32

I was taking a look at my first published papers, which are published in (peer-reviewed) A*/A/B level proceedings. Thanks to these papers, I finished my PhD a few years ago.

I was surprised by the quality of the papers and I felt ashamed that I wrote these papers -Of course, this was not my feeling a few years ago-. I found that my assumptions were naive and the conclusions can be valid only for the used dataset (there is a high chance that they are not valid for other datasets). I found also that I lacked some fundamental knowledge and I could explain my approach differently.

Overall, if I receive these papers now as a reviewer, I would definitely recommend to reject them.

I don't know whether this feeling is just because 1) I gained knowledge over the past years, 2) the domain (CS) has evolved significantly or 3) the papers were indeed bad and they shouldn't be published.

In the case of (3), I am wondering what I should do.

  • 13
    I think you're overly self-critical. If your paper was good enough to be accepted at an A* conference, then there is value to it, even if it does not necessary generalize to all datasets. – lighthouse keeper Jun 3 at 10:49
  • 31
    You discovered something: you learned. You improved over the time. You once wrote insufficient papers, now you are beyond this. Improve further, so that in 10 years time you will be able to say "boy was I naive then". It's far better than looking back and saying "Well, I'll never reach that level of brilliance again." It means that you grow as a scientist. And yes, fields change. We did do a lot of very naive things once. That's how science as a whole works. – Captain Emacs Jun 3 at 11:59
  • 6
    CS has so many bad papers, yours won't stand out. Don't worry... Keep learning and keep improving, then there's no point in looking back. – Cris Luengo Jun 3 at 20:06
  • 1
    Just an interesting thought. What should I do if the paper is indeed misleading (say deliberately done)? What if a section of the paper has misleading information but, the rest of the paper is gold? What if it is just the Dunning Kruger or Impostor Syndrome making me think about retracting a highly cited paper (thinking I misled research community while in reality my paper would have helped research community a lot)? – Prasad Raghavendra Jun 5 at 1:47
  • 1
    @PrasadRaghavendra I think your question is somehow different but interesting. It would be better to ask it separately. – Younes Jun 5 at 6:27
61

You should do nothing other than continue growing and learning. The most common reason would be #1. I can't say the most likely reason is #1, not having seen the papers.

But a lot of authors, even poets, look back on their early work with a sense of wonder about how they could have been so naive. It is a sign of growth.

Yes, #2 is probably also a factor to some extent as CS has been a fast moving field overall, not being much over 60 years old, compared to, say math and such.

And you haven't said that the papers are actually wrong, just a bit naive. Hopefully we all learn some things as we grow older. It normally happens because we are actively thinking about things.

Others at the time (reviewers, editors, advisors) thought that the papers were fine for the time. They were fine.

| improve this answer | |
16

Just ignore the bad papers. Don't include them in your curriculum vitae. Instead of using the title "Papers" in your CV, just use the title "Selected papers." That implies that you have some papers that you are not proud of.

| improve this answer | |
  • 28
    Or so many papers, that you only want to present a few gems! ;) – Ed V Jun 3 at 12:49
  • @ndpl: I know a phd student who has two lists on his homepage - selected papers and papers - both list exactly the same paper:) (my ex-supervisor also lists all their papers under "selected papers");) – user111388 Jun 5 at 15:32
4

You discovered something: you learned. You improved over the time. You once wrote insufficient papers, now you are beyond this. Improve further, so that in 10 years time you will be able to say "boy was I naive then". It's far better than looking back and saying "Well, I'll never reach that level of brilliance again." It means that you grow as a scientist. And yes, fields change. We did do a lot of very naive things once. That's how science as a whole works.

[added by popular request]

| improve this answer | |
4

If indeed:

  • "my assumptions were naive" and
  • "the conclusions ... there is a high chance that they are not valid for other datasets"
  • "I could explain my approach differently"

(which, I should say, might just be your misjudging your past work, as other answers suggest; but if that is actually the case)

then consider writing a new paper about the subject. Regardless of whether it is sufficiently important for a top-tier publication, you can at least share your further-developed you of the subject with the community.

It is not uncommon for papers on some subject to begin with partial insights, simplistic assumptions and limited applicability, and develop - often by the same authors - into something deeper, more mature and more useful.

Note: If you do write a paper, don't waste your time and the readers berating your previous work; rather, focus on the new presentation of the previous method, a discussion of its assumptions (as opposed to other, less-naive assumptions) and dispassionate explanation about its limits of applicability. If you can add some new result that doesn't make this assumption - even if it's a proof of impossibility or a concrete useful/insightful counter-example, that's even better. But don't write a "my last paper sucks" paper.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Why the downvote? – Tommi Jun 5 at 13:42
  • @Tommi Aren't you also curious why there's 6 downvotes on the other answer? – user1271772 Jun 5 at 16:14
  • @Tommi: Unfortunately, the person who downvoted will not get notified of your question, so I guess we won't know. – einpoklum Jun 5 at 18:45
  • @user1271772 No, I have a good feeling why that might be the case. Here I do not know if there is a good reason for the downvote that I am simply missing (and this answer was at -1 total when asking), which is why I asked. Maybe I have a blind spot. – Tommi Jun 8 at 7:41
2

The way I see it, the papers were good enough to pass peer review so they're good enough to remain in the scientific lexicon. Even if your assumptions were slightly wrong or naive, the results of these naive assumptions are still important.

Remember the maxim:

Even negative results are results

If you feel really strongly about it, you could go back and write further papers addressing the issues in your originals and improving on them. This is the scientific method in action. Otherwise, just leave it and move on to bigger and better things.

Be proud of finishing your PhD, we sometimes forget in academic circles that this is no small achievement in and of itself.

| improve this answer | |
2

To add to the other answers:

One takeaway is, that you learned in the meantime and now see the weaknesses of the paper, that were not obvious to you when you wrote them, even when you did your very best.

When you are a reviewer, look at such a paper and realize, that it had been from you years ago and don't reject it, but write a helpful review, in a way that would have improved your weaker papers.

Point out what can be improved and give hints how it can be done, so the authors that sent in weak papers that have potential to become strong papers have a chance to improve them instead of being rejected directly because you are now way above their level.

And when you see things that can be improved on your old papers, you may consider to write a follow up paper to your old paper.

| improve this answer | |
-8

The crux of your situation is that years ago you published some papers, about which you now say "if I received these papers now as I reviewer, I would definitely recommend to reject them." Then you suggest three things and ask for advice if option (3) is true:

"(3) the papers were indeed bad and they shouldn't be published. In the case of (3), I am wondering what I should do."

The other two answers essentially say "just ignore the bad papers and move on", which is certainly an option for you. But if you are curious for more options that you can do in situation (3), apart from just ignoring the papers, another option is to retract the papers.

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Jun 4 at 20:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.