Friday, July 3, 2009

Post-graduation publishing

FSP put up a post yesterday about loose ends. She starts:
It is in the best interests of advisers and graduate students that students graduate in a timely way and move on to another scientific (or other) adventure, but in some cases a 'timely way' means that a student leaves before completing all the things that need completing (i.e., papers).
She goes on to describe the scenarios she has encountered with regard to how her students have dealt with publications post-graduation. From her comments, the majority of these students either have little time or little interest to complete and submit the manuscripts, which has to be extraordinarily frustrating. She points out that, as adviser, she can finish writing the paper in some circumstances. To some extent, she potentially still has some leverage with former students--if they want to maintain a good relationship with their Ph.D. adviser or use her as a reference for future jobs.

What do you do when it's the adviser holding up the publications?

I realize there are situations when an adviser delays submission of a publication for legitimate reasons, among which I would include:
  • there is insufficient data
  • data is not reproducible
  • there are not appropriate controls
  • another experiment or two could boost the work to a higher tier journal
However, there are times when the reasons for delay are not so obvious and/or rational. Among these, I have observed:
  • the adviser is "extremely busy" and doesn't make time to review a manuscript, so it sits on his desk for months, untouched
  • the adviser has lost interest in the project
  • the adviser is convinced that there's "just one more" experiment that needs to be done to unveil the mechanism behind the phenomenon--he just doesn't know what it is... or it's not feasible given the available technology
I know of manuscripts from former postdocs and students that have been in my Ph.D. adviser's possession for 5 to 10 years. I think some he has no intention of ever publishing, even though there is sufficient data for a manuscript, and no one has worked on the project for years. Maybe it would have to go to a lower tier journal, but isn't it better to publish a small paper in a lower tier journal than to not publish at all? Several key papers that are constantly cited in my grad research area were published in what we would consider "low tier" journals... and some of those authors are now Nobel laureates.

I understand that ultimately it is the PI's prerogative what and when and where he or she publishes. But as FSP points out, this isn't just about the PI's career, but the trainee's as well. A trainee can't submit without the PI, and the trainee has no leverage to force the PI to publish--other than persistently barraging the PI with inquiries about the manuscripts in question.