My potential Ph.D. supervisor's research group is very small. Most students are of Masters's level. There are two Ph.D. students, but they are at the end of their Ph.D.; probably, they will be done by the end of this year. Therefore, I will be the only Ph.D. student working with him (starting from October 2022).

He and I have a great relationship. He absolutely adores me, and I also love his personality. He is friendly, easy-going, and doesn't have any ego issues. I can ask him any question via text messenger, and he responds to all of my queries. He doesn't mind even if I ask the same question again.

The only issue that is bugging me is, that his research group has a low rate of publication. I talked to two of his existing Ph.D. students and they told me that one published 8 and the other published 5 papers during their entire Ph.D. To put things in perspective, one of my classmates is doing a Ph.D. at a Canadian university. He has published 15 papers.

So, my question is, how can I cope with this issue and increase the number of publications while doing my Ph.D.?

  • 3
    what's your field? In any theoretical area, even 5 papers during a PhD would be extremely impressive
    – mmm
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 11:41
  • 1
    I do not see a problem. This sounds pretty normal. Keep in mind that in your field, the number of first author papers can be more important for PhD students than the total number of publications. For a PhD student in molecular modeling to have 15 publications is peculiar. Some people publish many papers before starting their PhD. Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 12:09
  • 4
    All I can say about machine learning is that it is not a comparable field. Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 14:02
  • 2
    The PhD students are publishing and graduating. All is good. Don’t get ‘paper envy’, particularly relative to other fields.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 16:10
  • 1
    Why the downvotes. The OP might be naive (in the sense of not knowing what might be typical of many fields) but that doesn't make the question unreasonable? Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


OP mentioned in the comments that they are comparing the current PhD students of their potential advisor to a PhD student in a different field.

Alright, so here is a bit of generic advice:

  1. I think it's important to stress the following point - which has already been mentioned in several comments - even much more: comparing publication rates between different fields is completely meaningless. Even within one field, publication rates can vary extremely depending on the specialization (e.g., I'm in maths; 5 papers during a PhD in algebraic geometry is really completely different from 5 papers during a PhD in graph theory). If you want to understand whether the paper output of your future advisor's students is high, you need to compare to other groups in the same field and with the same specialization.

  2. Even if you do compare your future group to other groups in the same field with the same specialization, there are a lot of caveats: some people might publish more papers, but shorter one; or more papers, but in less prestigious journals; or more papers, but less influential ones. It's extremely difficult to make a competent judgement about this without significant research experience in the field (which you naturally don't have yet).

  3. Apart from this, one should mention that the productivity of a PhD students depends extremely strongly on the student themselves, at least if the research group provides a good environment in principle (which, from the description in the question, seems to be the case here). In the group where I did my PhD in math (functional analysis) many PhD students wrote 2 or 3 papers during their PhD; some others wrote 10 or 15 papers. (However, please note that this does by no means imply that it were any kind of failure to write just a few papers, while others write more. Many people do a few years of research, then get their PhD, afterwards find a good job in the industry, and are very happy there. At the beginning of a PhD it is impossible to know which path one will take at the end. And, as already indicated before, the number of papers that you write during your PhD might not be correlated to future success in academia as strongly as you think.)

  4. For all the reasons mentioned above I'd strongly recommend to simply forget about the publication rate of your group for now. Experience shows that there are a lot of ways how a PhD can go very wrong, and many of them are related to the relationship between the PhD student and their advisor. So if you are in a situation which indicates that this relationship will be a good one and your advisor is a kind and helpful person, you're already in a very good starting position.

  • 3
    It is probably different now (as you suggest), but when I did my doctorate in pure math (about 3/4 of the way through the pervious century (I wanted to write "last century" but that is too pessimistic) it would be unusual to have any publications prior to finishing the dissertation. The exception might have been a local/departmental minor "journal" managed by the faculty.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 19:33
  • I would add to #3. In my school, many PhD students have been academics in their home country. They have produced many top quality journal articles before they started their PhD. Hence, to compare PhD students, especially those who just finished their bachelor degree, is unfair. Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 0:07
  • 2
    As a mathematician, I want to emphasize point 2 in this answer (and, as a corollary, point 4). It's much better to write important papers than to write many papers. Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 1:07

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