My advisor is a full professor nearing retirement age. Although he does not seem to be planning to retire anytime soon; he has this "been there/done that" attitude toward publications. He says that he has published enough significant work to be happy and that he only wants to publish breakthrough papers from now on. My issue is that I need publications to build a good resume. As of now, I have no publications from my PhD research.

My research project is structured in a way that any other professor would see it as an opportunity to get multiple publications out of it because each stage of the project has enough significance to be published separately. My adviser however wants only one comprehensive paper. I have several issues with this:

  1. This reduces the number of publications appearing on my resume. I know that this really shouldn't be important, because I would still be publishing the same content. However, this is important when applying for competitive R&D positions in tech (the types of jobs I'm interested in) where during the first stages of screening applicants the number of publications would matter (since no one will actually read them at that point).

  2. This also means that I will not be able to submit anything until close to my graduation which would mean that unless I delay my graduation until after the review process is over, I would have no publications when I graduate. Several people in industry who would be hiring for the types of jobs I'm interested in have told me that they do not consider PhD applicants who have no publications.

How would you propose I handle this situation? Today I told him that I'd like to submit an abstract to a conference but he would not permit it, saying that he is afraid that someone at the conference will steal our idea and publish it in a journal before we are able to. I really think he was just using that as an excuse though.

  • 3
    but he would not permit it — If your advisor is a coauthor, find a new advisor. If your advisor is not a coauthor, submit the abstract anyway, and then find a new advisor.
    – JeffE
    Mar 8, 2016 at 1:28
  • He is a coauthor. I'm also a bit late in the process to change my advisor (unless I want to stay around for another 2.5 years). Mar 8, 2016 at 1:43
  • 1
    Speaking from experience, a PhD without publications is better than no PhD, but barely... (at least in CS) Mar 8, 2016 at 3:05
  • 4
    Interestingly, I had the opposite case. I suggested, for safety and to keep things under control, to my student to publish a number of papers out of his work each of which would have been easily a legitimate separate paper, but he wanted to write the big one. And he did. It was in an excellent journal and he got a top job (he went to industry). Lesson: it's not always the number of publications that counts. Mar 8, 2016 at 6:08
  • 1
    I don't really mean to "salami" your publication, but I'm following a rule of thumb: one new thing per publication. If you cram too much new stuff into a single work, you raise the chance of people not understanding it... Imho Mar 8, 2016 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


One of the first "guides" to a PhD that I ever read, mentioned the pros and cons of choosing a young advisor versus an old advisor. Certainly it isn't that black and white but your description is exactly what that article talked about.

In response to your points:

  1. The number of publications on your resume is important. It is how you will be evaluated on the job market. Just as importantly though, submitting papers and attending conferences is a great way to get feedback, network, and find collaborators.
  2. Not publishing until the end isn't a death sentence but you definitely need to be getting feedback from other researchers in your community years before that. Again, publishing and attending conferences is an awesome experience and could help you find jobs (it certainly has helped me find great internships!).

My suggestions would be to (A) talk to your advisor about this again, (B) find a co-advisor, or (C) switch advisors entirely. A co-advisor could potentially give you the best of both worlds. But it sounds like your current advisor has very different goals for you than what you want so you have to take some time and contemplate if you want to continue working with him.

  • I agree with you, but part of the issue is that I am already a PhD candidate. It is a bit late to change my adviser or add a co-adviser because my thesis committee has already been formed. All I really need to do is to collect more data to validate what I've gotten from my preliminary results and start writing a thesis. So the publication issue is my main issue. If I want to change advisors I may have to start over with a new project which I'm really not interested in at this point. Mar 8, 2016 at 1:35
  • @Hadi Is there someone on your committee that you can bring this up to? If you have more than one year left, it isn't too late to find a co-advisor. If you have less, then it is rather late for this question anyway and you should continue pushing your advisor to help you publish. Mar 8, 2016 at 1:38
  • I have around 9 month left. I could bring it up to someone, but I'm a bit worried about stirring things up (I've been on the wrong end of academic politics before...). I guess I'll have to sit down and explain things to him again. Maybe in a well-written email, since he never lets me finish when I talk to him in person. Thanks for the advice. Mar 8, 2016 at 1:42

In comments, you say that you have less than a year left until graduation. Given this fact, it would likely not be easy to get more than a couple of quality publications out during this time in any case, particularly with a perfectionist advisor and little experience in publishing yourself.

As such, I think your big goal (besides graduating) should be to get a good postdoc lined up, where you can solidly advance your career and do a lot of publication. Having few publications but a respected advisor can be a totally reasonable combination for moving to a good postdoc. If necessary, you may even do more than one round of postdoc. Once you establish a solid "upward trajectory" and track record of publications, the fact that you published little in grad school will not be a problem, particularly if your one grad school publication is indeed a very good one.

  • Thanks. I have been considering that. However, if I could get a couple of quality publications I'd be happy. That would be good enough in my field, and I did a couple of internships in a good company in my field to complement my resume. We have a couple researcher/engineers in our research group who have worked with my advisor for some years. I talked to them and they say if I just go ahead and write the paper my advisor would probably give in to submitting it. I think I will try that first. Mar 8, 2016 at 3:27

You must log in to answer this question.

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