I am taking a graduate class requiring that I submit a paper to a journal at the end of the semester. The professor sent out an email informing us that we can either hand off a copy of the paper in an addressed envelope to her, which she will then mail, or email her a copy of the submission receipt if we submit the paper electronically.

I feel uncomfortable submitting my paper at this time, and I intended to work on this paper with my advisor over the summer before submitting it to a journal.

My advisor told me that I should report this situation to the Chair and I did, but my complaint was passed off to the Director of Grad Student Services within my department. The Director informed me that she had talked with the professor, that the professor would not change the requirement, and proposed that I submit it to a journal and then just immediately withdraw the submission. That has been the plan, but I feel like my right to determine what happens to something that I wrote, my intellectual property, is being infringed upon by this professor.

Can my professor force me to submit my paper to a journal anyway?

  • 20
    I'm fairly sure that if you've gone that high up the chain and the answer they gave you was "Yes, he can", then the only answer we can give you is "Yes, he can". Possibly if someone who read this knew your jurisdiction and was familiar with applicable laws they may disagree, but I don't think we have very many (actual) lawyers that frequent the site. You could try going even further up, to a dean, but at that point you run the risk of burning bridges (whether your objection is upheld or not). Perhaps you should view this as a lesson in "publish or perish"... Apr 30 '16 at 8:43
  • 68
    You should submit to the Journal of Universal Rejection (www.universalrejection.org). They promise to reject your paper :)
    – mmh
    Apr 30 '16 at 13:35
  • 5
    Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a snail mail address for the Journal of Universal Rejection, and their process does not indicate any receipts. Apr 30 '16 at 14:34
  • 16
    This sounds like a very unreasonable request. But let me ask: did you know about the required submission when you enrolled in the course? Is it in the syllabus? It would also be helpful to know your academic field: in my own (mathematics), a paper is a very serious thing -- often the work of one or more years by a single researcher -- and this request would be horrible but also a bit ridiculous. Perhaps there are academic fields in which it is relatively common for "term papers" to be submitted for publication. (Which is not at all to justify the practice, just to get context.) Apr 30 '16 at 18:57
  • 10
    By the way, if I were in your situation, I would seriously consider simply refusing to comply, stating your reasons, and taking it from there. If you turn in your final paper to the professor along with a one page letter signed by you and your advisor explaining that you feel the request is unethical and therefore you will not be following it, then what is going to happen? You are not doing any less academic work than the DGS's ridiculous hack of a suggested solution, but you are doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing. You would have a great case for a grade appeal...obviously. Apr 30 '16 at 19:07

I find this highly annoying that a professor would assign something like this. Submissions take time, time the editors invest, time the reviewers invest. To have student papers submitted that are perhaps not exactly the highest quality is a waste of resources. Journals should record only the best science, not be considered a machine. Did the professor stipulate the journal? There are many journals out there that offer pay-to-publish, and then there is another potentially sub-standard non-peer-reviewed paper out there for search machines to find. I would submit a written complaint about this to the dean.

  • 64
    This. It's irresponsible to have this as a requirement. Submitting papers that aren't ready is not only a waste of the editors' and reviewers' time, but if it does get published it ends up permanently attached to the student's name. And from the question, "the professor ... proposed that I submit it to a journal and then just immediately withdraw the submission," which is an even more pointless waste of people's time, and damages the student's relationship with the editor while accomplishing exactly nothing. Not publishing prematurely is the right thing to do and should not be penalised.
    – Nathaniel
    Apr 30 '16 at 10:32
  • 22
    ...and not only that but submitting an incomplete version will make it harder to get the final version published if the student does spend the summer working on it. There's just no sense in this at all.
    – Nathaniel
    Apr 30 '16 at 10:34

The professor's requirement that you submit for publication a paper you do not want to submit, and the advice from the Grad Studies director to submit and then immediately withdraw your paper, are both unethical, harmful, and -- for lack of a better word -- idiotic. They are asking you to:

  1. Use false pretexts to waste the time of busy professionals who have no connection to your course or to your university; and

  2. Risk seriously damaging your own scientific credibility by submitting for publication a work that does not live up to what you consider appropriate standards, and (if you follow the suggestion to immediately withdraw the submission) professing to do so out of a dishonest motivation.

I see this as analogous to a criminology professor making it a grade requirement for their students to call 911 and report a fictitious serious crime as a way of learning about how the criminal justice system works. This is obviously wrong, and arguably asking you to be complicit in outright fraud. In academia, your reputation and credibility as a researcher are among your most prized possessions, and I would strongly advise you to not take any action that you perceive as risking those assets, whether it's by publishing a paper you are not satisfied with, or annoying a journal editor who is a fellow member of your scientific community with spurious article submissions and withdrawals.

My recommendation is to ask for a meeting with your department chair and go carefully over the situation and the implications of what you are being asked to do, and ask them to intervene. Another option is to enlist the help of your advisor who could help you argue your case. Much would depend on whether your advisor feels comfortable intervening, on local power politics within the department, the precise level of seniority and personalities of the people involved, etc.

Another insight I can offer is a guess about the human dynamics at play here. My experience is that when the system fails to correct bad decisions of this type, the way it happens is often something along the following lines:

  1. Your professor is a (probably senior) person with a somewhat stern personality and rigid views about education of graduate students. She is well-intentioned, but on this issue she is simply wrong.

  2. Your department chair is extremely busy and doesn't always have the time to deal in detail with any complaint from a student, so passed the problem on to the grad studies director. However, if you insist on escalating the issue the chair may have to (perhaps reluctantly) take the time to look more into this issue and possibly intervene.

  3. Your director of graduate studies may be a sensible person, but like many academics may be a non-confrontational person who doesn't like getting in nasty arguments with colleagues, and was reluctant to force the issue even if she disagreed with the other professor, and came up with the "submit-and-then-withdraw" proposal as a kind of cop-out solution.

I'm assuming that the people involved are mostly reasonable people who have good intentions but need a bit of help reaching the right decision. I can't guarantee that this advice will work, and it's possible that you are in a dysfunctional department where unreasonable decisions of this sort cannot be corrected very easily, but I think it's worth a try.

  • 1
    Now I understand where I get all these papers from to review which look as if the supervisor didn't do a proper job - this is called "outsourcing". The OP should be careful not to reveal the identity of the institution, or it should get a warning that it is going to go straight onto the "reject on sight"-lists. May 1 '16 at 23:42

There are two parts to consider:

  1. Your professor can very well make "have a submission ready paper" a criterion for passing a class. She can not force you to submit it, since you could just accept not passing the class. It has nothing to do with "but I feel like my right to determine what happens to something that I wrote, my intellectual property, is being infringed upon by this professor.". I am pretty sure if you tell her that you don't do it, she will say "ok, you dont pass the class" and you can just repeat it.


  1. The Director informed me that she had talked with the professor, that the professor would not change the requirement, and proposed that I submit it to a journal and then just immediately withdraw the submission.

Frustrating that this should be the solution. I think that one should inform the journals in question so that they should just ban all submissions in this context. Institutions which, despite obvious and known severe problems with a paper encourage theirs students to send these papers are behaving unethical.

What your professor should do is check the quality, and judge the quality of your work, and if it's appropriate, give you more time, or fail you if your work (or project duration) is sub-standard in comparison to your peers. Pressing submit buttons is not an academic achievement.


My advisor told me that I should report this situation to the Chair and I did, but my complaint was passed off to the Director of Grad Student Services within my department.

Try it again. But this time, if they recall your first attempt, tell them that you made a mistake, and that you shouldn't have asked for a special dispensation.

By asking for special treatment for yourself, you may have indirectly implied that you were ok with the other students still making bogus submissions.

The fact is, this assignment not only has the potential to tarnish your own reputation, the reputation of those other students taking the class, but also the reputation of any student from the same school (not taking the class) that may submit legitimate papers to those same journals.


A little math-guy-in-a-math-ed-setting moment...file this as a "WLOG" confirmation for the OP, perhaps: not only was I made to do this same thing, but (to raise the pot) it was 1) meant as merely an exercise in the preparatory work needed to prepare a manuscript for publication, most specifically transforming the dissertation into a journal-ready edition (but not at all worth hitting the brakes at the last second, oh no); and 2) it was required of the entire class in question, the penultimate course prior to the actual dissertation itself. Thus (3. corollary) it was true for every student in this penultimate course taught by this veteran professor, and since she was the only person who ever taught it (4. extension) it was required of every student who pursued a Ph.D. in this field at this particular school. Talk about a shotgun blast of uninteresting, unpolished, nowhere-near-finished (hardly begun, to be precise) theses for those poor, hapless saps at the journals in question to have to field (slash, redirect to the circular file). Oy vey!

  • This does not really answer the question. If you have a different question, you can ask it by clicking Ask Question. You can also add a bounty to draw more attention to this question. - From Review
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 15 '16 at 7:01
  • How does this not answer the question? OP asked if a professor was allowed to force students to submit their incomplete paper to a journal. I gave a specific (personal) example of a professor doing so not only for myself, but for an entire classroom. How is that not precisely what was asked for? May 17 '16 at 7:13
  • Just that the same thing happened to you does not imply the validity of the process.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 17 '16 at 7:43
  • Answering a question with "hey dude, it happened to me" isn't answering the question; when someone asks "can a professor do this to me" they're really asking "if they ask me for this, can I challenge it and have a leg to stand on?" Ranting about your situation for catharsis' sake doesn't really help the OP's case. I would also suggest breaking up your text a little bit and perhaps meandering a little less, which would help the quality of your answers. May 17 '16 at 20:55

If that is the stipulation of the class, then the best thing to do is to comply with the stipulation whether you feel like the paper is ready for submission or not. Treat this as an academic exercise. Should you refuse (which you have a right to do), but that will probably earn you an failing grade on that assignment. This request for submitting a paper to a journal appears to be common as it teaches students the process preparing a document and submitting to a journal. Another thing this type activity does is encourages students to write at a higher level. During my first graduate class, I had to do a book review and submit it to a journal.

Administratively, professors have deadlines of their own and have a timetable as when to submit grades. In this case, what does the professor do with your grade? Is your grade for the class marked as an incomplete? Can a grade be changed in the system after a certain date? The professor’s decision likely goes beyond that of wanting to see you have a published paper.

If your paper fails to meet the quality criteria of the journal or loses to the competition, it is likely that the journal will not accept it. Given this scenario, you can still work on the paper and bring it to a publishable state. One condition is that most journals will not accept a submission if the article is being considered for another journal. This can take anywhere to several weeks to several months.

  • 3
    +1 For the "incomplete" grade suggestion. OP should negotiate for an incomplete and plan to submit at the end of the summer. Apr 30 '16 at 18:17
  • 12
    -1: "If that is the stipulation of the class, then the best thing to do is to comply with the stipulation whether you feel like the paper is ready for submission or not." It is not at all clear that this is the best thing, as the OP already explained. For instance, a silly publication could hurt his professional reputation, and a premature publication of work which is being done with / assisted by his thesis advisor sounds even worse. "Should you refuse (which is in your right)" Yes. "[T]he professor can always refuse you a passing grade (which is in his or her right)." Not at all clear. Apr 30 '16 at 19:09
  • 4
    It is not at all clear that an F would be justified even granted your premises. If a student only writes 2/3 of an essay, I would not be justified in giving it a 0 or, even, automatically failing it. No more than it would be justified to assign an F to an exam script which answered only 3 rather than 4 questions or whatever. Presumably submission to the journal is not the entire assignment - even if this is admitted as a legitimate part of it. [Also, if the practice is widespread in some disciplines, that doesn't make it any less unethical. So much the worse for those disciplines.]
    – cfr
    May 1 '16 at 2:44
  • 3
    @TonyH: Your response only make sense in the most narrow sense: the professor can say that the student got a failing grade on the assignment, but she may well be wrong to say that in a way that will get overturned via an appeal. University professors are simply not authorized to require students to follow all their whims in order to get passing (or whatever) grades. If the assignment is to kiss the university president on the nose and the student refuses, then in your sense "the logical result is an F/0 for that assignment"...not a very useful sense. May 1 '16 at 20:56
  • 5
    "This request for submitting a paper to a journal appears to be common..." Appears to whom? I and many other lifetime academics are indicating that we've never heard of the practice and find it somewhere between outrageous and ridiculous. Knowing that parts of academia can differ widely from other parts of academia, I am willing to countenance the idea that there is a branch of academia in which this practice is common...but your answer is not a contribution until you provide information about this part of academia, in particular explaining how the ethical problems get resolved. May 1 '16 at 21:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.