One of my graduate students, doing their PhD in another university, is doing quite well. Recently, he told me that he is having a tussle with his supervisor on communication of his work to a specific journal. His supervisor insists he submit his research to a very high profile journal, but my student does not believe that his research work would be accepted by this journal. Side note: His supervisor does not have any publications in this high profile journal.

Now my question is that, how to deal with such situation?

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    If he insists, make the best paper you can, go ahead and submit. If it is indeed not good enough, it will be rejected.
    – Davidmh
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 7:52
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    I agree with @Davidmh. Go ahead and submit to that journal. There are two outcomes: (a) the paper gets accepted, implying that your student underestimates the quality of his own work or that he got lucky (both fine), or (b) the paper is rejected and the student will be able to submit to a more appropriate place without big arguments with his supervisor. Win-win. Commented May 12, 2016 at 8:21
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    "Supervisor is actually insisting him to do work publishable in that journal." - OK, that's a different problem than just insisting that the student submit a paper to that journal. I think you should clarify that in your question.
    – mhwombat
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 8:39
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    Don't see a problem with this. What is the problem of aiming high? Also, if that journal has many experienced researchers as you say, then it'll be a good chance to get some constructive feedback. Just make sure the paper is of the highest quality possible; i.e., don't send them junk. Commented May 12, 2016 at 9:02
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    Supervisor is actually insisting him to do work publishable in that journal. Great, an advisor who's doing his job.
    – Cape Code
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 9:18

3 Answers 3


Most answers/comments seem to have the philosophy that "there is nothing to lose by submitting to the top journals, so go for it". I would like to offer a different perspective.

There are costs to every journal submission.

  • Time spent formatting the manuscript to fit the journal. This sometimes requires relatively minor changes such as formatting references, but might involve more significant effort such as adapting the length to fit a word limit, or altering the focus of the introduction. A lot of the very top journals have quite specific style requirements that are very different to other journals.

  • Time waiting for a response. At least if it is a desk reject, this will be quick. If it's a rejection after reviews, then as Bartosz points out, at least you will get some good feedback. But the wait can be important at certain stages in a scientific career. One paper can make a big difference to a grad student's CV.

  • Potential (but often very real) emotional cost of (possibly repeated) rejections.

  • Costs to the system. If everyone adopts a policy of always submitting to the highest journals, editors become swamped and even more likely just to reject on sight. (Yes, I know, it will still happen because of the Tragedy of the Commons).

These costs need to weighed against the potential benefits if the paper is accepted, which of course are large, but far from guaranteed in the case of high-ranking journals.

Therefore, I don't think it is as simple as saying "you might as well try, you've got nothing to lose". There comes a point where the chance of acceptance drops so low that it is not worth sinking the above costs into an effort that is very unlikely to succeed.

Notice that the costs listed above are much reduced or absent for the supervisor. Therefore, while there is little harm for the supervisor in aiming high to start with, the same is not necessarily true for the student. Therefore, it may well be worth getting some further opinions as to the chance of success for the submission. Ideally, try asking some other faculty members whom you know and trust to have a quick read of the manuscript and give their opinion. They may agree with the supervisor, in which case, great, go ahead and try! But it is worth asking around before putting in all that effort.

NOTE: This is not meant to sound negative. The answer for your friend may well be that he should give it a go. But I do think that there is a non-trivial decision to be made.

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    I strongly agree with this. Way too much time is wasted trying every journal from the top on down. One could easily spend months or even a year on this process, and there is a large opportunity cost associated with delaying publication. One could be getting on with the next research questions, seeking funding with the publication supporting your grant application, etc.
    – user24098
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:25
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    I think this answer is partially conflating the general issue of authors who submit to a succession of journals starting from the best one and working their way down, with the specific situation in the question. It is true that there are costs to longshot submissions and that they should be taken into account, but I don't see this as being very applicable to OP's friend's situation. As I explained in my answer, in this specific case there is every reason to think the best advice is for him to follow his advisor's suggestion, unless the adviser shows signs of being delusional.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 17:53
  • @DanRomik That was my reason for highlighting that the supervisor has a different (albeit overlapping) set of interests to the student. Even with the best of intentions, their advice may be biased by the fact that for them, there is much less cost to be balanced against the long-shot benefit. I don't think there is much harm in getting an extra opinion or two that may be slightly more impartial. Commented May 12, 2016 at 22:13
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    @user2390246 yes, those are good points, and I liked your answer as well, I just thought most of it addressed a more general question than what OP was asking about.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 22:16
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    It's always amusing when answers are chosen as correct based on bias.
    – Waterseas
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 15:56

Everyone should be so lucky to have an advisor who pushes them to excel and to aspire to the highest standards of achievement. Really, I don't see why your friend is complaining -- he should just go ahead and submit the paper to the high-profile journal.

Moreover, your friend's advisor, whether he published in the journal before or not, is considerably more qualified than your friend to judge the chances of the paper to be accepted to the journal. If the advisor thinks that's where the paper should be submitted, your friend would in all likelihood be foolish to disagree, especially since the worst that can happen is the paper will get rejected, probably sooner rather than later.

The only exception to this advice is in the bizarre situation in which the advisor is clearly delusional. In that case, your friend has much bigger problems and should probably look for a different advisor, not because of the small and self-correcting problem with the journal but because having an advisor who is so delusional and has such poor judgment does not bode well for your friend's eventual success in his research.


As others have noted, there is absolutely nothing wrong in aiming high when publishing papers (unless some exceptional situations with university deadlines etc.). When you get rejected - you can just try another journal.

When you do the other way around and get accepted for the first any low-profile journal you will never know if your work didn't deserve something better - and possibly you will regret that decision :)

Another advantage of trying high-profile journals first, is that even if you get rejected you will get great, constructive reviews, which are really worth the wait.

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    Well, you might not get reviews at all, you might get rejected by the editor. But if that's the case then at least it won't have cost you much time. Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:55
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    @user2390246 Not necessarily. A few months is probably minimal in my discipline and sometimes it is a rejection with no comments. A few months here and a few there add up pretty quickly, too.
    – cfr
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 22:45

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