Should PI or trainee submit the manuscript?

Mar 12 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

I imagine the answers are any of:



It was the project of a trainee now departed.

Trainee not competent* in eyes of PI.

It is actually the PI who leads this particular project.

Lab run like the salt mines, so called trainees treated as labor, not intellectual contributors.

One way the PI feels involved in the actual science. 

Other reasons you can think of, Readers?


*to deal with cover letters, selecting editors, etc. The process of submission itself.

44 responses so far

  • GFD says:

    I think it's an important part of the trainee experience to do it themselves. Cover letter wiring and choice of editors/reviewers should be a back and forth with PI, if possible.

    I have been corresponding author on all my PD papers, so I take ownership of it.

    Also, it gets done 10x faster if I do it.

  • I think theres a difference between submission and corresponding author. Sure, let the trainee submit with the PIs supervision. How does that impact the PI at all, if she's keeping an eye on the goings on. Corresponding author is a totally different beast.

  • odyssey says:

    Trainee is in the midst of something more important.

  • qaz says:

    In every lab I've ever worked in (including my own), the PI submits the paper.

    Because a trainee is in training. Because it is the PI who is ultimately responsible for it. Because the PI is going to be corresponding author. Because it's the only way to be sure that you know what is being published from your lab.

    The effect of this is that the PI is a kind of gatekeeper protecting the PI's brand, making sure that all of the work that goes out to publication is of sufficient quality.

    When I was a grad student or postdoc, we would celebrate submission of a paper (because we had gotten it through our PI's quality control). Now that I am the PI (and the quality control), I don't get to celebrate until it's published.

    PS. Trainees involved in submitting. Usually in the room, looking over my shoulder as we submit, helping co-write cover letters, choose proposed reviewers/editors, etc. But definitely - PI does the official submitting.

  • ER says:

    "Trainee" technically covers the whole spectrum from undergrad to postdoc. If the "trainee" is considered to be "in training" for what is generally assumed to be a career in academic research, at what point is said "trainee" supposed to become competent in this process- and isn't competency usually a product of experience?

    So...the "trainee" title is evoked when it is convenient/economical, but not in any practical application (ie. those which happen to be vital to the development of said trainee's career, like submitting papers...). Right.

  • magma says:

    I guess as usual that this is field dependent. In the geosciences, the student/postdoc usually submits the papers (and most often is corresponding author as well). Exceptions being if the trainee moved on and is not motivated/inclined to do so.

  • Joe says:

    PI submits the paper or reviews every detail before trainee submits it. The trainee needs to learn the process so should be involved in choosing reviewers, proofreading the cover letter, etc.
    I have been appalled recently at some really bad manuscripts that I have reviewed. Some come from highly-respected labs. I have to think that the PI did not review these manuscripts before submission. I find that crazy and disrespectful of the reviewers.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I did the submission process as a student and postdoc. As a PI, the student/postdoc is involved in everything from selecting suggested reviewers to writing the cover letter, but I generally handle the actual submission process.

    That's mainly because some of the web sites (PNAS, I'm looking at you) are ridiculously slow and unstable, so what should take a few minutes ends up eating half the day.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I'm totally with qaz.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I have to say I am cautious about assuming that crappy manuscript from BigPI's lab is terrible because the PI didn't look at it before the trainee sent it out. How do we know the PI doesn't always throw up crap and is beaten into submission by reviewers every time?

  • PI says:

    Trainees should always do the submission because submissions are tedious as f$%# and it's the dubious honor of the corresponding author. Trainees should usually be corresponding author because nine times out of ten (including all thesis work), they've taken intellectual ownership of the project and written the first draft of the paper. FWIW, my background is eco-evo. Maybe the difference comes from our labs being a little smaller and less hierarchical; in the groups I've been in and the group I have now, we really try to get trainees into faculty positions (and it works, fingers crossed). We want them to build reputation and experience right away. Denying them this task seems kind of infantilizing, tbh, and I don't think a trainee's success diminishes the perceived success of a PI... though I've heard one anecdote to the contrary.

    I don't see how doing the actual submission diminishes the PI's brand. The final version still needs everyone's approval, and the cover letter should be in that final round of revisions.

  • newbie PI says:

    I submitted my papers as a grad student and postdoc. But I was also heavily involved in the actual writing, and all of the figures were made by me. The PIs never even had the actual Illustrator files that I used for the figures. This wasn't the case with all of the other papers submitted from these labs. I think my mentors just trusted me more than others, or it was just the fact that I just took charge, and they didn't argue.

    So far in my own lab I do all the submitting. I just haven't been able to give up control of the process yet because I want it all done correctly, and most importantly, quickly.

    P.S. - Anyone is who still submitting each individual figure as a separate file and who includes the legends as part of the main manuscript text is wasting time. Make a single Word file of all your figures with each legend underneath the figure it corresponds to (imagine that!) and save it as a pdf. You only have one file to upload and I've yet to come across a journal that has a problem with this. Plus reviewers will love you for not making them go back and forth between different pages/sections to find corresponding legends.

  • LP says:

    On my second postdoc, trained in 4 labs, outside neuro. Every one of ~10 papers I've been a first author on, I've submitted, and many corresponded on. PIs read the final PDF, I do all the legwork (cover letter draft, setting up submission, getting co-author approvals, endless file conversions, double checking affiliations and granting sources, testing code, ...). From talking to peers, this is quite normal. When PIs submit/correspond, emails get lost or ignored, nothing moves along, etc. These papers have usually been outside the PIs brand, and they haven't had much input anyway.

    It feels natural for whoever's "baby" the project is to handle the process, be able to click the submit button, and be the first to hear any news. Of course, the PI has a reputation to maintain, and signs off on content, but dealing with technical editor or spending hours on the submission website is not a very efficient use of their time.

  • Susan says:

    3rd qaz, and the making of one file yourself. I'll upload separate figure files once it's accepted, but will absolutely not deal with the fuss before that. And don't even get me started on all the crappy font / special characters in the figure legend text boxes.

  • DJMH says:

    I've experienced both ways. The dependent variable is whether or not the PI *wants* to be dealing with the aggravating submission bits. But always, always the PI and trainee sit down together for the final check-through, and each scans the whole "combined PDF" to make sure it's all ship-shape.

  • mytchondria says:

    If I'm corresponding author (and I am always w grad/med students) then I need to see final High Res photos that go online. Anyone heard of that dust up over at Penn when the PIs said it was all the postdocs problem for submitting fake photos? Yeah.....I'd like to avoid that.

  • MF says:

    I don't have any postdocs in the lab, and I feel like my graduate students are still "in training" when it comes to writing cover letters, tactfully answering the reviewers' comments etc. We are often complimented by reviewers for the clarity of the manuscripts so I feel like this is an important part of our "brand", and want to make sure that we continue maintaining the quality.

    That said, now that my students have been through a couple of manuscript submissions and revisions, I should probably give them an opportunity to submit. But then again, they will be moving on to postdoctoral positions soon, so it may be easier to deal with resubmissions and revisions if I am the corresponding author.

  • boehninglab says:

    I am heavily involved in all aspects of data acquisition, analysis, figure preparation and writing for all of my projects. One we have final files for everything, I have no problem at all letting the trainee submit the manuscript. I am usually hovering over their shoulder anyhow because I am as excited as them. I'm not quite sure why anyone would have a problem with this.

  • Joe says:

    @DM "How do we know the PI doesn't always throw up crap and is beaten into submission by reviewers every time?"
    Of course you're right, that could be what is going on. I just can't imagine sending in a manuscript that is full of errors. I don't care about typos, but when a figure legend describes data that is not in the figure and the explanations in the results don't agree with the type of experiment done, I think the PI is asleep at the wheel or never saw the manuscript before submission.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    I feel like my graduate students are still "in training" when it comes to writing cover letters, tactfully answering the reviewers' comments etc.

    It was fun reading my first graduate student's response to reviewer comments* on her first manuscript. It was basically "reviewer 2 should go back to undergrad. and learn some %$#! chemistry since he clearly didn't get it the first time." I had to explain that this approach to answering reviewers was...suboptimal.

    *And they weren't even bad comments. They requested minor revisions.

  • rxnm says:

    PI has ultimate responsibility, and I think it's the role of the corresponding author. During submission is the only time to check what is actually going out to your peers, all files present and accounted for, and document conversion by the publisher didn't fuck shit up.

  • drugmonkey says:

    MF- I have had a PI level position for some time now and I still feel that I am in training on that stuff. Don't imagine that if you had postdocs instead of grad students that this would differ....

  • JustAGrad says:

    I've been corresponding author and submitter for all of my papers. I think this was expected because my PI doesn't know enough about my work to field questions about it. I could imagine this being relatively common in labs where the PI is never available.

  • Arlenna says:

    In my lab, if the trainee wrote the paper and made the figures with my editorial input (and the trainee is still in the lab), they submit it. If I wrote it and made the figures with their data, then I submit it. Usually if I am writing it and making the figures, it's because they haven't/can't for whatever reason (some reasons are more acceptable to me than others, but they all mean that I have to write the stupid thing).

  • Socal dendrite says:

    I am mildly amazed that trainees don't get to submit their papers in some labs. I submitted mine both as a grad student and as a postdoc, and took pride in the responsibility (as well as learning about the process). These were all papers that I wrote and generated pretty much all the data and figures for (and was corresponding author for the postdoc papers), so I can't really imagine it happening any other way.

    On the other hand, submission was always done with explicit approval of the final draft and cover letter from the PI, and with their input on suggested editors/reviewers.

    Writing responses to reviewers was also an excellent learning process: I wrote the responses and then ran them by the PI. As with academic lurker's student, I definitely got better at this - my grad responses needed some PI editing, but my postdoc responses needed barely a change from the PI. Learning how to respond appropriately to reviewers seems like an essential part of the training process that should begin in grad school.

  • jmz4 says:

    I wasn't even aware anyone but the last author COULD submit the paper. All the papers in all the labs I've ever known have been submitted by the PI. It's actually a major source of consternation, since they usually sit on manuscripts for a while. But they know the editors, the process, and at the end of the day, it's their lab's reputation.

  • Bio Data Sci says:

    My PI trusted me to submit it because she perceived me as being competent enough to do it. I am not sure she would trust all her subordinates as much. Just sayin...

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Dear Old Friend the Editor

    Enclosed is a brilliant piece of work. We cited all your stuff. By you a beer next time we see each other.


  • Ola says:

    I just always thought that's what "corresponding" author meant, so maybe having the PI submit is just a hangover from the days when the PI put it in the mail.

    One reason I as PI submit - some journals we use charge submission fees and I'm the one with the credit card willing to pay.

    Another big one is as MyT says - I want the original data all in a folder traceable back to the raw stuff, so I know the heritage of every image in the manuscript.

    One final reason - usually with online submission you're required to log in. Nowadays I use a password manager and have a different password for every site, but years ago I used to have the same password for most journals. Some journals make it worse by using the same login ID for both author and reviewer. The minion would have to use my ID so I get the reviews by email - not all journals send the reviews to everyone listed - but then they'd have my ID for everything else and be able to log in anywhere and read my reviews. Again, less of a problem in this modern world, but I guess old habits die hard. I would place a strong bet that many academics use a single un/pw combo for all their journal biznizz.

  • Anon says:

    If the trainee (student or postdoc) is the lead author, meaning they did the majority of the writing/figure producing/editing, then I say let them submit. It's their paper. I just recently started a faculty position and haven't had any trainee papers ready to submit yet, but I would never have considered submitting their papers for them. First of all, it is way too time-consuming. Second, I strongly believe that submitting papers and dealing with the whole process is an important part of science, especially if they want to go into academia. Sure, they'll get sent the reviews, but I trust them to show them to me so we can figure out how best to proceed. Can't imagine a student would do otherwise.

    Regarding page charges- I've never seen a journal that required payment upon submission. Only after acceptance. Do some journals actually require a credit card during submission? Regardless, I would also trust my trainees to use my credit card (university purchasing card) for this purpose, as I was trusted when I was a trainee. Same with lab purchases- I certainly don't enter the CC# for all of those.

    I'm also 100% fine letting the trainee be corresponding author. I was corresponding author on all my grad school and postdoc papers.

  • Idiot postdoc says:

    I submitted my paper today. It was my manifesto; I did the experiments and other stuff, wrote the thing, prepared the figs, wrote the cover letter, selected reviewers, and my PI was involved every step of the way to edit and correct. Once it to got to where it was today, it didn't even matter who hit the button, it was just a tedious process of spelling authors' names correctly and ensuring that the each fig was below 1MB in size (not an easy task). I love the thought of pre-compiling all the figs + legends into one doc, but I've never had the balls to do anything differently than what the submission guidelines explicitly say, and perhaps that's a difference between trainee and PI.

    No time to celebrate because the battle has only just begun...

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    I'm a bit confused. My various PIs over the years gave me all their login info and forwarded me all the ensuing correspondence to handle. Was that not normal?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am pretty sure this thread is telling you there are quite a few "normals", CV. Per usual.

  • E rook says:

    I have uploaded 7/8 of my first author papers. I'm in Iodiot's boat, in that I will follow guidelines to the letter. I assumed that if I put them in a doc as mentioned, it would be returned by the tech staff. I advise my trainees the same. Some systems allow you to put them all into a zip file and just upload that, which is convenient. Anon, I think J Neurosci requires a 100$ submission fee. Other society journals I've seen try to get you to join the society during the submission process.

  • Geo says:

    In every lab I ever worked in as a trainee I was always the one to submit the papers and to serve as both first and corresponding author since I wrote the papers and did the work with advice from my P.I. who served as last author on all the papers. This provided me with a solid understanding of the publication process.

  • Cynric says:

    As a PhD student I hand-delivered my first ever paper to the offices of Nature. So I guess that means I submitted it.

  • qaz says:

    Cynric - is that the secret to getting a Nature publication? Hand-deliver the paper? Maybe with a plate of homemade brownies? Damn, I've been wasting my time trying submitting online. If only I'd known...

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Maybe with a plate of homemade brownies?

    I've heard that a brown bag full of cash is more effective.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Maybe with a plate of homemade brownies?

    Well that would certainly explain a lot of the "heard at Nature" Twitter account offerings...

  • Cynric says:

    Cynric - is that the secret to getting a Nature publication? Hand-deliver the paper? Maybe with a plate of homemade brownies? Damn, I've been wasting my time trying submitting online. If only I'd known...

    Well, it didn't work for me, sadly.
    Also, I'm not sure they would even accept paper now.
    I am old.

  • What journals oughta do is have a mechanism on their editorial management system to assign a non-corresponding author the right to upload a manuscript and fill in all the detailed shittio in the Web forms, but then to require the corresponding author to review the final submitted manuscript PDF and finalize the submission. None that I have ever dealt with allow this, but if they did, then I would allow my trainees to upload and fill in all the shittio. As has been pointed out above by others, I consider it essential to retain absolute power to approve and submit the final version. And hell nooooo, I am not giving any trainees in my lab my editorial management login/pwd!!!!!

  • E rook says:

    When I submit, I circulate the final PDF soliciting edits or changes, and write, "I will click submit when all the co authors have replied in the affirmative that they approve." Then 3 days later, "Just waiting on so-and-so. "

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Hash brownies work wonders.

  • drugmonkey says:

    For what purpose?

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