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Publish or perish: Grad students facing tougher barriers

Being the first author on a paper in an esteemed journal is the objective for graduate students nationwide. Such an achievement opens the door to joining the faculty of elite institutions and has been viewed as a necessary rite of passage for academic scientists. This worthy ambition, however, has become less attainable, and that dilemma is the subject addressed by Stanford biochemistry professor Suzanne Pfeffer, PhD, the president of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, in her latest column in the society’s magazine.

Pfeffer lays out how multidisciplinary research increasingly is leading to papers with multiple authors and how journals, in turn, are being more demanding of the manuscripts they receive. She writes:

Why don’t more of our students publish sooner? Part of the problem is that reviewers and journals are demanding more. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the sequence of an important gene was sufficient for publication in the flashiest of journals. I envied those manuscript reviews - what could the referees criticize when a sequence was a sequence? Now, journals quibble over whether to publish entire genomes. A referee can always ask for more experiments, another mutant, another control, and, because most journals want to maintain the highest standards, the editors agree. Such an approach may make for great papers, but it actually can be harmful to younger workers in our field because it sets the bar for publication further from their grasp.

Pfeffer doesn’t offer a simple solution, but makes several suggestions about how to ease the pain.

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