I have been working on a manuscript on a politically charged topic, I will be able to complete this work mostly on my own so I should be able to submit as the sole author.

However I am concerned to submit as the only author because of the nature of the topic and because I do not have any previous publishing record so my submission might be overlooked. Should I try to get someone else more known on board, or try to publish this on my own since I have done all the work?

  • 5
    Have someone who's an expert in the field review it and tell you whether it's worth submitting. If they say yes, go ahead. If they say no, ask why and improve it. If they give other suggestions, listen carefully; that's why you asked their advice... Seriously, I think that will give you better guidance than asking us here with absolutely no context.
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2014 at 16:24
  • @keshlam I have actually already done that and got positive comments. Dec 24, 2014 at 16:46
  • In that case, what's the hesitation? Sharing the blame won't keep you from being blamed if people want to blame you. If you believe in your work enough to publish it, I'd say go ahead and publish; if it draws flack, get some of your pre-reviewers to send response letters and get a conversation started...
    – keshlam
    Dec 24, 2014 at 16:53
  • You are a PhD student, right? So when you begin a piece of work, you ask your advisor about it for advice, especially if you wonder whether it will be worth your time. What did your advisor say about this? Dec 24, 2014 at 17:43
  • @PeteL.Clark this work is completely unrelated to what i am doing for my phd and my advisor is not related to it, it is a school project that was done well enough that it might be worth publishing, so i always worked on it on my own with very little supervision. Dec 24, 2014 at 18:01

1 Answer 1


I want to begin by acknowledging that I am stepping far outside my core expertise by answering this question: as a mathematician, the chance that I would write an academic paper on a politically charged topic is essentially zero.

I firmly believe that PhD students have the right to work on whatever they want in addition to their assigned thesis work and duties. (In fact, everyone does.) When I read other questions on this site in which students in the laboratory sciences say that their advisor tries to shut down their side interest in X, I got dismayed.

Being a PhD student requires a great deal of single-mindedness. I think it's nice for a PhD student to have at least one project or publication which is not directly connected to the subject of their thesis work: that shows breadth. However, this should not come at the expense of their thesis work. Sometimes people with very independent personalities put more time into their independent work than their guided work, and this can be a good decision, but they should still get guidance on that decision!

In this case, I am a bit concerned that the OP may be going out too far on her own. This is a side project which has some difficulties -- including political ones -- to the extent that the OP is wondering whether she needs more faculty assistance. She also says that she has not published anything previously. So the OP has chosen in my opinion a rather tough side project. How much effort will it take to bring this project to successful completion (including publication)? The OP doesn't know; that's part of the question.

I recommend that the OP talk to her advisor about this project, including the question of how much time to spend on it and whether to try to publish it now, later or never. If the paper is sufficiently politically charged, then it has an unusual property among academic papers: publishing it may damage the OP's reputation in certain circles. This is already worth a serious conversation with the advisor.

Finally: adding coauthors solely to increase the chance publication is both unethical and a suboptimal strategy for the solo author. I have a different idea: if the paper is hard to publish because the author is so junior, the author can just put the paper in her pocket until she is less junior, and then try to publish it later. (There is also something to be said for not having your first publication be controversial, at least in many academic fields.) What a PhD student needs to do most of all is complete the strongest possible PhD thesis, and this strategy ensures that the OP is not getting derailed from that.

  • 2
    Re mathematicians not writing politically charged papers: you never know! See Redistricting and the Will of the People.
    – BrenBarn
    Dec 24, 2014 at 19:23
  • @Bren: I did say "essentially". Also my phrasing was not perfect: what I meant to write is more like "The chance that I would write a politically charged academic paper is essentially zero -- and, to properly understand this, you should know that I am a mathematician." Dec 24, 2014 at 19:46

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