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Is it possible to submit a paper to a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal without PhD? More specifically, what would be the bare minimum qualifications that would grant one the possibility of the paper being published in a peer-reviewed academic medium?

  • 36
    Yes; I have done this four times. – Wrzlprmft May 10 '15 at 19:53
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    Many PhD students (at least in Europe) publish a few first-author papers before graduation. Granted, there's almost always at least the student's professor on the paper as a co-author, often more collaborators. – Moriarty May 10 '15 at 19:56
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    Does it count if one is on one's way to a PhD? A fellow graduate student and I co-published a number of papers, including some in the very highest tier journals, prior to being awarded our degrees. I never felt that there was any bias against us for not having PhDs, and very little if any for being unknown in the field. (What we did have was a university affiliation--perhaps the response would have been different if we had submitted as independent researchers from our home addresses--but if so, I think an unknown PhD recipient would fare no better.) – Corvus May 11 '15 at 2:12
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    holding any degree is not a formal requirement. blind peer-review is even designed precisely do exclude any factors other than the quality of the paper from consideration. however, holding a PhD is probably a good predictor of your success rate, because PhDs should have learned how to produce a publishable paper that the reviewers like. – henning May 11 '15 at 6:56
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    It's completely impossible. The gatekeepers to these journals are magical telepaths who automatically detonate you if you even think about submitting a paper without a Ph.D. Anonymous reviewers can also divine your academic status even without knowing your name. – imallett May 12 '15 at 8:27

10 Answers 10

97

Submitting an academic paper for publication (and potentially getting it accepted) does not require any qualifications whatsoever. You don't need a PhD; you don't even need to have gone to college. There are no educational, employment, or membership requirements at all.

That's not to say it's easy to get a paper accepted with no formal training in the field. Learning how to write a compelling paper is much easier if you have a mentor to offer guidance. However, if you can figure out how to do it without a PhD, then your lack of a PhD will not be held against you.

  • 6
    Disregarding knowledge, the main obstacles for people who do not work at a university are a lack of facilities (i.e. labs, library access, funding for conferences), and the lack of an academic environment (department talks, collaborators, students). It's a lot easier to succeed without these things in some fields than in others! – Moriarty May 10 '15 at 19:54
  • This is only true for paper journals: arxiv requires endorsement which will be automatically granted if you are a member of an university or research center or you are endorsed by another member, otherwise you cannot publish. – Thorsten S. May 10 '15 at 23:42
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    @Thorsten: The arxiv is not any kind of journal. Do you know of any electronic journals which require academic qualifications in order for the submission to be considered? – Pete L. Clark May 10 '15 at 23:59
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    @PeteL.Clark While arxiv is technically only a preprint server, it had the function to publish own papers and was essential if you wanted to publish something in electronic format (There were electronic journals, but they were quite uninfluential). "Was" because now the field has changed and there are now influential open-access electronic journals like PLOS ONE. Was not aware of the change, my error, mea culpa. – Thorsten S. May 11 '15 at 0:17
  • I've heard a different opinion. Theoretically you can publish, but in fact, without leading professor (usually last author), without lab, or university, just by your own, you most probably will get rejected even without reading the contents of the paper. Am I right? Also I know how reviewers respond with reject-resubmit with such a mean comments/questions, just because they seem to be rivals (working at same field / work), or just rejecting the paper, but waiting for lets say 2 weeks to do reject it. – maximus Aug 8 '17 at 18:16
40

Yes, it's possible to get a paper published without having a PhD: PhD students do it all the time. Submitted papers are supposed to be evaluated according to what they say, not who said it.

20

Yes. In practice, graduate study is one of the main ways people attain the skills to write such a paper, but a Ph.D. is not a requirement. Qualifications would be a choice of the individual journal, but I don't know of any that have a policy of requiring degree credentials from submitters. For example, quite often graduate or undergraduate students write such papers.

16

It's not only possible but it is a requirement at many universities that your Ph.D thesis be completely based on peer reviewed papers.

Another issue here is the fact that in science only the research results should matter, not who is presenting those results. If Prof. Dr. X has submitted a paper that is found to be wanting, then it should be rejected. if John Doe Y who dropped out of primary school, submits a paper containing ground breaking results, then that paper should be accepted. If this were not (in principle) true, then that would mean that science is not conducted in an independent way. Arguments from authority, rather than those based on the merits would to some degree corrupt the scientific process.

  • Even when this is not a formal requirement, from my perspective, a PhD student has to publish to get any decent funding (like a travel award or a scholarship), just like any other (academic) scientist. – tomasz May 12 '15 at 19:14
15

As an extreme example, here are some groundbreaking pre- or no-PhD discoveries:

  • Henri Lebesgue developed his famous integration theory as a young high school teacher in 1902.

  • Space–time block coding, a theoretical concept that is now essential to wireless communications, was invented in 1997 by Siavash Alamouti as a practicing engineer with a master's degree.

  • The AKS primality test was the result of 2002 undergraduate research at the Indian Institute of Technology.

It's clear that such contributions warrant a publication irrespective of the author's status.

  • +1 For the examples you gave. They are certainly encouraging. – scaaahu May 11 '15 at 12:33
  • I think the recent examples are particularly important, as they show that this is still true, despite the degree to which the world has changed in the last hundred years and the increasing professionalization of science. – jakebeal May 11 '15 at 12:34
  • Emily Rosa was published in JAMA at age 9. – Lee Daniel Crocker May 11 '15 at 19:19
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    I don't at all disagree with the thesis that you can have a publication in a top journal without a terminal (or even any) academic degree. I think though that examples are a little less convincing when the paper is coauthored with someone else that does have these credentials, as is the case in your last example and in the example of the previous comment. – Pete L. Clark May 11 '15 at 21:30
2

I am a bit more skeptical than the majority of the answers.

The first reason is more profane: There are journals with more reputation and some with less reputation. The journals with more reputation have more readers and if you are published in this paper, it will foster your reputation. The direct effect is that everyone tries to get published in the most prestigous journals. So the editors get swamped with papers and must choose by priority. If two results are equally impressive, the probability that the more experienced and reputable scientist will be published is very high.

So the standard approach is to contact the journals in descending order of reputation and ask for publication. So, yes, you can be published, but it is likely that you must choose a journal with less reputation and that means that your results are likely to be ignored.

That get us to the second problem: If you have an impressive result, then the editors will scan your paper more closely. Unusual language (there is a specific lingo you use in papers), strange format (Word instead Latex) and an impressive result from someone who is not known before raises a red alarm. If Anonymous Mathematica claims that "your lack of a PhD will not be held against you", then I say, nope, this is not remotely true. It is very likely that you and your paper are not scrutinized anymore and rejected. If you try to battle the decision, the label crackpot is attached to you faster than you can breathe. So you must be extremely careful to publish a paper as amateur. Especially because there are journals which are so...problematic that publishing there will harm your reputation.

The arXiv uses an endorsement system to guarantee that only people from universities and research centers can submit papers; other people are locked out.

If you really have an impressive result: In both cases, arXiv and respectable journal it is unfortunately necessary to contact someone from a university etc. which helps you to get through the barrier.

So, principially yes, but there are barriers. Do not underestimate the problem.

UPDATE: Some information beforehand. The reputation of a journal is measured by the impact factor and since 2005 also by the h-index. For 2013 Nature has rank 7 in the impact factor with 38.6 and leads the h-index with 829. Science has rank 20 (but is preceded by 9 (!) Nature specializations) and is second on the h-index with 801. So pretty important journals. Nature offers an overview over the publication process and in fact the rejection rate steadily increased from 89% to 92% which I would call "swamping".

Corvus now claims that my analysis is glaringly wrong and gives the explanation that other journals except Nature and Science do not have the need to pick between papers, if I have understood him right.
Corvus, it is your claim that other high-reputable journals both by h-index and impact factor do not have the problem with picking a paper and therefore high rejection rates ? Do you stand by your claim ? If my information is outdated or simply wrong, then I will retract it, but I will research it. Glaringly wrong, yes or no ?

JeffE, do you agree that being of member of the Computer Science Department in Illinois (which incidentally built the ORDVAC and ILLIAC and are currently responsible for the LLVM Compiler Infrastructure) with a very long tradition and an own ACM chapter might give a paper some recommendation ?

  • 9
    I'm not the original down-voter, but I can tell you one thing that is glaringly wrong with your analysis: "So the editors get swamped with papers and must choose by priority. If two results are equally impressive, the probability that the more experienced and reputable scientist will be published is very high." Having to pick one or the other of two manuscripts essentially never happens except at Nature and Science, and even there in moderation. Anywhere else, the handling editors make a decision to accept or reject independently of any other manuscripts they may be handling. – Corvus May 11 '15 at 1:57
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    At least in my field, there is a strong trend toward completely blinded submission review (neither reviewers nor editors get to see authors' identities until after deciding what to accept) precisely to prevent author reputation from being a factor in acceptance decisions. It's not a perfect system -- if I know enough about a subfield to review papers, I can probably recognize the big names in that subfield by writing style and particular interests -- but it helps. – zwol May 11 '15 at 2:36
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    It is very common for students in my field (theoretical computer science) to publish in the very best journals in the field. I did. My advisor did. My grand-advisor did. My great-grand-advisor did. His advisor never even had a PhD, and he did. Many of my students did. Most of my colleagues did. Many of my colleagues had to publish in top journals to get their PhDs. On all cases, our lack of PhD was not held against us. On the other hand, even people with PhDs who don't follow the cultural norms of the field find it hard to publish in the field. – JeffE May 11 '15 at 4:56
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    I think JeffE points out the crucial factor: it's about following cultural norms. I'd add that it's also important to appear to be part of the culture, which is what ultimately I think the OP was asking. While JeffE and his colleagues were able to publish as students without PhDs, I wonder if it would have been harder were they unable to list academic affiliations or thank recognized authorities in their acknowledgments. – Chan-Ho Suh May 11 '15 at 5:56
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    I don´t agree with the amount of criticism this answer receives. Reputation matters everywhere on this planet, and it would be plainly naive to think that the people who do peer review do not look at someone´s credentials and previous work. – dreamer May 11 '15 at 9:15
1

As others have said: no, a PhD is not required. Remember that Einstein didn't have a PhD when he published his paper on the photo-electric effect, yet it would win him a Nobel Prize.

A requirement for getting a PhD degree is often to publish a paper where you are the first author. So then you don't have a PhD (yet) either.

What's more important is references. Even if you have a PhD, but your list of references only is two items, chances are it will be rejected, unless of course you made a Really Great Discovery.
References are important because they show that you studied and are familiar with the work of your peers in the field.

  • @downvoter - Please, when you downvote, tell me why, so that I can improve my answer. If you think it's wrong, tell us what's wrong with it. – stevenvh May 18 '15 at 13:06
  • The downvote was probably because you missed that the papers are listed not in order to show what you have read, but to justify ideas in the paper/field and/or to show the place for the work done in the paper. – Mikey Mike Apr 10 '16 at 15:51
1

Yes you can. I still was a MA's student when my paper draft was first accepted. I even attended conferences. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise

0

If a peer-reviewed journal published a paper on the basis of the letters after the authors' names, then the journal would undermine its own credibility. When you drive across a bridge, or undergo open heart surgery, the engineers' or surgeon's professional registration is your assurance that they know what they're doing; but scholarly publications are supposed to be written in a way that makes them self-evidently good — they shouldn't need propping up with letters after the authors' names. Look at a few reputable journals and you'll see that they just print the authors' names (no letters after!) at the top of each article.

-3

Of course publications want to be read. There is no doubt that anyone who can submit work that is clear, concise, innovative and readable will be considered. But no matter what an individual's personal experience has been, or even the official policy, it comes down to the work, how it is expressed, and the integrity and professionalism of the scientist author. Somehow, nitpicking others' comments seems to be related more to the desire an individual may harbor to be published- even if it's in an online forum!

  • 2
    Can you please try to clarify your answer a bit? I'm having a hard time understanding how "publications want to be read," online forums, and contradiction of official policy fit together here. – jakebeal May 11 '15 at 15:06

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