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For those of you who have experience in academic research, how possible is it to prepare and submit a manuscript for publication without support from a research mentor? I have a project I'd like to work on that shouldn't be too resource-intensive and won't require any lab space or software that's beyond my reach. Given that, do you think an academic journal would be receptive to a paper from an author without an M.D. or Ph.D.?
 
Apr 23, 2013
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For those of you who have experience in academic research, how possible is it to prepare and submit a manuscript for publication without support from a research mentor? I have a project I'd like to work on that shouldn't be too resource-intensive and won't require any lab space or software that's beyond my reach. Given that, do you think an academic journal would be receptive to a paper from an author without an M.D. or Ph.D.?
No.

This is my short answer from my clinical research job where I have way, way too close a view of the sausage-making of the academic process. Maybe some other fields are more open to it.

To try and be more useful: if you have a good relationship with a PI, offering them a 'free pub' is generally a win-win for everyone. You'll be first and they'll be senior, everyone wins.
 

sinombre

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No.

This is my short answer from my clinical research job where I have way, way too close a view of the sausage-making of the academic process. Maybe some other fields are more open to it.

To try and be more useful: if you have a good relationship with a PI, offering them a 'free pub' is generally a win-win for everyone. You'll be first and they'll be senior, everyone wins.
Keep in mind that clinical research is very, very different from other types of non-medical research. If the OP is talking about publishing in a field like ecology or entomology, it may be possible. That said, why not find a professor who will support you? It shouldn't be hard if it doesn't require funding and you're willing to do all of the work.
 
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Keep in mind that clinical research is very, very different from other types of non-medical research. If the OP is talking about publishing in a field like ecology or entomology, it may be possible. That said, why not find a professor who will support you? It shouldn't be hard if it doesn't require funding and you're willing to do all of the work.
As of now, my thought process is that (1) there's not really a professor at my university whose research interests overlap with my field of interest, and (2) it seems like a missed opportunity to split credit if I have a shot to be a first author, yes? As an add-on to that, I'd imagine it'd look pretty good to be the sole author on a publication.
 

smarts1

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As of now, my thought process is that (1) there's not really a professor at my university whose research interests overlap with my field of interest, and (2) it seems like a missed opportunity to split credit if I have a shot to be a first author, yes? As an add-on to that, I'd imagine it'd look pretty good to be the sole author on a publication.
Could you get in contact with other PIs from around the country who are in your field of interest and try to contact each other electronically? Even if you get in contact with another PI, you could still be first author on the pub.
 

487806

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As of now, my thought process is that (1) there's not really a professor at my university whose research interests overlap with my field of interest, and (2) it seems like a missed opportunity to split credit if I have a shot to be a first author, yes? As an add-on to that, I'd imagine it'd look pretty good to be the sole author on a publication.
That's only true if you're a PI (or at least an MD, PhD or MD/PhD level)
 

mcloaf

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Generally speaking any upside you'd get by potentially publishing alone would likely be outweighed by what you're sacrificing by not including somebody with years of experience and connections in the field. Also, if you do the work and include a PI who guides you, you should still be first author.

It's sort of impossible to tell because you're being so vague. Maybe the field is one in which you don't need this sort of background and connections, who knows.
 
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Apr 23, 2013
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Keep in mind that clinical research is very, very different from other types of non-medical research. If the OP is talking about publishing in a field like ecology or entomology, it may be possible. That said, why not find a professor who will support you? It shouldn't be hard if it doesn't require funding and you're willing to do all of the work.
Yes, this may be true. I know very little about the publishing environment for non-medical research, as I said.

As of now, my thought process is that (1) there's not really a professor at my university whose research interests overlap with my field of interest, and (2) it seems like a missed opportunity to split credit if I have a shot to be a first author, yes? As an add-on to that, I'd imagine it'd look pretty good to be the sole author on a publication.
It's not 'splitting credit' in the medical field; that's just not how it works. First author is understood to have done most of the work. Senior author is understood to have supervised and/or provided resources. It doesn't take away from the first author's work to have the senior author. If you've never guided a manuscript through the review process, I would doubt your ability to do so by yourself. Being a first author in my clinical medical research field is virtually unknown, unless it's an editorial or a letter. Trying to publish alone would look weird and naive, and again, if you haven't worked on a manuscript from inception to publication already, you're probably drastically underestimating the amount of work and experience required to do so successfully.
 
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I am not sure that your work would be taken seriously at any peer reviewed journal (especially since you aren't technically a "peer") so it is not worth publishing alone..even if it is possible. Having institutional and professional backing is important since the reputation of your institution/PI will influence how seriously your science is taken. I am pretty sure you can publish alone in one of those journals that is meant for undergraduate publication, but I don't know that I would pursue those journals unless they are your last resort.

As far as no PI having the same interest, it should not matter. PIs are often involved with projects that deviate from their primary interest. My PI studies vision, but we are currently collaborating with a grad student who wanted to work with us on an audition experiment. My PI seems pretty into having fun with a totally off the wall project (off the wall for our lab).
 

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  1. For an undergrad, it can be pretty difficult to even get a mention as the fifth or sixth author on a paper. This makes being the first author pretty impressive. There is really no need to shoot to be the sole author to try to impress someone.
  2. I highly doubt that you will be able to publish alone. Here are some perspectives from PhD students and professors:

    Publish Together or Perish
    The demise of the lone author: History of the Journal Nature
    Publishing as a Single Author (Notice how they say this is doable in fields like history and anthropology, but not biology. Lines up with what I've observed.)
    Single-Author Papers: A Waning Share of Output, But Still Providing the Tools for Progress

    Also notice that all four of those links are talking about PhDs and PhD students, not undergraduates.

    Here are some charts from the last link:
 
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Sorry about that; I didn't realize it was so dependent upon field of study. Though it seems there's a general consensus against, I was thinking about something along the lines of health policy and medical education. Do you think it'd be better off to email a professor in the field and suggest a collaboration via electronic communication, or to find someone at my home institution who's less directly connected to the subject matter?
 

Reckoner

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Sorry about that; I didn't realize it was so dependent upon field of study. Though it seems there's a general consensus against, I was thinking about something along the lines of health policy and medical education. Do you think it'd be better off to email a professor in the field and suggest a collaboration via electronic communication, or to find someone at my home institution who's less directly connected to the subject matter?
Unless the professor you email works in the same city, I would go with the bolded. I doubt most faculty would be willing to jump into a collaboration with someone they can't meet face to face with no advanced degree. If your project really doesn't require any funding or lab space, I can't see why a PI at your institution wouldn't be willing to support you (as long as it's a valid project with decent potential for publications), even if it's only tangentially related to their interests. And others have made this point, but the faculty member would be listed as the last (funding) author, not the first, so first authorship could still be all yours.
 

Euxox

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Sorry about that; I didn't realize it was so dependent upon field of study. Though it seems there's a general consensus against, I was thinking about something along the lines of health policy and medical education.
Even if you get very strong data, I'm not sure how seriously a study on medical education will be taken if it comes from someone who has never been a medical student and/or taught medical students and residents. I'm also not sure how you would be able to collect usable data without IRB approval and I'm not sure how easy it will be to get through the IRB approval process without an advisor.

Do you think it'd be better off to email a professor in the field and suggest a collaboration via electronic communication, or to find someone at my home institution who's less directly connected to the subject matter?
I think those are both good options. It's usually easier to work face-to-face, so I would recommend option two.