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I just finished my master's thesis and my supervisor agrees that my work could be suitable for a publication. He suggested to:

  • write the article independently, and as the only author
  • have him correct and review my article, he will be a co-author in this case

What are pros and cons of each venue? For instance, could it be that in the second case, it might be more difficult to have the article published? I imagine that he will not want to have the article published in a less prestigious journal/conference, should it not work out for the ones he usually targets.

At the same time this would be my first publication, so that I definitely could use the advice from an expert.

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    What field are you in?
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 20, 2023 at 16:33
  • @BryanKrause mathematics
    – Lilla
    Mar 20, 2023 at 17:11
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    "I imagine that he will not want to have the article published in a less prestigious journal/conference, should it not work out for the ones he usually targets." Why? Mar 20, 2023 at 22:10
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    Publishing one's research in a journal that is not among the most prestigious ones in a given subfield does not in any way detract from one's scientific credibility. I mean, it's conceivable that your advisor would disagree with this perspective, but I'm just saying, you are engaging in pure speculation that seems to be based more on your conjectures about how academic publishing works than on anything tangible. Mar 20, 2023 at 23:02
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    Sure. My underlying point is that if this is something that worries you, then you should simply ask him. Mar 20, 2023 at 23:17

4 Answers 4

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If you will be first author on a joint publication there are few downsides and a minor upside. Your advisor's reputation might ease the review process somewhat and if they have a high reputation it might get you a few more readers.

Note that in some fields, there is no real notion of "first author". I don't know about yours. In pure math, authors are normally listed alphabetically. But even when there isn't any such notion, there is sometimes a "contributions" paragraph in the paper that provides details. That is somewhat analogous. In some fields, all authors are assumed to contribute equally. That may be your case, or not.

Getting their advice also counts for something for your first (or any early) publication.

A sole author publication carries a bit more weight long term, but, collaboration is more and more accepted as a valuable thing.

However, if your advisor insists on being "first" author then it is being unfair to you if you have actually done the work in the thesis. I suspect he is being ethical here, however, having given you the choice.

Remember, though, that no single publication is likely to make or break your career. There are exceptions, of course.

But, you can write it up as best you can and then make the decision. Submitting it is likely to get you valuable feedback unless it is immediately rejected.

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  • In my field, being the first author means that alphabetically my name comes first. The first paragraph is very field dependent.
    – Nick S
    Mar 20, 2023 at 16:42
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    @NickS, no, Buffy comes before Nick. But see the edit.
    – Buffy
    Mar 20, 2023 at 16:52
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    @Buffy thanks for your answer. I want to specify that my field is mathematics, if that helps further refining the answer
    – Lilla
    Mar 20, 2023 at 17:12
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    In pure math, multiple authors are normally listed alphabetically and the assumption is equal contributions unless otherwise indicated. People make their own assumptions, of course, when one is a student. I don't think either option is bad for you.
    – Buffy
    Mar 20, 2023 at 17:20
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    "Common" doesn't matter to you. What matters is what your advisors reaction would be. You can ask him what happens if a joint paper is rejected by your first choice of journal.
    – Buffy
    Mar 20, 2023 at 18:25
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I wanted to mention that from my perspective as a professor and thesis advisor in theoretical mathematics, I don't really agree with or understand what the OP's thesis advisor is telling him.

To explain: I and most other theoretical mathematicians I know don't view "correcting and reviewing" the work of someone else to be sufficient for coauthorship...unless the corrections were highly significant, of course. But moreover this work came from the OP's master's thesis, which I would have expected his thesis advisor to have "corrected and reviewed" already. The impression I get is that the advisor seems to be willing to put in the work expected of a thesis advisor only in exchange for a coauthorship credit, which I find strange.

Also in my experience: a lot of mathematician advisors do not really want publication credit on the thesis work of their students for reasons similar to those that the OP mentions -- although the work may be publishable, nevertheless it may not be up to the standard of the advisor's work in the field, with the outcome that such a publication might help the student and might not really help the advisor. In fact, I honestly believe that the most typical state of affairs is that the thesis advisor gives somewhat more intellectual aid to their student than just "correcting and reviewing" and still chooses not to be a coauthor for the same reason.

The way I can interpret the question that squares best with my experience is: the advisor knows that the student's work was essentially mathematically valid and it was written up well enough to make for an acceptable master's thesis, but it was not written in such a way as to make an acceptable submission for a journal or conference. Moreover the advisor knows that this rewriting process would take the student significant time whereas they themselves would handle it more quickly, but you can only rewrite someone else's paper so much if you are not a coauthor.

Anyway, I think the situation lacks clarity. Another answer suggests that the advisor knows that the solo publication would be better for the OP while the joint publication would be better for them and that is why they are offering the choice. But as a thesis advisor myself, this sounds like a strange game to play: why not just advise the OP to do what is better for them? In my view, one need not deal with a thesis advisor like a Delphic oracle where you ask everyone else you know what they think was meant: you should be able to go back and get more clarification from the advisor themself! I advise that the OP does so.

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  • Let me add some further information. The first choice was presented to me since I "worked on my thesis independently", without significant input from him. Otherwise, the help he offered to me is to check for correctness, give feedback and recommendations from a draft of paper I should write alone. No writing from his side is mentioned. This amount of time he would spend, he says it needs to be exchanged for co-autorship. Moreover, he was the one who suggested to get advice from former PhD students of him regarding the two choices. Extending the question to the community seemed natural.
    – Lilla
    Mar 30, 2023 at 12:22
  • He agreed that he would anytime confirm I'm the key author. And that, although the target would be chosen at the end, he usually goes with A* journals, and said the work would be suitable for a particular one (not sure if this means there is a chance to publish there, or if this was just a hint/an example of an A* journal whose topics are in line with my work). Does this input help in further understanding the situation, based on your experience? In case, it would be very valuable for me to know. Thank you again
    – Lilla
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:02
  • You worked on your thesis "independently"? And he's hinting that the paper could be targeted at an A* journal...but he approved the thesis without checking it for correctness? I'm sorry to hear all this. Honestly, your thesis advisor doesn't sound very helpful. Do you plan to continue in academia? (If not, it's a very light matter whether you publish your thesis or not.) If so, I strongly recommend that you continue with an advisor who will help you full stop, not just as a quid pro quo. Mar 30, 2023 at 19:24
  • I think that finding a better academic environment is much more important than what happens to this paper. For what it's worth, I actually advise against spending too much time and energy working on the paper without having your academic future straightened out. (Also, I wasn't saying that you shouldn't have asked your question to this community. Even more: based on the latest information you've provided, I'm not sure how helpful further conversations with your advisor will be, unfortunately.) Mar 30, 2023 at 19:44
  • The right combination is "quite independently". He did provide some support during my thesis (a few discussions, some hints), but the main research decisions I took autonomously. I worked quite independently, so much that he is okay with not being a co-author. He also has reviewed my thesis, once not in detail before submission, and another time for grading (not sure how much he went into the details there, I assume much more than the prescreening). He offered to help checking a draft of paper based on the thesis, not checking the thesis itself. That has already been done for grading it.
    – Lilla
    Mar 30, 2023 at 19:59
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Think of the choice you are being given in these terms:

  • You can go it alone, doing all the work, even that part of the work you don't yet have experience (let alone expertise) in, in exchange for all of the credit.
  • Or you can obtain expert help in checking things over, writing and editing the results in ways that your chosen venue will accept, in exchange for a co-author credit.

I myself would take the deal and give the co-author credit in a heartbeat, even though I have a number of first-author credits already. (No 'only author' credits.) I would do it because it means less work for me and more expertise in the publication in exchange for something that costs (in my field) essentially zero. (And when I was a grad student, there were exactly zero papers where my advisor's advice did not merit a co-author, so it is also morally correct.)

This applies also to your question about venue quality. No one can really answer that question except your advisor. But if you have a good relationship with this person, I would strongly advise you to stop thinking of it in terms of your advisor causing venue-related problems. Instead I would think of it in terms of helping you avoid bad venues and elevating your publication to the highest venue it can reside.

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I think there is a significant (and permanent) advantage to writing a solo paper, in that it will be clear that it is all your own work. If you write a joint paper with your supervisor, it will not be clear how much they contributed. People evaluating your CV may imagine that the paper would not have been possible without your supervisor's contribution. Note that in math there is no concept of "first author", and even if there is a space to specify "contributions" this is not going to help unless someone actually reads the paper.

On the other hand, the experience of writing a paper together with your supervisor may be very valuable. (I think you would be wise to look at the writing in some of their recent papers before upgrading "may" to "will"!) I don't think you should worry about journals. Your supervisor will have a good idea of how high to aim, and presumably have enough papers that they don't need to worry about the odd one being somewhere lower-ranking, especially if it is co-written with a masters student - papers that come out of student projects are always a plus for the supervisor. There are even journals that specialise in such papers. Perhaps your supervisor will want to avoid really dubious journals/publishers, but then you would be wise to do that too.

Your supervisor will probably be happy to advise on choice of journal even for a solo paper, of course. I suspect that the fact that they give you an option of a solo paper is an indication that they think that would be better for you, since the co-authorship would clearly be better for them.

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