I graduated with my PhD in math two years ago, and I am no longer affiliated with a university. However I am still actively researching. Often it's possible to get papers on arxiv or directly from the author's website, but sometimes it isn't (particularly for older papers). Public libraries, at least around here, don't have subscriptions to mathscinet. Do I really have to pay if I want these papers?


4 Answers 4


Another option is to simply visit a university campus. The bigger the campus, the better. I would just go to one of their libraries, maybe even their central library. Connect to their wifi and then you should have access to journals and papers.

I also know of some university libraries where you can become a member even if you are not a student. Sometimes the memberships are free but sometimes you have to pay like an annual fee.

Further, you might be able to do something with your university where you graduated from. Plenty of universities have alumni services. My university has an alumni club with a ton of benefits but the only thing I use is access to the library which is way bigger/useful than a public library could ever be. In the last two of the cases, you should be able to use VPN to just log-in remotely from home and get the papers whenever you want instead of physically visiting a campus every time you need to read papers.

  • 1
    I even live 20 minutes from the enormous university I graduated from. I have alumni access to the library but that doesn't include much at all. The wifi requires a student/faculty id. Jan 10, 2016 at 0:25
  • 4
    @MattSamuel: What happens if you sit down at one of the library's computer terminals? I'd bet you can download any paper you want (and email it to yourself, or copy it to a USB drive, etc). Failing that, perhaps talk to a librarian, explain your situation, and ask if they have any suggestions. Jan 10, 2016 at 3:13
  • 5
    @Nate pretty sure those require university logins too. But a librarian may be the person to ask. Jan 10, 2016 at 4:00
  • @Nate I'm thinking my student id may still get me into the computers at the library since I can use it for remote library access. Now I just have to figure out where to park....I enjoyed faculty parking while I was a TA, but for my last year I had a job in industry and no parking permit. For my defense I had to rush inside to get a visitor's permit from the math department before they ticketed me! Jan 10, 2016 at 17:17
  • @Nate I doubt that in this day and age many universities would let you access their Wifi/network without some way to identify you. Everywhere I was at least (yep anecdote and a small sample size), you had to register your devices (ugh...) or get a student id/password to sign up. As a guest I usually got guest credentials (ooor some faculty shared their data with me..).
    – Voo
    Jan 10, 2016 at 17:48

Mathematicians will often send you their preprints (not the work in progress), if not already on their pages, if you ask kindly. I suggest to title the email with "Paper request: [Paper title], [Journal name], [Year]" for an efficient query.

Back in 1996, I was working my Msc on a subtopic of number theory (diophantine approximations and continued fractions of polynomial roots in finite fields). I was away from my university, and working without a university student card. I was spending a lot of time at Institut Henri Poincaré, photocopying articles from mathematical journals for my research. I badly needed a conference paper: A. J. van der Poorten, Continued fractions of formal power series, Advances in number theory, Proc. of the 3rd conf. of the CNTA, 1991. No university around had these proceedings, and Australia was too far.

"Alf" was a big name in the field (to me at least). And email and WWW were not very widespread in France. Yet I found his email, and spent about 1 hour to write the most polite email I could, in the afternoon. The next morning, the postscript was in my inbox, with a nice answer by A. J.: "thank you for your interest in my work, good luck with your study."

This gesture both:

  1. permitted me to work on myy thesis,
  2. boosted my confidence (as a low-level student) in approaching persons.

which helps me a lot now. I am still thankful to him now, and often think about him, even if I never met him. So far, mathematicians have always answered my requests, sometimes even with a scan and standard mail (with nice stamps) when the paper does not exist in electronic form.

Now, a lot of papers are available online. I insist one should browse researcher's webpage pages (instead of relying only on web search): sometimes, old papers are present in formats (dvi, ps.gz) that are not always indexed.

Finally, this could lead to discussions and, who knows, collaborations.

If everything else fails, different options exist. One with twitter hashtags has made the news, I only mention it for the sake of information, and do not endorse the legal aspects.

  • 1
    This is generally not true.
    – Sathyam
    Jan 10, 2016 at 0:06
  • 14
    @Sathyam: I don't think Laurent means copies of their works in progress, but a version of papers which have already been published. For many journals, the preprint version is the latest/best one that the journals permit the author to redistribute without having to pay the journal for the privilege.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 10, 2016 at 0:19
  • 1
    @BenVoigt I see. Thank you for the clarification.
    – Sathyam
    Jan 10, 2016 at 0:28
  • 2
    I think for mathematical preprints arXiv is a very good place to look for.
    – user20936
    Jan 10, 2016 at 5:35
  • 2
    @Sathyam Works reasonably well in Computer Science. Not 100% success rate certainly, but if you ask nicely (and concisely! don't write an essay) most researchers will share their preprints freely.
    – Voo
    Jan 10, 2016 at 17:46

Are you doing research alone? Or do you still have contacts with your advisor or a collaborator at a university? If you work with an academic, speak with them; maybe they can find a way to get you an account to access the university network via a VPN.

This could involve giving you a meaningless title such as "external research associate" or "external collaborator". As long as there is a faculty member vouching for you, and it's free for the university...

  • 1
    My current research is completely solo, so I couldn't get it based on collaboration. Conceivably this could work though. Thanks. Jan 9, 2016 at 22:21
  • Just a nitpick: Universities do pay for the privilege to access this.
    – vonbrand
    Jan 10, 2016 at 16:33
  • 2
    @vonbrand I think "it's free for the university" meant "there is no extra cost for the university".
    – Earthliŋ
    Jan 11, 2016 at 5:22

There is/was an unofficial way to use Twitter to crowdsource papers. Here's how I was told it works:

  1. Post a link of the paper with your email address on Twitter with the hashtag #icanhazpdf.
  2. Someone emails you the pdf.

Now I know some people were using this to illegally get papers they hadn't paid for. These people would delete their first tweet after getting the emailed pdf. There's also apparently a rule where you're not supposed to thank the sender either. I don't quite understand that one.

I don't know if this is still a thing, but you shouldn't use this to get papers you aren't legally allowed to have. That would be immoral and deprive the hard working journals of their extremely reasonable and low priced access fees.

  • 7
    I agree. $30-50 per paper is more than fair! Jan 10, 2016 at 17:25
  • Good tip. I mean for papers one is legally allowed to have of course.
    – Gabriel
    Jan 11, 2016 at 2:57
  • 1
    +1 for #icanhazpdf. But I seriously want to know whether "deprive the hard working journals of their extremely reasonable and low priced access fees" is a kind of verbal irony.
    – Orion
    Jan 27, 2016 at 19:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .