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A Ph.D. researcher has a research topic to work on for 3-5 years. He is supposed to produce a dissertation by completing research on his Ph.D. research topic. However, he also produces individual journal publications while working on his original Ph.D. research.

How does he conceptualize those individual research paper topics, and how do those individual research topics relate to the original Ph.D. title/topic?

Also, how does he find time to produce input data and output results for individual papers? Don't those require additional time?

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    I don't understand the question. Why could someone not write an article at the same time as writing a thesis? Aug 1 at 17:51
  • I'm also confused by your usage of "title." Usually a title of a paper is just about the last thing I write. Is this a field-specific meaning, or translation? Aug 1 at 17:52
  • In my field, you perform some experiments, get some results, publish a paper, and keep moving forward. A given paper is some step on the path towards more fully understanding something. And, of course, one's topic or direction can change over time...
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 1 at 17:55
  • @JonCuster, your comment is on target. Please, elaborate - A given paper is some step on the path towards more fully understanding something - and post an answer.
    – user366312
    Aug 1 at 17:57
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    If you have written a good paper, writing a thesis chapter about the same results is child's play. And submitting papers gives you the additional advantage of improvements through the peer-review process. Nowadays, in most fields, you papers are more important for your career than the thesis.
    – Roland
    Aug 2 at 5:33

2 Answers 2

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In fields where this is the norm, though there are others where it is not, the publications along the way are normally closely tied to the dissertation research. Or, they might represent the essence of that research.

In the extreme case, the dissertation is little (or nothing) more that "stapling" together of those publications. Sometimes a summarization is required, but not always.

The publications might be partial results, or "side" results. These papers need to be sufficiently "novel" to stand on their own, but one normally learns a lot of things while doing a dissertation and many of them can be worthy of independent publication.

In some fields work is done in large scientific labs with a lot of collaboration. A student working in such a lab might get quite a few joint publications along the way. This might cover some fields other than the ones described above.

My field was mathematics, where this practice is uncommon, but my dissertation included a number of results (lemmas, say) that supported the main result and the results as a whole supported a complete theory. Had it been the custom in math, I could easily have published a number of those partial results.

One judge of whether a result is worthy of publication is whether it gives insight to others working in the field. The researcher him (or her) self gains those insights along the way and they can be worthy of sharing through publication.

But it isn't (usually) that the publications are independent of the dissertation research. That can happen on occasion, but usually they are tightly interconnected.

Note that the purpose of doing a doctorate and, within it, a dissertation is to teach the student to do research at a professional level. Publication is the ultimate "proof" of that. It also lets the research community as a whole, via the publication blind review process, to take on the job of vetting the research prior to awarding a degree, rather than leaving it to a few faculty members.

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In my field, most thesis projects are of the "stapler thesis" variety.

Someone prepares journal papers while doing research, because this is how you share knowledge with the field; doing research without sharing it is more or less useless.

The hope is that once you've done research over the expected duration of a PhD, you "staple" together these papers, add an intro and concluding chapter, and call it a thesis. It may be acceptable for some of those stapled papers to not be quite complete yet in the form they appear in the thesis, and might take more effort to turn into published papers.

In general, though, there's no distinction between "paper work" and "thesis work" in this approach; the thesis is just a broader collection of papers, stitched together with some unifying ideas.

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