Your student is writing a paper and you think it will be rejected with a probability of 99%. Your student would like to submit it anyway. Would you submit it? Why?

More specifically:

  • Is it ok to submit it? Isn't this "bad behavior" because you are wasting the reviewers' time?
  • Is it worth to submit it? Can reviews help you improve your paper even when the paper is not ready for submission?
  • Is it safe to submit it? Can this damage your reputation if the reviews will be public after the decision is out?


In the case above your name would also be on the paper. Would you have the same opinion / give the same advice to the student even if you are not on the paper?

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    Are you an author, or just the student? Commented May 17, 2023 at 16:45
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    @FedericoPoloni Author. The student is not within my lab anymore and wants to submit a paper about an idea we had before he left. He wrote the paper alone after he left and was kind enough to add me as author. However, the paper is not ready for a publication. I already have my opinion on the matter, I am more curious about what other people think regardless of my situation :)
    – Simon
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 16:48
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    Not that it changes much, but if the paper is really clearly not good enough, a good editor should desk reject it and you only waste editor's time, not reviewers'. Unfortunately not all editors would do this... Commented May 17, 2023 at 22:33
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    @sErISaNo It is not ready for a publication, but with some fixes it could go through a lower tier conference. The problem is that the student wants to submit ASAP because they already missed a deadline. I explained them that this will not make any difference, because if it's rejected (which is very likely) they will still have to work on it. I made myself clear, but I am not their supervisor anymore so I won't insist further. The paper is not going to damage my reputation, so I'll let them do whatever they want. I tried to make the question broader by considering also reputation consequences.
    – Simon
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 4:38
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    Thank you for the clarification. I think, as others have said, you should not let the paper go out the door, since it is unfinished. Have pity on the editors and/or reviewers that will have to deal with it. You do not need to be this students supervisor to but a halt to publication, since you are an author. Simply put your foot down and insist that they polish it to whatever standard you set. I would assume that they would not simply go around you and publish anyway, as this is a serious ethical violation.
    – sErISaNo
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 4:47

6 Answers 6


No, it's not okay - yes, it is bad behavior to waste reviewers' (and the editor's) time.

Maybe reviewers would help improve the paper, but that's not really their job for a paper in the stage you describe. If you want other people to help improve a paper, bring the paper to them directly and ask for that, rather than surreptitiously soliciting advice by pretending to submit a paper.

No, it's not safe to submit it - not because the reviews are public as they typically are not (are you actually someone who has a student in this case? or are you the student?) but because the editors and potential reviewers are all people in your field, and they'll certainly judge and notice if you have a tendency to submit junk.

I would give this advice equally a) to a student who insisted on submitting their own single-author paper, and b) as reasoning to a student explaining why I do not give permission to submit a paper coauthored with me.


Answer to question 1 and to the second sentence of question 2 (based on one of the OP's comments, which says "However, the paper is not ready for a publication."):

No, it is certainly not ok to submit a paper which you don't think is ready for publication and hope that the reviewer(s) will do your job for you (namely, figuring out how to improve the paper).

If even the authors can't be bothered to polish their own paper, then why should the reviewer(s) do so?

  • 24
    Note that "very likely to be rejected" doesn't imply "not ready for publication", though your assumption seems correct in light of the OP's comments. But for completeness for future readers: you can have a ready-to-publish paper rejected because it was sent to a publication so prestigious that they won't just publish a non-groundbreaking result, no matter how good the paper is. Shooting your shot in that case isn't exactly the most unethical thing you do - people routinely and knowingly aim higher than their leagues in more important aspects of life...
    – user541686
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 5:06
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    @user541686: Good point. I've added a brief qualification where I point out that my answer is based on the OP's comment that the paper is not ready for publication. Commented May 18, 2023 at 11:57
  • @user541686 what do you mean, "more important aspects of life"? Commented May 19, 2023 at 5:20
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    @user541686 Excellent point. Some highly selective journals have single-digit acceptance rates. Anything submitted to such a venue is a priori very likely to be rejected, but that doesn't make it unethical for anyone to submit anything to a top-tier journal. Commented May 19, 2023 at 16:29
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    @einpoklum: OP's first comment under the question contains the sentence "However, the paper is not ready for a publication.". Commented May 20, 2023 at 20:49

If I were you, I would tell the student that in the present (unready) form you simply cannot allow your name to be on the paper; if the student then wants to publish this paper solo, it is their business, you cannot stop them.

Here would be my reason: In commercial terms, think of your name as a brand. Submitting a substandard paper would damage your brand, by undermining the trust that many people in your area (by now) have in your judgement, thoroughness, seriousness, etc. This might not immediately affect you adversely (e.g. regarding grants, refereeing/evaluation requests, treatment of your other submitted papers), but, if your brand is undermined repeatedly, it will definitely happen.

You should never underestimate how much things in academia run on trust (and on flattery, but that's another story).

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    you cannot stop them - this is not correct. If the OP's contribution merits co-authorship, they may very well say that they do want to be a co-author, but do not consent to submitting in the present form.
    – Kostya_I
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 19:33
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    @Kostya_I: Yes, but I would not want to be such a co-author. Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:27
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    Can one forfeit their rights to authorship in this way? This seems problematic, because it hides credit. Commented May 17, 2023 at 21:54
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    @FedericoPoloni: of course one can. I have done this myself several times, the authors simply thanked me in the paper. Commented May 17, 2023 at 23:10
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    @FedericoPoloni: See academia.stackexchange.com/questions/19454/…, especially Pete's answer. Commented May 18, 2023 at 14:51

It is considered an abuse of peer review to knowingly submit papers that you know are not ready for a journal. The peer review process should be exactly that, a review of one's PEERS, peers implying that you actually are a peer of the authors in the sense that you both do same quality work. If a student who's not ready submits, they're essentially counting on the reviewer to do the work and proofreading, and that's not okay.

When I review, I give two documents. My marked up version of the PDF and my report. My report contains my main issues, and if I only have major comments that I don't like, it won't help the student because it'll just sound like I'm being mean or uncharitable.


I believe you're asking us the wrong question. You said:

  • You think it will be rejected.
  • Your student would like to submit it anyway.

That tells me that issue at hand is not whether to submit, but that of mis-communication/mis-understanding between you two. You did not indicate whether the student believes the paper is likely to be accepted; you did not indicate whether you and the student have had a talk about this; you did not indicate whether the student has a motivation for submitting even if assuming failure.

You likely need to have a talk with that student - not just an email exchange - for you both to understand where each is coming from and why. In or after such a talk, additional alternative courses of action other than "do nothing" or "submit paper" are likely to arise.

Just a couple of hypothetical examples:

  • Suppose it is important for the student to submit their work in some form, somewhere; but that's the only relevant journal. In that case, perhaps a non-peer-reviewed version uploaded to some place like ArXiv.org may satisfy the student's desire to have a paper "up" somewhere.
  • Perhaps the student believes you are under-estimating the chances of approval. Do they know something you don't? Or is it the other way around, perhaps they are mis-informed somehow by rumors from their friends/colleagues, which you could dispel?


  • Thanks for your reply. Here's a bit more context. He is an ex-student and the paper is based on an idea we had years ago. It has already been rejected once and the student did little improvements. It is not a bad paper, but definitely not good enough for top-tier conferences. I clearly told him that over a call. His supervisor thinks the paper is good enough but he is not an expert on the topic. In the end I didn't want to insist too much since I am not his supervisor anymore and the paper is not that bad. With my question I tried to be as generic as possible.
    – Simon
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 19:01

Why do they want to publish the paper and why are you certain of its rejection?

If you think the paper will be rejected for lack of novelty or other reasons of popularity and prestige, rather than for its soundness, you can pick some publication venues which prioritise soundness (like eLife).

If you think the paper is "not ready yet", but the author still believes it's worth sharing in order to get feedback, get the word out etc. (or just because they need to move on in their life and aren't interested in building a shiny publication CV), just recommend them to publish it as a preprint in a suitable repository. The limitations section can provide any needed caveats about the work as is.

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