I'm a PhD student at a reputed institution and in my 4th year now. I'm researching in the domain of information security & privacy. I've got a number of good conference publications (4 conferences) but not in top conferences. I attempted for the top conference (S&P or ACM CCS - their workshops as well) but my papers got rejected. I'm writing my dissertation now, however, I still have this unsatisfied feeling that my work is not really good, it may have been the imposter syndrome. I feel that my work doesn't look as good as other people's (PhD students) work who are working in the same domain. I've got a few questions maybe some experienced researchers who have gone through can answer.

  1. How do you know your PhD work is strong work?
  2. How to gain confidence in your PhD work?
  3. How to know if the main idea of PhD work is a good one? (How to get rid of this feeling?)

Thank you for your help! :)


3 Answers 3


I agree to a large degree with the previous answers, to my take on this issue is not to disagree, but to complement them with a somewhat different perspective.

It's really good if someone gets a Nobel prize for a PhD thesis, but remember that the primary purpose of a doctoral work is to demonstrate that you have mastered the craft of being a researcher. In practice it means that you chose a certain problem, made a thorough and rigorous analysis of the state of the art, advanced it to a certain degree, formulated your results and discussed potential impact in an appropriate manner.

A PhD thesis is not only a research, it is also a qualification work that should earn you an official "resarcher" badge. Thus one of the best advices to a PhD student is to stay focused on an goal attainable within a limited and relatively short time of their PhD program (I can recommend reading an excellent book "A PhD Is Not Enough" that discusses this issue among other things) instead of tryng to reach for the moon.

If you want to continue working in academia, you'll always have a chance to do something else. In general, I understand this whole system of impact, H-indices, etc., etc., but honestly speaking I tend to focus on my own interests and passions. The reason is that there are "fashionable" and "not so fashionable" topics, the topics that are relevant to many people and to few people, etc. These matters are important, but they are very indirectly related to scientific value of a particular task. If you enjoy what you are doing, it's already quite an achievement.


How do you know your PhD work is strong work?

How to know if the main idea of PhD work is a good one?

It is strong work if it makes an impact. This could be in terms of highlighting new techniques that get widely adopted, by winning awards, by getting published or by setting up a startup and making millions. A lot of people define success in many different ways. How do you define it? If your metric is publishing in good venues - then I suppose that you can answer your own question.

Your ideas are as good as what you make of them, and as good as how others perceive them.

How to gain confidence in your PhD work?

You need to ask yourself why you're doing the PhD and have a realistic outlook. It is likely that without a good publication record you won't be able to land a strong academic position, but that's hardly the end of the world. There is massive demand out there for CS researchers in all sorts of positions.

What does your advisor say? Do they think your work is good and deserves publication in top venues, and it was just bad luck that plagued you? What do other figures of authority in the field think of your work?

As a general comment - you are getting the highest possible academic university qualification from a top school, in a highly competitive and popular field. And you feel inadequate? Say that last sentence out loud to yourself. You're anything but!

Good luck!


Actually, I do think you don't have to worry so much, you have to focus on writing your thesis. Let me tell you some facts that I have witnessed and discussed with members who landed an academic job at prestigious institutions, they didn't publish at top-tier journals either conferences and also some of them doesn't have high h-index. The idea is not about the quantity, but it is all about quality, you still have to do a postdoc and from there it could be your real start. I have this question like yours, and professor at a prestigious institute in Europe told me that her research during PhD was not cited or even implemented, but her real success began after that.

This is not the end, and landing a job in the academic world from my perspective doing good quality work and having good networking within your field.

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