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While being a Ph.D. candidate (software engineering), I've observed a strange tendency in academia: many mediocre researchers are writing lots of white papers with no evaluation at all. I was also initially encouraged by my supervisor and other professors to do the same, but working with other research groups, getting feedback from conference reviewers and from friends, I've learned that without evaluation of my work, without having an experimental section in my papers, I am only building sand castles. It was hard lesson and I needed to refuse my supervisor to submit papers too early, but it was worth it. I've learned that evaluation offers two benefits:

  • I can confront my ideas with reality and compare with other solutions
  • It provides feedback on my actual skills as a researcher, programmer, statistician, etc.

I can understand doing experimental evaluation is harder than just sketching ideas in white papers, but I don't understand one thing. How is it possible that so many white papers are accepted for conferences and publications and their authors can still work in academia? Or maybe I am missing something and my judgement is unfair, because there should be a place in academia for researchers who only write white papers?

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I think you say it yourself: "mediocre researchers". While such people certainly get hired and some reach tenure, it isn't the optimal path to a solid career. If you want to optimize your chances for a good career, do solid research and report it.

Perhaps, however, your advisor was just suggesting that you "get some points on the board" early with somewhat easier papers while your research ideas germinate and solidify. I doubt that s/he meant that you should do only that.

But there is value in lots of kinds of things. Bringing new ideas to a wider audience can happen both in white papers and in more traditional research reports. The former can actually be very useful for presentation at a general conference so that the basic ideas percolate more quickly into the general population of the field. But you should probably not think that such things alone are a good path.

And, of course, even quite skilled researchers can produce occasional white papers and their general reputation gives them a broad audience.

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How is it possible that so many white papers are accepted for conferences and publications and their authors can still work in the academia?

Technical reports (including white papers) are used for early dissemination. Any such document that is subsequently published is as valuable as a published work that wasn't released early.

  • I'm confused by the question, since the main body asks a different question to the title, but this is my best guess. – user2768 Jun 17 '19 at 13:29
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    Perhaps I've submitted my question too early and I need to articulate my thoughts better. Thank you for your answer. – dzieciou Jun 17 '19 at 13:30

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