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My situation is as follows: I spent my undergraduate time at one university and recently entered grad school at another university (both of them in Germany, my field is theoretical computer science).

For my Bachelor's thesis, I worked (for about two months or so) on a topic that had not been considered at the time.

My former supervisor, although he proposed the topic, is not (at least not for the last 30 years) actively doing research in that specific area, which resulted in me ending up quite on my own. However, I could get some new results. They were, of course, not groundbreaking, but sufficient for the undergraduate level and the amount of time spent working on the thesis.

So we submitted the results to a (medium-to-low-ranked) conference in the subfield. The reviews were quite mixed. Two were rather superficial: One positively and recommending acceptance, one negatively and recommending rejection (actually, the latter one was quite rude).

The third one, however, although recommending for rejection, was quite encouraging. The reviewer liked the idea of the paper, while the results we obtained did not suffice for publication at conference level but (his words) were rather suited for venues for work in progress, e.g. workshops in the area.

I actually agree with the third reviewer, for it would have been quite a surprise for me if a second-year undergraduate would have been able to produce publishable work on his own just like that, so I am not that disappointed.

My problem is that I do not plan on pursuing that specific subarea of research in the future and neither does my former supervisor. However, given that I ultimately aim for an academic career, I think it might be worth some efforts to get something published. Additionally, at my new university, nobody really cares about the area of the thesis, so chances to get some expert here to work with in order to improve the results are rather bad. This means that if I want something to happen, I would have to invest a vast amount of time and thoughts into a topic I don't want to pursue in the future, instead of entering new areas of research as quickly as possible.

So: Should I improve the results and finally get them published or should I invest the time for acquiring knowledge in a different area (and start publishing later) and abandon the work that has been done (giving away a possible publication) (w.r.t. the impact of the outcome on my academic career)?

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For CS conferences, it's unfortunately common for one or two of the reviews to be very superficial, often little more than a paraphrase of the abstract and a recommendation to accept or reject. This is at least partly because there are so many conferences and so many papers, each of which requires three or four reviewers (though, on the other hand, one could argue that you only need so many reviewers because so many of them will be superficial). In short, you can mostly ignore the superficial reviews. –  David Richerby Apr 24 at 10:59

3 Answers 3

However, given that I ultimately aim for an academic career, I think it might be worth some efforts to get something published.

This alone makes me thing that it may be worth the effort - attempting to enter an academic career becomes vastly easier with some publications under your belt. Don't be discouraged by negative reviews - more than one of my papers has gotten reviews back that are essentially "This paper is bad, and the authors should feel bad" that end up seeing publication.

I would continue to pursue your paper for at least another round or two of submissions, but given it's not strictly speaking what you're interested in, if it becomes a burden either in your classwork or in publishing something you are interested in doing (I had a paper become just such a problem) return it to the shelf.

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Oh man, now that you've said that, I'm going to be strongly tempted to send this the next time I recommend a paper for rejection... –  Nate Eldredge Apr 23 at 22:00

There is no clear answer to this question because it depends on several factors. First, it has to be said that it is a shame if good research is not published. If you get encouraging comments and know what to do to meet certain criteria you can probably assess how much work will be involved and then if you are willing to put in that effort. having something published is never wrong, even if it is not in the field you want to pursue. If you are not interested or do not want to spend the time then it will be harder to generate the necessary improvements.

So, if you want to pursue a career in research, having something tangible published is always a plus. It is a question if you want to take a chance to "waste" your time; if you think it is worth it.

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So we submitted the results to a (medium-to-low-ranked) conference in the subfield. The reviews were quite mixed. Two were rather superficial: One positively and recommending acceptance, one negatively and recommending rejection (actually, the latter one was quite rude).

I think having a positive review suggests it might be worth factoring in the comments and trying another submission elsewhere, assuming you're confident that the paper is technically sound.

Just to build on the other answers, I can see three options (with decreasing awards):

  1. Work hard on the paper (if possible) and submit it to a conference with a similar level of competition (or perhaps even greater).

  2. Work a little on the paper and submit it to a good/relevant workshop or as a short paper to a conference.

  3. Submit the paper "as is" to the arXiV e-print server (which won't be peer-reviewed, but it will be publicised and the ideas will be marked as yours).

At your stage of career, taking any of these options would help open doors for you later on. Higher options open more doors.

Which strategy is best really depends on the depth of contribution in the paper (ideally you could discuss this in person with a more senior academic in roughly the same area). Note also that the options are not mutually exclusive.

The most generic advice would be to take option 3 now and submit the preprint (since it doesn't preclude submitting to a workshop/conference), work as hard as you can and try submit to another conference; if the reviews are similar, submit to a workshop or as a short paper. This strategy might involve more work but tries to maximise your profit.

A fourth option (which may or may not be feasible) is to take option 3 and then try find somebody else to collaborate with: someone to advise/guide you and share some of the workload in extending the paper towards an improved conference submission.

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