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I was speaking with several professors in my department about submission to high-profile conferences like CHI in human-computer interaction. Most of the professors were of the opinion that acceptance in most of these high-profile conferences (typical acceptance rate of less than 20%) is heavily influenced by politics: even though you may have comparatively good research, the editors will most likely be more favored toward accepting papers published by Microsoft Research or Google Research or from other high-profile universities where they have close relationship with the faculty and researchers.

The professors advised me against spending time and resources on publishing to these conferences and instead concentrate on second-tier journals (like those published by Springer) for better return on investment for my efforts.

I assume in good faith that most of the editors may not reject papers without reading them, but does anybody concur with the opinion of professors at my department?

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CHI uses a relaxed form of double-blind reviewing. Of course that doesn't make insider bias impossible, but it does at least encourage reviewers to read the actual submissions. – JeffE May 2 '14 at 15:15

It is an often-heard prejudice in CS that many of the top conferences are relatively closed "boys clubs". Indeed, if one just looks over accepted papers for multiple years, one typically ends up seeing the same affiliations over and over again, strengthening this impression.

However, this could be due to a number of (good or bad) reasons:

  • Papers from professors / labs that are well-known in the field may simply be of much higher technical quality, making it quite natural that they also get accepted much more often.
  • Professors / labs that are well-known in the field generally know how to write papers for this specific conference. They know what the TPC values, and how to present their results in a way that is appreciated in the field. As these professors are typically in the TPC themselves, they know what kind of papers usually get accepted and which are rejected.
  • Professors / labs that are well-known in the field often have a better grasp on the existing state of the art in the field, making it easier for them to identify what is good and novel. In my experience, "outsiders" have a tendency to overestimate the novelty of their contributions significantly. Further, well-known labs know what problems are currently en vogue in the community.
  • It is of course also perceivable that papers from well-known professors / labs are just not judged as critically. For instance, a reader may very well think that a paper is not applying a given technique correctly, but as the paper comes from the group that invented this technique, he gives them the benefit of doubt and assumes that they will know the technique better than him. He would probably not extend the same favorable thinking to an outsider.
  • Finally, for some topics, it is just easier for some labs to do good research than others. A common example are the web search tracks at the WWW conference. These tracks typically require the validation of new algorithms on real data, to which mostly only industry labs from Yahoo! etc. and their close collaborators have access.

Note that none of these reasons is really politics. Indeed, I would argue that all of the reasons above are significantly more likely than a paper getting rejected for the reasons you cited.

I assume in good faith that most of the editors may not reject papers without reading them

I would say, at a top conference such as CHI, you can rely on your paper at least getting reviewed thoroughly, yes.

but does anybody concur with opinion of professors at my department?

Well, given all the reasons above, it is indeed quite likely that your paper will be rejected. By definition, if a conference has a <20% acceptance rate, rejection is always a real possibility (clearly, it happens to most submissions). However, I am wondering why it would be better to not even try if you think your work is good enough for CHI. If the paper gets rejected there, you can still re-submit to a lower-tier venue, and you receive a number of hopefully helpful reviews. The only disadvantage I see is that it prolongs the publication process by half a year, but if you see any chance of the paper begin accepted at the top-tier venue, I think this should be worth it.

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I agree; the attitude expressed by the professors seems overly defeatist. Whatever happened to the "college try"? – J.R. May 2 '14 at 8:30
@xLeitx: in your last paragraph you state: > Well, given all the reasons above, it is indeed not unlikely at all that your paper will be rejected. This triple negative was difficult for me to parse. I do understand that it is not the same as stating "... it is indeed likely that you paper will be rejected" and also not the same as "... it is indeed not likely your paper will be accepted" but isn't there another way to phrase it? – user13588 May 2 '14 at 15:22
One final aspect that is not mentioned here is the issue of scoping for a conference. Reviewers tend to give extra points for things that they are interested in (which makes sense). However, this causes a feedback loop where conferences tend to get more and more restrictive in scoping. In an interdisciplinary conference that I'm involved with, it's a constant battle to keep a variety of research areas well-represented, because if the balance of reviewer interests goes too far in one direction, good research on the other sides gets marginalized (e.g., excellent papers relegated to posters). – Namey Sep 7 '15 at 20:26

Having served on the CHI program committee, many other program committees, and having been program chair of a couple of other HCI conferences, I think your professors are overly cynical.

First, as JeffE pointed out, CHI (and many other conferences) use blind or semi-blind reviewing, so at least the reviewers do not know whose paper they are reviewing.

Second, I have never been in a PC meeting where the identities of the authors was a point of discussion. Of course that doesn't mean that the associate chair (AC) for the paper was not influenced by who the authors were, but it would certainly imply that there is no institutionalized bias for or against particular authors or institutions.

I would definitely not worry about your papers being rejected without being reviewed; in fact, when you submit you will get the reviews so you know why your paper was or was not accepted.

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While I think this is all true, to play devil's advocate, I would say that anyone who knows a field well can often infer which group (if not which authors) wrote a given paper. There are just certain research topics or strategic advantages (e.g., proprietary data sets) that groups are known for. I agree that I haven't seen this impact decisions though: nobody cares who the group or researcher is. – Namey Sep 7 '15 at 20:21

I completely agree with almost everything xLeitix wrote, except the conclusion. One thing that was not addressed is why your professors told you not to submit to CHI. It's possible that they're giving their honest opinions, or that they themselves had a bad record submitting there.

But it's also possible that they are telling you that your work is not good enough for CHI, but in a gentle manner. Also, they are familiar with where you are in your career track and may believe that losing time and effort on a failed CHI attempt is not good for you. Both of these require perspective that you cannot have on yourself.

Consequently, I would suggest that you take the advice you were given.

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But if your professors think your work isn't good enough for CHI, they should say so directly. Being "gentle" is not actually doing you any kindness. You deserve an unvarnished appraisal of your work. Demand it. – JeffE May 2 '14 at 15:20

Politic is everywhere, of course, especially in situations where the resource giving out to people is limited. Bear in mind, taking a look at the program committee before submitting! And please don't stick to one conference! Even some well-known professors get rejection at some conferences, let alone others.

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