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I talked with a professor for possible thesis guidance and mentioned that I aim to publish papers at top venues as soon as possible. The Professor got somewhat offended and said publication is not an aim and that I should aim to be problem oriented.

Maybe true, but I did not understand why that prof got offended and felt so bad about publishing. Do you have any ideas?

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Being published is a result of doing good/great work. The professor is likely trying to keep your eye on controlling what you can control - doing the best work you can do. –  earthling Jan 31 at 12:19
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"Is X good/bad" type questions are generally not a good fit for the StackExchange sites, as they tend to become opinionated. I am sure you can rephrase the question to be less subjective. –  posdef Jan 31 at 13:28
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That's like the plot of every single Shaolin movie. The main character: "I wanna kick asses as soon as possible!" The master: "Go meditate under the waterfall until you don't want to do that, and no dinner for you tonight." I don't think it's the publication that offended the professor, it's the lack of patience and overlooking of the craftsmanship the process can take. –  Penguin_Knight Jan 31 at 14:21
    
@Penguin_Knight Great dialogues :) –  posdef Jan 31 at 14:45
    
Literal publication is more a side-effect of doing the work. A purist might say that one should desire to do work hard, to do good work, rather than desiring the side-effect. It might be vaguely parallel to hear someone want to be "a celebrity" rather than "a good actor" (to add to @Penguin_Knight's analogy). –  paul garrett Jan 31 at 19:03

4 Answers 4

The traditions of writing a monograph as a thesis vs. writing a thesis based on a number of papers/manuscripts and a cover paper to tie everything together vary between university systems (academic cultures). Because many aspects of academia including evaluations for positions and grants to a large extent is based on published papers, the latter system is gaining interest. In my country, Sweden, it has always (in modern times) been the norm. So in your case the reaction can be caused by one or both of tradition and local academic culture.

The professor has a good point in that the aim of writing a thesis should not primarily be to publish papers. Graduate school is about learning both practical and philosophical knowledge of how to conduct research properly with the aim to become a functioning research individual. At the same time, writing papers is a vital skill that must be included in such education so one does not preclude the other and my guess is that the response, hence, mostly is the result of tradition and culture rather than right or wrong. To be offended seems a bit over the top in terms of a reaction but I do not know the person to judge where such a reaction might originate.

I know of many who have defended a monograph but written and published papers on the material included in the thesis. A monograph allows inclusion of much more details on experiments and results than the paper format does. This can be seen as an advantage of the monograph. On the other hand, a thesis consisting of papers usually also contains a cover paper in which the same type of details can be included.

In the end the thesis you write will follow the local traditions or rules and my suggestion is to follow these but to aim to think about papers in parallel. Hopefully you will have an advisor that agrees.

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There is nothing wrong with wanting to publish, and wanting to publish more and better. The fact that you are goal-driven can only be a plus, from my and many others' point of view.

BUT the question arises when you start thinking about the implications of wanting to publish more and better. I will be a bit crass here and give a somewhat unconventional metaphor. I guess no one can deny that having sex is a good thing, in a way like publishing. If you go around telling people (especially those who are supposed to be your seniors) that you intend to get laid as often and as soon as possible with the as hot girls/guys as possible... Well let's say they might start questioning your motives and personality.

Putting the metaphor aside, being an academic is mostly about doing research and from time to time communicating your work, primarily (but not exclusively) in the form of publications. Unfortunately the academic society has evolved in a way that how much you publish and where you publish often gets more attention than the quality, originality or the usefulness of the work you do. While I will not go on to claim that the two are not correlated, I personally do not believe how often and in which journals you publish your work is a definitive and descriptive indicator of how good of a scientist you are (anyone is of course entitled to disagree with me).

I believe the professor in question, might have gotten offended by the fact that your primary concern/ambition does not come across as doing good science, but rather solely being successful within the current norms of academic environment.

Hope that helps

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I talked with a professor for possible thesis guidance and mentioned that I aim to publish papers at top venues as soon as possible.

One can only speculate, but maybe the professor was annoyed by your usage of as soon as possible more than by your intention to publish (if this was indeed what you said to him in verbatim). Maybe he inferred from this wording that, to you, PhD school is an unnecessary nuissance that you expect to leave behind you quickly, so that you can go on to greater glory.

I think in general a professor should really not be opposed to you publishing in good venues on principle, as this would mean that his students are basically locked out of an academic career for good - and which advisor would want that?

Edit:

To answer your titular question Is being publication oriented bad?:

Yes, if it means you do only "easy" incremental research in order to minimize risk. No, if you just mean that you do not only want to do any research, but are actively looking for topics that are publishable and which will have an impact on the scientific community or, in some cases, industrial practice.

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There is nothing wrong in what you said to the Professor. You stated your concrete end goals as clearly as you thought you could. However, its not in your Professors control as to whether you will be published in top journals quickly. Even if he is the best Professor in the world, he cannot make that happen for you. So, what you need to look for is a Professor who is willing to support you in your goals and help you help yourself to get there. In addition, you may want to define some other qualities you are looking for that are not strictly in line with your stated goal. A Professor is a coach and a mentor. Here are some qualities of a good coach : http://home.earthlink.net/~tfakehany/point.html and http://www.mentalgamecoach.com/articles/CoachingQualities.html The main thing is you dont want a judgmental Professor because judgment is the antithesis of research.

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