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I have been working on a topic(numerical analysis) for several years, and I discovered something new which can be verified by numerical experiments. But my supervisor doesn't allow me to publish it, though he does admit that my research is worth publishing.

So is it possible to publish my research without my supervisor? I have done the research all by myself, the idea, the numerical experiment is original and without any help from my supervisor, but I am still a student. Will the journal reject my paper just because I submit the paper while I am still a student and without any co-author?

As many people are wondering why my supervisor will not allow me to publish, I give my own explanation below:

  1. He has a strong desire to control all the research in my lab, I am afraid he is the only person who is doing research in my lab, all the students who have published just wrote the articles, all the ideas are from my supervisor. All the ideas by the students usually will be abandoned.
  2. I am an international student here, although I don't think that the relation with my supervisor is totally broken, I'm afraid he wants to postpone my graduation, so that he still have a PHD student in the next year. (Here is East-Asia, he can do like this without any opposition, it is not abnormal here as far as I know)

As someone suggested, my real problem may far beyond the simple question of the title. However, I do want to know if it is possible to publish a paper by a student solely. Of course any advice on whether I should or not publish my research is also appreciated.

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    my supervisor doesn't allow me to publish it, though he does admit that my research worth publish I think you need to either tell us more or ask for more details on that because it's unclear why someone wouldn't "allow" publishing something while finding worthy of publishing. What are the reasons? Not mature? Out of her/his field? – Cape Code Jul 21 '15 at 8:40
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    It sounds like you have bigger problems with your advisor. Is whether or not the paper will be rejected by the journal really your main concern? – ff524 Jul 21 '15 at 9:22
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    @ff524 You are right, I do have a big problem with my advisor. But if I can publish solely, at least I will have a paper, I'm not hoping a phd degree right now, it's simply impossible. But as a graduate student, I have the duty to publish my work, so I do concern if I can publish it solely or not. – shintaroid Jul 21 '15 at 9:31
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    Why would the reviewers of the journal care if the author is a student if the quality of the paper is excellent? – scaaahu Jul 21 '15 at 10:01
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    The title of the question doesn't match the actual question. The actual question has to do with an interpersonal conflict between the OP and the OP's supervisor. This is all about a conflict between individuals and cannot be answered here. – Ben Crowell Jul 21 '15 at 12:16
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As long as the article is good, it can be accepted, no matter how many authors are on the paper or whether you are a grad student or not. However, if your advisor does not want you to publish the paper, there might be some reasons. First, perhaps that the advisor is funding your research and that this research direction is not his priority. He perhaps think that other problem should be investigated. If you are paid by your advisor, then the advisor may need to do research related to that funding source. Second, although the idea may seem good, the advisor may see some problems in your idea and may think that it is not the most promising idea and that you should spend your time on something else. Writting a journal paper can take quite a lot of time.

Finally, I would recommend to not publish a paper by yourself while you are working under a specific supervisor. Your supervisor may be very angry if you do that, especially if you do that during time where you are paid by his funding or using the resources of his lab. I know several professors who were very angry when their student decide to submit papers without letting them know. A student should always ask the permission of his supervisor to submit a paper.

  • Thanks for your comment. I think your suggestion is very reasonable, my supervisor will be extremely angry, and I do be using the resources of his lab. I'm considering to not publish, thank you very much. – shintaroid Jul 23 '15 at 9:28
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    @user2173276 I agree with this answer except the last sentence - "A student should always ask the permission of his supervisor to submit a paper.". Why the student needs the permission? I would agree you need the consultation from your supervisor. I am from East Asia. I think "permission" is overwhelmed. Hence, no upvote. – scaaahu Jul 23 '15 at 9:50
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    In mathematics, at least, I have never heard of the idea that a supervisor must approve for a student to publish a paper. Only a small percentage of mathematics PhD students publish independent papers while they are still earning a PhD, but the ones who do don't usually ask for permission, in my experience. (I suspect there is more going in with the question than just permission, however.) – Oswald Veblen Jul 23 '15 at 12:25
  • It thus seems that it may depend on the field/institutation/country. – Phil Jul 24 '15 at 1:22
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Publishing paper does not necessarily need co-author and supervisor. However, it is strongly recommended. Having experienced co-author (not another unexperienced author) with couple of publications like your supervisor has several benefits, including:

  1. Your co-author reads paper and puts effort to make it more professional and mature for publication. He/she checks to ensure there is no mistake in technicality, presentation, and English.
  2. It gives more confidence to reviewers to ensure that what you did is scientifically correct and is also producible. Though rejection of papers with several experienced authors is also a very common issue.

In research, there are several small hints and tiny things to consider that can impact on the final results/outcomes of the research. If you submit without your supervisor/advisor's, particularly without his help and actual supervision, it is very likely to have those error.

In reality, research is very much complex, though it might look very simple. There are many many things to consider before undertaking research, reporting it, and even trying to submit it. Thus, your idea might not be yet ready for publication yet. Your supervisor may want to help you do not get a quick rejection that discourages you.

I don't think that exist any supervisor on the earth that avoid publishing paper unless there is either threat to its credit or the work is premature. Your supervisor may exaggerate on the quality of your work/paper though it is not yet mature enough to encourage you. So, if he admit that your paper is good, it is not 100% sure that your paper is ready to publish at the moment. Remember that your supervisor can see lots of other things that you cannot see in this stage.

So the bottom-line is that, try to further work on your idea and convince your supervisor that the paper is good and he -as a normal humankind- should be more than happy to co-author the paper with you since publication is one of the main KPIs for academicians across the globe.

  • Thank you so much for your detailed comments! I understand that usually supervisor will not do such things, but as I can understand, it happens on me(I think he doesn't need so many papers anymore, he had published a breakthrough). I am afraid he will not co-author with me, however good my article is. So again the question: can I publish it solely? – shintaroid Jul 21 '15 at 8:33
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    I have never thought, when reviewing a mathematics paper, that it was strange not to see a supervisor's name on the paper. – Oswald Veblen Jul 23 '15 at 12:30
  • That is the beauty of human diversity and educational background I guess which is absolutely fine. I add "May" before my sentence to generalise it. – Espanta Jul 24 '15 at 0:26
  • You welcome. I tend not to agree with you due to your supervisor's passion to publish. I guess academician's thirst for paper never quenches. I recommend to talk to him/her and let him/her know that you are determined and have faith in it. To be honest, you can publish your paper without him. However, it is very much important 1-to EiC 2- to the reviewer. There is no rule to reject papers based on authors merit. But it can and may psychologically impacting some reviewer's decision. I came a cross this kind of papers once and was curious to know why no supervisor and so put more effort on it. – Espanta Jul 24 '15 at 0:27
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Also depends on how powerful is your supervisor. In my field, editors would be wary that a PhD student does a paper without PI supervision, and would avoid accepting to save their backs. Also this way they can prevent their students sending papers to others and getting an independent publication. Since

research all by myself, the idea, the experiment is original and without any help from my supervisor

  1. Are you sure you were legally allowed to those experiments?
  2. Your PI may claim later this experiment or organism (like bacterial sequence or gene) was not declared in the list of approved experiments.
  3. Even the mere fact that he/she funded the resources and consumables for the experiment gives your PI right towards claiming authorship.
  4. Since research faculties are filled with people with enough pride (and ego) your PI may also be very annoyed with her/his standing in your institution.
  5. Finally, if you are looking for a postdoc/academic position later in your life - just do NOT do it. They will make it impossible.
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    Thank you for your comment, it's really helpful. My research is about numerical analysis, so if the new equation is reasonable and can be matched with numerical experiment, it should be a new discover, and as the research is actually about mathematics, there should be no problem on legacy. But as you pointed out in point 3, he may have funded me(I can't remember), he has the right to be a co-author, though I think he won't care to be the co-author. And in your point 4, I think he will be very annoyed. I will consider my publish much seriously because of your point 5: maybe I should not publish – shintaroid Jul 21 '15 at 8:53
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    "Even the mere fact that he/she funded the resources and consumables for the experiment gives your PI right towards claiming authorship." Uhhhhh, wat? Sure unethical people do that, in some fields more than others. But it's still unethical. The pencil-pushing bureaucrat who approved my grant doesn't get coauthorship based on that role in providing funding, and neither does a professor. – user4512 Jul 21 '15 at 11:50
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    @ChrisWhite, there are a lot of academic cultures/fields where the PI of a grant that supported the work is included as an author on every publication that comes out of it. In those cultures it might be considered unethical not to include them. Authorship norms are just that, cultural norms. Grant PIs are expected by most agencies to be publishing about their funded work, and so the agencies expect them to be authors as well. There's more to this that a professor forcing you to accept them as an author on a paper where from your perspective the did nothing. – Bill Barth Jul 21 '15 at 12:54
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    There is something strange happening with the question. Mathematics is not normally a "lab based" science; getting funding in mathematics does not normally mean that your supervisor has any particular claim over your work. – Oswald Veblen Jul 23 '15 at 12:27
  • @BillBarth This is true, but the PI is also expected to advise their grad students and help them with questions and valuable input on their work. And this input and feedback may be worth the coauthorship, even when he did not write a single line of the article. – allo Mar 28 at 15:13
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As stated before, the problem is not the acceptance of a publication (optimally double blind peer review, anyway).

It is a power play between the supervisor who needs the students work, and the student who needs the position (money / signature on dissertation).

It is sad, but the truth is that many supervisors are just like ticks exploiting the work of their students for their own benefit.

There are cases:

  1. ... where the supervisor has many ideas (perhaps not the best) and uses the students solely for means of getting his ideas implemented
  2. ... where the supervisor doesn't even have the ideas, just does some (possibly annyoing) editing in the end to justify his name on the publication
  3. ... where the supervisor does not do anything and still puts his name on the publication
  4. ... where the student is not particularly qualified and actually requires a strong guidance
  5. ... where both the supervisor and the student are qualified and actually work together hand in hand

At first, I have had case (1), then quit. Then I could do my own research because there was no supervisor and had 2/2 publications at top tier conferences. Now I am back in an official PhD position and it comes to case (2). From what I see around me, I do not think I am very unlucky. It is sadly the norm.

From my experience, many/most supervisors cannot really teach the student anything new. They pass over some (arbitrary) literature to read and 'teach' the students how to succeed in a corrupt system. The students are younger and more focused, while the supervisor is trying to do ten things at the same time, is caught up in bureaucratics, etc. One can tell from the long list of their publications just how much actual contribution they could have had.

Two points that bother me in the above comments:

  1. It is not necessarily true that the supervisor knows how to do things better. He does not own the truth. For example his editing might well make things worth.
  2. The supervisor does not fund the research, usually the tax payer does, or perhaps the paying students of a private university (or wherever they get their money).
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A journal worthy of being deemed scholarly should consider an article on its merits, be it from a postgraduate, a university academic already holding a PhD, or an independent scholar.

If you are concerned about an editor being dismissive because sole-authored articles by postgraduates were not the norm in your field, my recommendation is to submit to a journal that employs double-blind peer-review (i.e.: reviewers do not know identity of the author and the author does not know identity of reviewers). One reason for double-blind peer review is to ensure that the reviewers are evaluating the content and scholarly argument of the article, and not taking into account the reputation (or lack thereof) of its author.

In my field (which is in the arts & humanities), it is common for postgraduates to publish sole-authored journal articles or book chapters (I am a postgraduate who is currently working on a sole-authored book chapter for a collected volume; incidentally, my supervisor happens to be working on a separate sole-authored book chapter for the same volume but on a different topic).

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