They say in academia it's publish or perish, and I'm afraid I will fall into the latter category. I am a graduate student at a research university, and I am in my third year. Most of my first two years were spent on classes. I collaborate with my advisor, another professor at my university, "Matt", who is in another department and a researcher at a national lab, "Kyle".

I am concerned because I have been working on a project for well over a year and have had a publication in preparation for the past 9 months. I am being pulled in different directions by the 3 of them regarding what constitutes a "rigorous enough" argument. Generally, Matt and Kyle believe the science is there and has been there for some time and we simply need to write it up and submit. In contrast, my advisor never seems satisfied. I have created dozens of different graphs and torn down and rewritten the paper numerous times. I have become frustrated and demotivated to work on this project since little credit has come from it. It is burning a hole in my desk and preventing me from working on new things that I am interested in. I would like to know for certain that next time I rewrite it, it will at least receive my advisor's approval to submit it, and that will happen relatively soon.

Matt is very sharp and a "straight-talker". He is sometimes abrasive with his students, but has a superb publication history. He has known my advisor for a long time and asks a lot of probing questions because he believes other students who my advisor has had in the past did not reach the potential that they could have. Some of the questions he asks are: "how often is your advisor around?, "do you think that the other older graduate student will be able to succeed in academia given his publication record?" (he has 1 pub after 6 years of grad school), "why hasn't your advisor done this? (referring to providing more editing/polishing/science for the paper) To a large degree, I agree with what Matt is saying, and my responses to his questions feel like I am trying to cover for someone with a problem. I believe if this pace continues I will not be able to compete with other students who have a larger publication record.

My advisor is usually around only 1 or 2 days a week, and I am not sure what or if he works on anything else on the other days. He has a mysterious appointment as head of a joint research institute, and I've never been able to ascertain what they work on or how big/important this group is. He may be working on things he cannot tell me about, or it may be an institute in name only with few active members. Regardless, the current situation is affecting my career.

Matt and Kyle have repeatedly asked me over the past several months why the paper has not been submitted yet, and what we are waiting for. My advisor has said things like "you only get one chance to ruin your reputation" and "I remember how excited I was for my first paper. I rushed it out to some mediocre journal and no one read it." I understand some of where he is coming from, but when I look at the publication record of Matt's students, some published 5-6 papers per year in journals at least at the level of the journal this paper will be submitted to.

My advisor has done some things quite well like connecting me to Matt and Kyle, helping with fellowship applications which I did eventually win 1 of them, and providing connections for me to work abroad one semester next year. He seems to know a lot of people and networks well, but Matt and Kyle have much greater publication records and more success with grant applications. I am afraid I will lose my fellowship if they think I am not producing, but I am also afraid to ask the fellowship providers if they think this is likely.

I am not sure what to do as I like some parts of my current arrangement, but I also have a goal for 3 publications per year that I am currently falling well short of. A project that Kyle and I have been working on without my advisor will likely provide a publication soon, possibly before the other paper gets published. My advisor seems to be setting the pace for this project, and the pace he set is slow, very very slow.

I am looking for advice on how to handle this situation and increase my publications/year. I've also considered changing advisors, but that would sour the deal for me to work abroad next year, and my current advisors interests seem to match more closely with my own than anyone else in the department.

  • 8
    I read the title and thought to myself "The answer is going to be: Talk to him about your concerns." Then I read the body of the post, and thought: I totally called it. Have you brought up these concerns with your advisor? If not: why not?
    – ff524
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 2:58
  • As someone who has not gone through a PhD/publication regime, I must ask: Do you need advisor approval before submitting a paper? Can you instead thank them for their advice, and then take responsibility for the decision and do something different? Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 3:15
  • 1
    @DanielR.Collins At one point i tried to set a date for submittal 1 month ahead, and when I did that, he asked this his name be removed. He has been working on the problem we are studying for over 10 years (so has Matt). I thought I should follow his advice given that information. I wasn't sure what to do, and the month came and went. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 3:23
  • 3
    You have a long question but you missed two very important points (at least to me).1. we are studying for over 10 years 2. he asked this his name be removed. Please consider put them in your question and shorten your question body by taking out unnecessary info (in my opinion).
    – Nobody
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 3:31
  • 5
    If Matt is so concerned about the publication delay, maybe Matt should express his concerns directly with your advisor (who is, after all, his coauthor) rather than using a student (you) as a go-between.
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 8:45

1 Answer 1


This is a very common problem. At the moment, I am a coauthor on three manuscripts which have been waiting for the approval of three different advisors for months. Basically, faculty are overcommitted (or disorganized) and as a result do not put in the necessary effort to understand the manuscript and fix it. Often faculty have no training in writing and as a result cannot effectively communicate what they want changed about a manuscript.

There is one, simple solution which has proven effective for me. The graduate student has got to remind the faculty member to help them. Be persistent and follow up frequently. Eventually the faculty member will realize they need to make the manuscript a priority.

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