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I have been doing undergrad research advised by a comp sci professor and a civil-engineering professor. I am a comp sci major.

To perform this research, we needed to do a tricky modification to a dataset provided by the civil-eng prof. This modification was not the point of the research, but because we needed it, I have spent the last month or so dedicated to this. To be sure- I was not interested in this modification or its application outside of our original research goal. I did this work as a means to an end, so we could finally work on the part I was interested in.

Now that this algo is written and working however, my advisors (even the comp sci one) really want me to apply this in a different way than originally planned and write a conference paper on the results of that. This application is not related to comp sci, so they essentially want me to write a civil engineering paper on my own.

When they asked me to do this, it sounded like a quick thing to do, so I said sure. Not only is it not quick, however, it's so boring. I can't focus on this work, and the thought of writing about this sounds like torture.

What should I do about this? I would like to just refocus, but I'm not sure if this is a normal thing within research ("by-the-way" papers).

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    Actually, it isn't obvious you should tell them no. But you need to ask for help in it. You can say you have no interest, of course, but it is unlikely to get you where you need to go. Asking how you can make it more interesting might help, though. – Buffy Apr 18 at 21:59
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    Are they paying you? Are you getting course credit? Did you tell them your priorities? – Anonymous Physicist Apr 19 at 1:20
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Note: this answer assumes that you might be considering pursuing research after your undergrad, by applying to PhD programs.

You have to balance two things here:

  1. The value of an academic publication.

  2. Pursuing your own research interests and career goals.

Firstly, it is important not to underestimate (1). Publications are academic gold. It doesn't usually matter so much that the area of the publication is the same as your interests. If you apply to computer science programs you would be able to list that you have this publication; you might be surprised that even though it is not in computer science it is still likely to look extremely good. Roughly speaking, I would guess that it is at least 50% to 75% as good as a publication in your area of interest.

Why does a publication look so good? It tells admissions committees: This candidate knows how to do research, and is successful at it. They have already worked with a professor in a research group. They are able to see a project through to completion, and they know how to write. Notice that the area of the publication is irrelevant for all of these factors.

However, you cannot ignore (2) either. Research flourishes only when you are passionate about it. In the long run, you need to pursue research that matches your interests and particularly that is true when you are interested in computer science, not civil engineering.

With that in mind, I would suggest you make a compromise. It is highly in your interest to see this published with your name on it, but you also want to minimize the time that you spend on it. So you can reach out to your collaborators (professors) and say that you had underestimated the amount of work this would involve, and you don't have enough time or experience in this area to write the entire paper, when you are more interested in pursuing computer science research. However, you would be happy to work on it a certain amount. For example, it would be wise to set aside a week or two to work on it, particularly if there is no one else who an write it. But set a limit up front; if this is going to require a month or two of your time, then it is no longer worth it.

If you do end up writing the whole paper, you should make it clear that you are not interested in any follow-up work. You just want to follow this idea through to publication, and then you can move on to your own interests.

| improve this answer | |
  • Is the OP intersted in academia? How do you know? – user111388 Apr 19 at 17:36
  • @user111388 I am assuming not that they are interested in academia but that they are interested in going for further research, e.g. in a PhD towards an industry research position. But you are right that I should clarify that, since they didn't mention it. (I guess I assumed because they are posting on academia SE) – 6005 Apr 19 at 17:43
  • @user111388 Updated the answer. – 6005 Apr 19 at 18:22
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    Thank you!!!!!! – user111388 Apr 19 at 18:28

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