I am at the cusp of finishing my PhD, and my advisor and I have decided that it is time to publish since there seems to be no hole in the theories that I propose. I have always maintained that I'd like to get a publication in the good letters section such as Physical Review Letters and then submit a longer manuscript to a more specific journal (in my field that would be the Physics of Fluids). My advisor isn't a fan of arXiv as he see it only for preprints with little advantage as it would be easier to just circulate my manuscript among 10-15 established people in the field.

So my question is/questions are:

  1. Is it useful to send in a manuscript to a letters section of a prestigious journal such as the PRL for quick dissemination of my work as well as brownie points for having published in the PRL despite a really high rejection rate.
  2. Are letters section of journals really quick (with a short submission to publication time)?
  3. As a contingency plan, a rejection would mean what exactly to my career/immediate future?
  4. I have always had a soft spot for arXiv since several important works were first disseminated on it but I find that in the engineering community there is still some resistance to arXiv, any comments?

As a side note, I have read the several questions about arXiv on academia.SE and somehow I am not entirely convinced that a young academecian would gain much from publishing in arXiv than in a regular journal.

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    You don't "publish" in arXiv in the sense that you "publish" in a journal, by which I mean that things you make available on arXiv may be public, but they have been given much less vetting then a publication in even a second rate journal. Nor does posting to arXiv preclude publication in many (most?) journals. Nov 9, 2012 at 5:06
  • I am unable to select an answer since both the answers received have equal merit in my opinion. Any advice on that?
    – dearN
    Nov 9, 2012 at 18:01
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    @drN Choose the F'x's answer (it is undervoted and it that way you can bring some attention to it, effectively making both answer equal). But it general... I dunno: meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/270/…. Nov 10, 2012 at 1:35
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    Is your advisor really saying that it's easier to circulate your paper to 10 or 15 people than to post it on the arXiv? I don't understand that. Jun 12, 2016 at 3:53

2 Answers 2


Okay, let's try to attack your questions in order. I assume from your journal examples that you're working in physics, so I'll focus mainly on that in the answer…

  1. Useful compared to what? Note that not all “letters” journals have a very high visibility, so it really depends. If we're talking Phys. Rev. Lett. in particular, then I’d say yes, having a paper published in PRL will look good on your CV. Especially on the short term, it can help publicize your results. (In the longer term, you can hope that your results may get the attention they merit, wherever you publish them.)

  2. It depends which journal, and compared to what. In high-level journals, you will know very quickly (within a week) if your manuscript is sent to reviewers or just rejected by the editor. After that, review time can take 2–3 months, and be longer if your paper is controversial (i.e. if referees aren't unanimous).

    On the other hand, some letter journals strongly emphasize short review times. The recently-launched J. Phys. Chem. Lett. has submission-to-publication times of 4 to 6 weeks, which is unmatched as far as I know (and the quality looks good).

  3. Rejection is not part of your academic record, so it means the same as absence of publication. If you intend to publish in a journal that does not frown upon it, you can put the manuscript on arxiv as well as submit to the journal, that way there is nothing for you to lose.

  4. No comment on that point.

On the matter of publishing in Phys. Rev. Lett., the best advice you can get will be “Successful Letters in Physical Review Letters: An editor's perspective”.

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    @Fx thank you for your answer. I was also scouring the internet for journals with short review time so as to then perhaps order them based on their visibility and importance. Any tool that could help me? or should I just look through google scholar's metrics page and then try to sort according to review time? Most of the journals out there seem to be non engineering really which seems to cut my targetted group to a very small number. J of Fluid Mech, Phy of Fluids, J of Heat Tran, PRL (very rare in my field of non linear fluid dy)
    – dearN
    Nov 9, 2012 at 13:17
  • @drN review times are not widely available for most of the journals, unfortunately…
    – F'x
    Nov 9, 2012 at 14:34
  • @Fx I thought as much. Thank you. I have another niggling thought that isn't worthy of being a question on this forum. How should I press my extremely reasonable advisor to start publishing our results more aggressively? As an international student in the United States, the only way I can set myself apart from competition for Postdocs et al is by publishing good quality results in volume. I do respect my advisor's vision and judgement but he has never been one to publish much. But I need it. more than ever!
    – dearN
    Nov 9, 2012 at 18:00
  • @drN The second issue would make a good question on its own. However, there is a big difference whether the advisor does not push for publishing (then basically you need to push yourself), or actively opposes it (then you are blocked with the joint results). Nov 10, 2012 at 0:05

I cannot answer the first question, because it depends mostly of the result itself (if it is strong enough, interesting for reasonably wide audience and can make sense when condensed to 4 pages).

Take a look at Length of publication cycle for peer-reviewed journals from Physics.SE; in on of the answers there are mentioned the following slides:

In short, it takes longer for PRL than most of other PR journals (except for PRE). The difference for Rapid Communications is the highest.

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When it comes to risk of rejection - AFAIK the only bad thing for you is that you loose some time. There is no "rejected from PRL stigma" - again, AFAIK.

When it comes to arXiv - it may mean a lot for you (remember, you do it not instead of publishing in a journal, but along with):

  • it becomes visible a few days after uploading,
  • some people actively follow arXiv RSS feed on their topic (or even start each morning with it),
  • some people don't have access to all paid journals,
  • some people even claim that "normal" publication didn't influenced their cite counts once their paper went on arXiv.

So, even before it gets published (which will take at least a few months, and in case of rejections or slow journals - even years) it is visible.

And personally, I had a lot of scientific discussions based on my papers that by that time were 'only' on arXiv. If you are going to hunt for a postdoc position there may be a big difference whether they can see your paper (on arXiv) or "you said them that you had sent it".

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    "remember, you [post to arXiv] not instead of publishing in a journal, but along with" This. Nov 9, 2012 at 5:06
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    @PiotrMigdal Thank you for your answer. I actually had taken a look at the average time to acceptance. I should have mentioned that in my question! :)
    – dearN
    Nov 9, 2012 at 13:14
  • @drN But anyway, take a look at physics.stackexchange.com/questions/27606/… (there is also said, that there is a big variance; an most likely submitting to a fast but not-so-popular-in-your-field journal will make it longer, not shorter; as things can be accepted after one minor revision or after many long turns). Nov 10, 2012 at 0:09

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