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Suppose that an applicant got scooped on a research paper and is applying for jobs. This is reflected in a lack of publications. Is that taken into consideration? Or will it be a huge blow to an applicant's chances to highly competitive jobs?

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    You can always go to eastern Europe and become ghostwriter out of spite. ;) – mathreadler Mar 17 at 23:11
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    @mathreadler Ghostwriters exist and are doing well in the US and western Europe, too. This problem knows no boundaries. – Dmitry Savostyanov Mar 18 at 8:36
  • @DmitrySavostyanov of course, but there would be no impact in the face of just staying and doing that. – mathreadler Mar 18 at 8:38
  • @mathreadler What's the problem with eastern Europe? – user4052054 Mar 18 at 17:25
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    @user4052054 There is no problem with eastern Europe. It's nicer than ever. :) You can get more beer for your money, new exciting languages, cool old cities et.c. – mathreadler Mar 18 at 18:37
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I'm a little surprised by the implicit assumption that "scooped" ==> "no paper whatsoever."

It's often possible--and desirable--to publish the scooped work anyway. It might have less impact than it otherwise would have, but it's miles better than nothing. Furthermore, it's unlikely that both papers tackle the problem exactly the same way; highlight those differences in your revised version. If nothing else, replications are increasingly appreciated. This is especially true in trendy areas, where both scooping and dubious, non-replicable results are most likely.

It would be gauche for you to complain about this directly on your cover letter or CV (how would this even work?!). With a publication, however, your references can write:

"Grad Student's main project, characterizing the properties of l-Phlebotinum and d-Phlebotinum, was just accepted at the Journal of Decent Results. Although his thesis committee praised the work as a technical tour de force, it unfortunately attracted less attention than it might have after Evil et al. (2018) published similar results last December in Science."

Obviously, you'd prefer not to get scooped, but this does demonstrate that you're working on 'hot' problems that people do find interesting, which is better than nothing.

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    I like that Dr. Evil and friends publish in Science, while the good guy publishes in Journal of Decent Results. – Cliff AB Mar 18 at 2:27
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    I once got "scooped" while I was in grad school. I referenced the work that came out while I was in progress, modified mine slightly to make sure it emphasized the differences in my work on the others, and got mine published as well. Admittedly, my field (law) may be more amenable to pivots than an experimental field, but in an experimental field it is also far less likely that one researcher's experiment exactly duplicates another researcher's so it should still be possible to emphasize the differences and publish if the question being tackles is genuinely deep. – TimothyAWiseman Mar 18 at 16:45
  • @CliffAB, just telling it how it is :-) – Matt Mar 19 at 2:37
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They might empathize if you somehow decide to mention it somewhere in your CV/cover letter/research statement/whatever. But in the end, you will be judged based on what you have actually produced. "Getting scooped" is difficult to verify if you have no publications. It's easy to say "I was totally going to say that!" when someone else says something clever. It's another thing to do the research well, write it down, iron out the inevitable kinks, fight with editors and peer reviewers to get your research publish... and to do all that faster than your competitors. Unless you can prove that you have great potential, then it is likely that committee will prefer someone who has published papers over someone who has almost published papers.

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    You may not be able to say it, but your advisor certainly can. – Buffy Mar 17 at 17:14
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I am afraid that "I've been scooped" during the job interview in academia will be perceived as an upscale version of "a dog ate my coursework" excuse, particularly if a candidate has no publications at all.

  • Academic jobs usually require PhD, and PhD students are usually expected to publish a few papers during their PhD. At a very least one would expect papers based on PhD thesis.
  • Scooping is possible if the candidate presented their result publicly but was too slow to publish it. In academia "publish or perish" is an important motto, particularly for early and mid-career academics. A proven inability to publish results in time is not something hiring committees will particularly like.
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    The OP didn't say they had no publications. Having a dissertation get scooped is fairly common in pure mathematics, especially if the problem is worth working on. In my view, this is really an advising failure, because it's the advisor's job to know who else might be working on a student's problem. But I have no idea how it's viewed by hiring committees. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 17 at 19:12
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    @ElizabethHenning The OP also did not say they are the candidate. – Dmitry Savostyanov Mar 17 at 20:15
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    @ElizabethHenning I think it's harsh to say it's a failure of advising. The only way to guarantee that no one else is working on a project is to pick a project that 0 people have interest in, which is for obvious reasons not a great advantage in finding jobs. – Kimball Mar 18 at 2:21
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    Your first point is highly dependent on the University, as well as the discipline. In my discipline, at my alma mater, publications were absolutely not required for a PhD. Having at least one publication obviously helps tremendously for postdoc applications but that’s a different matter. Anecdotally, I was an outlier in my peer group with two publications during my PhD. Both the mean and the median was less than 1. – Konrad Rudolph Mar 18 at 16:39
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    -1 "A proven inability to publish results in time" is only appropriate phrasing if you're talking about an established pattern of behaviour extending over a significant period of time. All we know is that the asker was scooped once. – David Richerby Mar 19 at 12:57
3

Getting scooped will only really reflect badly on you if you could have avoided it, e.g. by working harder. If it happens, and you publish your paper anyway, just a bit later than someone else's, it might be a minor negative when applying for jobs (this one paper of yours had less impact than it might have done), but it's unlikely to be a huge blow, particularly if you've published other good papers. After all, at least you independently had the good idea in question.

By contrast, moaning about getting scooped, and using it as an excuse for why you don't have many papers, will reflect badly on you. It will come across as an unwillingness to take personal responsibility when things go wrong for you, which is not a desirable quality in a candidate.

TL;DR: One scooped paper won't kill your chances. A lack of publications overall might well, depending on the job. Having few publications and making weak excuses for why will almost certainly kill off your chances.

2

My experience is that "scooping" doesn't actually happen. The way one would define it is that you had an idea that you talked about at some conference or similar, and someone else published it before you. But how do you prove that you really were the first to think of this? Oftentimes, ideas are "out there": they follow from the review others have done, and everyone has the same idea.

As a committee, I would call bull shit. (Excuse my language.) If you had the idea first, and just took six months longer than someone else to get it submitted, it seems quite unlikely that an editor or reviewer would know about the competing paper. Both would likely have gotten published. So I agree with the other answer that says that a committee would like call this excuse the equivalent of "dog ate my homework". It just sounds like an excuse.

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    .. it seems quite unlikely that an editor or reviewer would know about the competing paper. What? Practically everyone posts on the arXiv before submitting to a journal. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 17 at 23:56
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    I think to say scooping doesn't actually happen is too strong, since it has happened publicly before - c.f. the discovery of the dwarf planet Haumea, in which Michael Brown was (arguably) scooped by José Luis Ortiz Moreno. – Allure Mar 18 at 5:54
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    I don't know about your field but, in mine, I'd be surprised if I managed to write a paper where none of me, my co-authors, the editor and the referees noticed that a paper with very similar results had already been published by somebody else. – David Richerby Mar 19 at 13:02
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    @WolfgangBangerth I mean what I said: between all of us, it would be unusual for none of us to have noticed, given that ArXiv, conferences and people talking to each other all give routes to find out. Especially given that part of the due diligence of writing papers is to actively research the literature. – David Richerby Mar 19 at 14:13
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    @DavidRicherby Exactly. This sort of "due diligence" is what I meant when I said it was (probably) an advising failure. In nearly every instance that I personally know of where a dissertation problem got scooped, the advisor hadn't been in regular contact with others in their field. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 19 at 17:00
1

Don't think of this along the lines of "getting scooped".

A department works very hard to identify and recruit faculty that will be competitive in the academic domain. Anything in your portfolio that might suggest there may be an issue with staying competitive will reflect negatively on a candidate.

These days, developing faculty work very hard to make their portfolio look "right". They publish like crazy, apply for and get travel awards, compete like mad for "best abstract" recognitions, make sure they're nominated for and lobby aggressively for young investigator awards....

If your portfolio doesn't look like that, the next applicant's might. Given a choice between the two extreme portfolios, a hot department will opt for the nice-looking one every time. A not-so-hot department might take what they can get.

If there is something wrong with your portfolio, get introspective, and go to interviews prepared to discuss how you're going to improve it, instead of offering excuses about why it's not so hot.

  • What characterizes an application that looks right? I should keep this is mind the next time I apply... – user74089 Mar 18 at 15:26
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    @Gradstudent my assumption is that is will vary by area. There are fields where work is slow by nature, and pubs few and far between. I suggest you go look up posted resumes for new young investigators in your field, and see what they look like. – Scott Seidman Mar 18 at 15:29

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