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In general, are papers published by mathematicians the same thing as PhD theses? In other words, if a mathematician submitted a paper for a PhD would it get accepted? Or are papers of higher quality than PhD theses?

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There is a vast spectrum among journals as to the quality of papers they publish. The spectrum of standards for a PhD thesis among different programs and institutions is almost as vast. So I don't see how it's possible to give a useful answer to this question, other than to say that probably approving a PhD thesis means that it should be publishable somewhere. However, I believe that less than 50% of PhD theses do in fact lead to publications. – Pete L. Clark Mar 3 '11 at 21:11
It rarely happens that a single paper qualifies for a PhD thesis. It must be a great paper. (Gödel did that for instance.) In general, a PhD thesis will consist of a reworked collection of published and yet unpublished material. There will also be a more extensive intro and outro. More time will be taken to clarify concepts than in your average paper. – Raskolnikov Mar 3 '11 at 21:13

Papers published in the field of Mathematics are no different than any other field. In PhD thesis what you usually do is to usually put all your related work together and defend it against a committee. For example, if you have published three papers improving/related to your previous work then you combine your work together and defend it as your PhD thesis but if it is just one that you have published at all then you defend that alone as your PhD thesis. The question should be is the Conference/Journal you're publishing your work is of higher quality/ranked ? Higher the rank better the recognition.

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