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I'm a fourth-year math PhD student and am about to submit my first paper. Since this fall, I probably will be on the job market, I am not sure what strategy should I use for submitting.

My major concern is, how important it is to have one accepted paper on CV than having a submitted one?

If it matters a lot, I’d try some quick, but slightly lower-tier journal. If it does not matter that much, I’d try a higher-tier journal at first. Does this strategy make sense?

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    Talk to your advisor - because it matters specifically what job market you're going into, and in particular whether you're competitive for research postdocs or are more looking for teaching-oriented positions. Mar 22 at 17:17
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    As elaborated in answers, "submitted" means nothing at all in terms of gate-keeping, though that, or putting something on arXiv, does mean that you've thought about something enough to write an essay that's dignified enough so that putting it out in public ("publishing", literally) will not embarrass you. :) Mar 22 at 22:30
  • My suggestion is that as an early career mathematician, you really want to ask your advisor and experts in your field what level of journals your paper is qualified for. Submitting a paper to a journal to a too-high-tier journal alone could have negative effects on your career reputation... Of course, going too low is also bad.
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 10:38
  • @AlexanderWoo from my experience, I am afraid that most advisors, especially those got their PhD before say 2008, may find it hard to tell how competitive their students (unless their students are super strong or super weak but in such cases the students don't need to ask at all) are on the current job markets 2020s or even they could get any position in the U.S. at all. My advisor only told me something like this: try your best and I will support you. If you don't get one then stay and apply again the next year --- or you may go to industry.
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 11:02

3 Answers 3

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Speaking as someone who hires postdocs in applied math: if I'm seriously considering you for the position, I will want to take a look at the paper myself, and I would expect that it will be available on arXiv if it has been submitted. In that case, whether it is already accepted or not won't make much difference as I can make my own judgment of it.

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    No kidding! For any sort of hiring, I look at the papers directly, assuming them to be available more-or-less publicly, and do not care about the gate-keeping. :) Mar 22 at 22:28
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    I am worried that OP may not fully understand the meaning of "if I'm seriously considering you for the position". Most applicants do not get into the stage of being "seriously considered" at all.
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 10:28
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    Since you talked about hiring postdocs in applied math... I have never heard any applied math PhD with zero published papers could continue in academia (every one I knew in applied math/stat said they better have published papers even just to get their degrees from their advisors).... Do you have any examples of someone with zero published papers but still got a postdoc position in applied math?
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 10:31
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    I've worked and published in a bunch of disciplines, including applied maths, and I've never had a colleague who was an arXiv endorser, and therefore I've never been able to get endorsement to submit to arXiv. Be careful what kind of filter you're introducing into your recruitment process by relying on arXiv. Mar 23 at 11:58
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    @DanielHatton It's often possible to get arXiv endorsement, even outside of academia, by emailing an endorser with a brief explanation and your best paper.
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 23 at 17:15
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First, as @AlexanderWoo said, talk to your advisor - these sorts of questions can depend on many factors that are specific to your situation.

Second, if you want a generic ranking of possible statuses for your paper, ordered along the axis of how much they would help your job applications, I would suggest this ordering:

  1. paper accepted to junk/predatory journal
  2. paper does not exist (i.e., not listed in your CV, or listed as "in preparation"), or is claimed to exist but is not publicly available
  3. preprint, available from arXiv
  4. paper accepted to a decent, respectable journal
  5. paper accepted to a good journal
  6. paper accepted to a top journal

As you can see from this list, whether an accepted paper is better than a preprint depends on the category of journal. Having your paper published in a very low quality journal may well be perceived as worse than not having a paper at all.

Note also that I didn't use the word "submitted" anywhere in this ranking. From my point of view as a person who looks at job applications, this label means nothing to me. If your paper isn't yet accepted anywhere, I am mostly indifferent to it being "submitted", but I will give you some credit for it existing in a publicly downloadable form (preferably on arXiv). That allows me to look at it and form my own opinion based on the contents, or, in situations where I can't form a detailed opinion for lack of time or because the subject matter is not within my expertise, I'll at least assume that since you posted the preprint publicly and irrevocably you feel relatively confident about the quality of your own work. That counts for something.

In terms of your strategy, yes, it makes some sense to aim a bit lower with the journals when you are under time pressure to get papers accepted compared to when you are, say, a tenured professor who isn't on the job market. But other considerations could also matter (e.g., some journals are known for getting papers reviewed relatively quickly, others relatively slowly, and yet others for getting papers rejected quickly by making heavy use of desk rejections, which can also be useful). Also, different people have different levels of risk aversion: some might prefer a high-risk, high-reward strategy (e.g., aiming for the very top journal your paper can conceivably get accepted at), others prefer to be more conservative. So we can't tell you what's the best strategy to follow. And again, it's a good idea to ask your advisor for more specific advice. Good luck!

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  • Can you explain why "paper accepted to junk/predatory journal" is worse than "paper does not exist"? One could simply post that paper on arxiv without submittion then according to your criteria it becomes better than "paper does not exist" haha
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 10:53
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    @NoOne My reading of the context (in particular, the commentary about arXiv) and interpretation is that it's a bad look as it implies that the only place that will touch your work are junk / predatory venues; that is, "the author knows it's so bad they're not even trying the legitimate publication process". If this is the case an extra sentence in the answer to make that explicit would clear up confusion on anyone else's part
    – bertieb
    Mar 23 at 14:05
  • I think Dan would agree that there is an implicit 1.5: "No mention of the paper anywhere". For many folks, a paper in a junk/predatory journal is worse than no paper at all, since it marks you as a "not serious" person. Mar 23 at 15:09
  • @JohnMadden I know the meaning of predatory journals. But what is the meaning of "junk" journal? Is it just a discriminative judgement of journals with low impact factors? I have colleagues calling any journal with IF below 0.5 a junk journal. Do you agree with him?
    – No One
    Mar 23 at 16:59
  • @NoOne I'm sure there is next to no agreement on what constitutes a "junk" journal, and impact factors vary so greatly by field that attempting a universal demarcation therewith is not productive. If I'm going to attempt some mind-reading, I think Dan is referring here to "paper-mill"/"pay to publish" style journals, which is to say whether a journal is "junk" or not depends not on the impact of its articles, but on whether it has a "real" peer review process in place. Mar 23 at 18:23
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Submitting a paper means little, actually. Lots of things that are submitted are rejected. It implies nothing about an independent review of the paper. Acceptance, on the other hand implies, at least for a reputable journal, that others in the field have reviewed and judged that the paper is worth publishing and presenting to the world.

But, your advisor can say something about where it is better to submit. If they feel that the paper is very strong, and can say so in any letter of recommendation, then it might be fine to try for the higher rated journal.

The "tier" of the journal probably means less than you think it does, as long as both are reputable and known for publishing quality papers. You all need to think a bit about time to publication. After submission it can take quite a long time to reach acceptance or rejection. And, again, the "tier" of the journal may not be obviously correlated with this time. Talk to the advisor.

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