I have published in about 20 different journals and I have never paid page charges.

And then there are a handful of journals that publish open access for free. These are self-organised by researchers or funded by scientific societies or universities. One example is the Journal of Machine Learning Research.

  1. Students shouldn't be paying for journal submission anyway
  2. The question is one of department / institutional policy / the policy of the funding organization of your project. One of these may insist on open access / have funding for it, or not.
  3. You should be asking your advisor rather than here, who will hopefully be aware of anything to do with no 2

I can think of at least one institution where not selecting open access is an ethics violation (something to do with the grants)

  • in my country, they don't want us to publish open access because it will cost the education budget of the country too much money.
    – zed_eln
    May 22, 2021 at 0:20

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