Volume 3 Issue 10, October 2019

Volume 3 Issue 10

Publish or perish for PhD students?

Regardless of country or discipline, publications are an expectation—if not a requirement—to obtain a PhD. In this issue, PhD students, academics and external stakeholders describe how this imposes detrimental consequences but also provides benefits for individuals and the scientific community, including clear calls for future improvements. The discussion is amplified with more contributions on our community forum.

See Focus on PhDs under publication pressure See also Behavioural & Social Sciences at Nature Research

Cover image: Ikon Images / Alamy Stock Photo. Cover design: Bethany Vukomanovic.


  • Editorial |

    Publications are commonly used to evaluate PhD students’ aptitude and have the appeal of a single, ‘objective’ measure. A collection of World Views in this issue, however, suggests that this creates only an illusion of true meritocracy. Not only assessments but PhD training per se require substantive improvements to benefit science and scientists.

Comment & Opinion

  • World View |

    The pressure to outperform others can gradually lead PhD students to believe their academic achievements define who they are, argues PhD student Toby Bartle; he calls on his peers to focus on learning—not achievement—and never lose track of their identities.

    • Toby Bartle
  • World View |

    Deepshikha Chatterjee, an Assistant Professor in Organisational Psychology, argues that noncitizen scientists in the US are structurally disadvantaged in a system that offers them fewer opportunities in training but later measures them against their citizen peers as if both groups had started on a level playing field.

    • Deepshikha Chatterjee
  • World View |

    Based on her interviews with senior academics, Taya Collyer, a PhD student in health research, reflects on how academic evaluation that values quantity over quality pervasively harms the scientific endeavour, leading even successful academics to retrospectively question research decisions.

    • Taya A. Collyer
  • World View |

    PhD students produce more than publications; they create a wealth of resources as a means to their research. Matt Crump, Associate Professor at the City University of New York, argues that PhDs should share these resources as portfolios that demonstrate their skills and to benefit the scientific community.

    • Matthew J. C. Crump
  • World View |

    Each route to graduation is an individual journey. Friedrich M. Götz, a PhD student in Psychology, argues that there are no ready-made recipes or silver bullets for success. While publications are important, the stress of producing them should not overshadow the joys of the journey.

    • Friedrich M. Götz
  • World View |

    A monograph is an entirely outdated requirement in an age when publications and presentations are used as a measure of PhD students’ performance in all other settings, argues Mark Martin Jensen, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering. It’s time to replace dissertations with something useful.

    • Mark Martin Jensen
  • World View |

    Brazil’s university landscape has undergone dramatic changes in recent decades, leading to increased pressure to publish despite stripped resources. Elisa Jordão argues that this makes it all the more important to educate the public about the value of scientific research and education.

    • Elisa Mari Akagi Jordão
  • World View |

    The pressure to publish during PhD training is only the beginning of a career in an environment that places intractable expectations on academics, argues Jennifer Lavers, a Lecturer in Marine Science; unrealistic demands to excel in publications, grants and outreach lead even outwardly successful academics to question their career choices.

    • Jennifer L. Lavers
  • World View |

    Recent changes in China’s research infrastructure have led to a rapid acceleration of the scientific process and increased pressure on all involved, argues Xiaopeng Li. The number of PhD graduates exceeds positions, and only structural innovations will ensure that PhDs can build careers in new sectors.

    • Xiaopeng Li
  • World View |

    Young scientists are deterred from conducting pivotal science on topics essential to societal progress by the pressure to publish in high-tier journals that neglect and marginalise these issues, argue Marginalia Science, a group dedicated to further scientific diversity.

    • Pia Dietze
    • , Ana Gantman
    • , H. Hannah Nam
    •  & Laura Niemi
  • World View |

    The pressure for scholarly publications creates a culture of knowledge silos, argues postdoctoral Fellow Sandra Obradović. If young researchers were also taught to explain research to a general audience, this would not only help their careers, but also bring science into society.

    • Sandra Obradović
  • World View |

    The Max Planck Society represents a unique place for principal investigators, but its benefits are not necessarily reaped by the students, argue the Max Planck PhDnet Survey Group. Policy changes, however, could alleviate publication and other pressures for students.

    • Charley M. Wu
    • , Benjamin Regler
    • , Felix K. Bäuerle
    • , Martin Vögele
    • , Laura Einhorn
    • , Sofia Elizarova
    • , Stefanie Förste
    • , Justin Shenolikar
    •  & Jana Lasser
  • World View |

    Many PhD students are enthusiastic about robust scientific practices, but afraid that ‘doing good science’ will jeopardize their chances on the job market, argues Felix Schönbrodt, Managing Director of the LMU Open Science Center. Aligning incentives and preparing students for a job market that values contributions to Open Science will be key.

    • Felix Schönbrodt
  • World View |

    Publishing novel, eye-grabbing results is rewarded in academia; whether publishing robust replications will be rewarded by graduation committees and future employers is yet to be determined. Andrea Stoevenbelt calls on committees to consider how different publications are weighed on candidates’ CVs.

    • Andrea H. Stoevenbelt
  • World View |

    PhD students and early career researchers are severely underfunded, explains Yuki Yamada, an Associate Professor in Psychology. Paired with biased selection criteria and unreasonable demands, this not only harms Japan’s young scientists, but presents a threat to academia itself.

    • Yuki Yamada
  • World View |

    Evaluating PhD students by their publications may have the outward appearance of a meritocracy, but as long as students from minority groups do not enjoy the same privileges as their peers, the playing field is anything but level, argues Alon Zivony.

    • Alon Zivony

Research Highlights

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Classic avoidance learning leads to a dilemma: if an animal always avoids a cue that lead to a negative outcome, it will never learn anything new about the cue and outcome. A new study suggests that a protected childhood period helps resolve that dilemma: children actually prefer to explore aversive cues but only do so if a parent is present.

    • Alison Gopnik
  • News & Views |

    Many theories have been put forward to explain how different sound systems evolved. Whether differences in vocal tract shape play a role has so far remained unclear. Dediu et al. document subtle differences among four broad ethnolinguistic groups. Using computer simulations, they demonstrate how differences can be amplified over time, leading to diverse vowel systems.

    • Susanne Fuchs


  • Letter |

    Why are people so often overconfident? Schwardmann and van der Weele show that people self-deceive into higher confidence if they have the opportunity to persuade others for profit and that higher confidence aides persuasion.

    • Peter Schwardmann
    •  & Joël van der Weele
  • Letter |

    Would you rather lose your job to a robot or a human? Granulo et al. show that people’s preference for humans to take on the jobs of humans reverses when they consider their own jobs: when it comes to themselves, humans prefer being replaced by robots.

    • Armin Granulo
    • , Christoph Fuchs
    •  & Stefano Puntoni
  • Letter |

    Young children switched to a preference for an aversive conditioned stimulus if acquisition occurred in the presence of their parent. Results suggest that early learning systems are constructed to permit modification by parental presence.

    • Nim Tottenham
    • , Mor Shapiro
    • , Jessica Flannery
    • , Christina Caldera
    •  & Regina M. Sullivan
  • Article |

    Lee et al. show people's biases in social perception can be explained merely by the structure of their social networks, without assuming biased cognition. Social perception biases can be explained by homophily of personal networks and minority-group size.

    • Eun Lee
    • , Fariba Karimi
    • , Claudia Wagner
    • , Hang-Hyun Jo
    • , Markus Strohmaier
    •  & Mirta Galesic
  • Article |

    Chenoweth and Belgioioso describe the momentum of protest movements as the product of the number of participants (mass) and concentration of events in time (velocity). Higher momentum is associated with a higher probability of irregular leader exit.

    • Erica Chenoweth
    •  & Margherita Belgioioso
  • Article |

    Lieder et al. leverage artificial intelligence to redesign our to-do lists into games that make us more productive. Four experiments suggest that their approach can help people make better decisions, overcome procrastination and prioritize better.

    • Falk Lieder
    • , Owen X. Chen
    • , Paul M. Krueger
    •  & Thomas L. Griffiths
  • Article |

    Anxiety is characterized by altered responses under uncertain conditions. Aylward et al. show that these altered responses are due to anxious individuals updating their behaviour in response to negative outcomes more quickly than non-anxious individuals.

    • Jessica Aylward
    • , Vincent Valton
    • , Woo-Young Ahn
    • , Rebecca L. Bond
    • , Peter Dayan
    • , Jonathan P. Roiser
    •  & Oliver J. Robinson

Amendments & Corrections