I am a PhD student starting my second year of PhD. I don't expect any major publications to come out of this within the first year or so, but I often find myself wondering if something smaller - a measurement setup, comparison of simulation techniques, etc - is worth publishing or not.

On the one hand, my Promoter says that we as a research group should publish more. I get the feeling he doesn't say this purely from a publish-or-perish perspective - rather, we spend a year or two working on something to get one big publication from the high-ranking journals, but along the way we learn a lot of little things, or come up with new tricks for measurements - all of which could be worth sending to smaller conferences or journals.

Due to the personal self-image struggles I have, I find it very difficult to feel like my work is good or new or worth talking about most of the time. How can I improve my ability to see if something is worth sending in or not? Will this just come with experience?

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    You could discuss with your advisor, he may find that the idea of smaller papers interesting... – Solar Mike Jul 29 '19 at 6:47

Although it is not direct answer to your question, however, worthwhile to read.

  1. Presenting a major piece of new information in writing for the first time
  2. Extending, qualifying or elaborating on an existing piece of work
  3. Undertaking an original piece of work designed by someone else
  4. Developing a new product or improving an existing one
  5. Reinterpreting an existing theory, maybe in a different context
  6. Demonstrating originality by testing someone else's idea
  7. Carrying out empirical work that has not been done before
  8. Using a different methodological approach to address a problem
  9. Synthesising information in a new or different way
  10. Providing a new interpretation using existing / known information
  11. Repeating research in other contexts, for example, a different country
  12. Applying existing ideas to new areas of study
  13. Taking a particular technique and applying it in a new area
  14. Developing a new research tool or technique
  15. Taking a different approach, for example a cross- disciplinary perspective
  16. Developing a portfolio of work based on research
  17. Adding to knowledge in a way that has not previously been done before
  18. Conducting a study on a previously unresearched area or topic
  19. Producing a critical analysis of something not previously examined

Adapted from Phillips, E.M. & Pugh, D.S. (1994). How to get a PhD. USA: Open University Press.


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  • So only 5% (1 out of 20) of valuable publications are specifically about the new and innovative stuff. Sounds about right to me, though Edison (quoteinvestigator.com/2012/12/14/genius-ratio) has a much tighter figure. – Philip Oakley Jul 29 '19 at 19:53
  • I agree. The new and innovative research is purely based on reinterpretation of existing; unless you are a genius or close to genius supervision, it is nearly impossible to find new without 99% perspiration. – user199 Jul 30 '19 at 0:14

Broadly, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is it new?
  2. Is it something that people in your field would want to read?

The first question is very important and sometimes disheartening. If it's not new, it doesn't matter how interesting your result is, how difficult it was to obtain, or how well you present it. You say that you have difficulty feeling like your work is new, but (unlike whether or not your work is "good") this is something that you can and should unambiguously determine by reading the existing literature. Note that "new" doesn't have to mean "earthshaking". It can (and usually does) mean more modest novelty.

The second question helps you distinguish between many possible new things to try to publish. If the paper you're working on already existed, would you and your colleagues want to read it? You can use the degree to which the answer is "yes" to decide whether or not you should spend your time on one publication as opposed to another.

To answer either question, you need to read a lot of the existing literature, and get to know the academic community you work in. So yes, experience is important. Your advisors are there to help you when you are starting out.

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  • 4
    I would qualify the "is it new" statement a little bit. Replication is an important part of science and is finally gaining significant traction. Though the level of traction is highly field dependent. – JWH2006 Jul 29 '19 at 12:06

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