The Cost of Publishing Academic Research

How one goes about funding the publication of academic research is still a mostly mysterious process to me, even though I’m in the rough of it. I feel like I handle every situation about money in my professional life very awkwardly. As an example, see: this series of emails in which I tried to figure out where I was going to get the money to submit my undergraduate thesis for publication and peer review.

TO: Collaborator/Mentor

And I’ve been thinking about where I’ll submit the paper. I don’t have any money and I don’t even really know how the submission/money thing works. So it’d be good to discuss that too.


Eleven days pass without any reply. I easily chalk a week of no reply up to “busy.” Once it hit day eight—especially since this is the first time I brought up money—I started to get nervous. I thought that maybe it wasn’t my place to bring up money or imply that the collaborator/mentor pay for anything.


TO: Collaborator/Mentor

We do need to decide which journal to submit to so I can start typesetting the proper format. From what I’ve gathered, the Monthly Notices doesn’t charge for publication. That may be where I should submit to then?


The next day.


TO: Me
FROM: Collaborator/Mentor

Regarding where to submit, I don’t have a strong preference, but I can pay 50% or more of the page charges. Find out if your current employer is willing to pay any.

What I’ve learned so far is this: In academia, most journals are pay-to-publish, but it’s still a rigorous process. The process is that you and some others work on a project and get some results. You then write a paper on it. Once you think the paper is good enough, you send it into a journal. It then gets peer-reviewed which means the journal sends it out to people who are familiar with the field that the specific paper is in. The reviewers are Ph.D.s somewhere out in the world who aren’t doing this for pay—it’s a totally voluntary system. The peer reviewer is meant to catch if anything in the paper or the project is bullshit. That’s why they need to be familiar with the field—they need to know what makes sense and what doesn’t.

If the reviewer gives the paper a thumbs up, then it get’s published. If the reviewer doesn’t like something in the paper, you have to fix it and resubmit—this step can go on for months. Also, I should note that the reviewers are anonymous, and unless the reviewer chooses to disclose his or her identity, you’ll never find out who they are.

As for the money aspect of it, there’s a general (but mysterious to me) etiquette on who pays. The variables are how much you contributed to the project and to the paper, and how much money you have. I did all of the work for the project and the paper that I mentioned in the emails, but I’m a student and I have no money of my own, which meant my co-authors (the people who oversaw my project—this is my undergraduate thesis) have to pay. But they’re from two different institutions with no other connection other than me. It would make sense for the two advisors to split it, but if the resources that either of them have might not be even, what then?

And if all the co-authors don’t contribute an equal amount, how should the publishing fee breakdown? It’s like the worst-case version of splitting the bill at a restaurant. And no one will talk about it with me.


Alexa V. is an astronomer wondering if anyone else knows how to do this stuff better than she does.



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