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There are opportunity costs associated with spending time on writing a critical analysis of the literature and submitting that review article to a journal as opposed to conducting research (although the two aren't mutually exclusive). As a PhD student, is it worth spending the time to write and publish a review article as opposed to just pursuing research, without impacting the graduation timeline? And if the review article is published, would it be reasonable to incorporate it in one's dissertation?

This question is of particular interest to me since I also work a full-time job and only have enough time to allocate to one, maybe two, major projects for school at a given time.

This question has been significantly revised. The old version of the question is below.


My PhD program (United States, Computer Science) recently changed the comprehensive exam requirements so that we now have to write a research survey critically analyzing an area of our choice and orally defend it. The expectation is that the survey, either as is or with some additional work, would be of publishable quality, although there is no requirement for it to be submitted or published. My advisor is encouraging me to strive for actually submitting the survey once completed.

For those familiar with the either formal or informal requirement to publish a certain number of papers in order to graduate, how would publishing a survey impact that paper count? Should or would surveys be considered to count towards the paper count requirement? Additionally, there are opportunity costs associated with writing and trying to publish a survey, such as not being able to dedicate as much time to research; however, writing the survey will certainly help with research.

I understand there are many factors in play with respect to the type of program, quality of the survey, committee members, advisor, etc., but high level considerations would be appreciated.

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  • That is an entirely local question. Most of CS doesn't have such requirements, but if your university does, you need to inquire locally. I think the question is moot, in any case, as you are required to produce the paper even if not to publish it. After you earn the degree few would be aware of or concerned with the details here. – Buffy Jun 20 '20 at 14:13
  • Perhaps I should have avoided putting the first paragraph and just said this: is it worth putting the time into writing a publishable survey as a PhD student as opposed to focusing on research? – kjacks21 Jun 20 '20 at 15:53
  • @Buffy I've revised the question. Is it still a local question or would others find value from this? – kjacks21 Jun 20 '20 at 17:20
  • I think the general question has the same problems. If a university requires it or permits it as part of the official program it is up to them and other universities will have different rules. But once you have the degree, the details of how you got it are much less important than the fact that you were successful. Having a publication in general, is normally a good thing, of course. – Buffy Jun 20 '20 at 17:32
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A survey almost certainly would count towards your paper count requirement.

A proof based on common sense is that surveys can generally be hard to distinguish from research papers: there exist review papers that have notable amount of novel work added but are still called reviews. Thus it is very unlikely for your department to put such a distinction.

Publishing your (already finished) survey is worth it.

Your original question states that you have to produce a survey of defendable quality. Then, the effort required is just polishing the survey further to publishable quality and handling the communication with a journal. The reward will be getting a publication, with all its formal (increasing your paper count, see previous paragraph) and informal (getting recognised) positive consequences. Surely worth it! The proof is again based on common sense: if the pros did not outweigh the effort in your local environment, no work would have made its way further than internal discussions within your department.

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  • Given that this question is being deemed too specific to individual circumstances, this answer brings up some points I hadn't considered and answers my general question. Thank you! – kjacks21 Jun 21 '20 at 1:37
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You should consider why your school requires a survey article in place of a more traditional comprehensive exam. I am familiar with schools with such requirements, and I personally think it is an excellent approach. It requires students to engage broadly and critically with the literature so that at the end of their doctoral process, they are not only very narrow specialists in their particular topic (which they need to be), but they are also broadly knowledgeable generalists in their discipline.

In my opinion, does not require too much additional work to uplift the survey from merely an exercise for your comprehensive exam to making it an article worthy of submission to a good journal. And having the explicit target that your effort will end up in a journal would increase the quality of your work so that you not only barely meet the exam requirements, but exceed them.

Concerning the additional work required after the exam to actually take the article to publication (submission and then multiple rounds of revision), in most fields, a survey article counts as a regular publication. Indeed, survey articles are generally understood to be cited more highly than regular articles, and that would be a very good investment for your career.

So, in short, I recommend that you put in the additional effort and take the survey article all the way to publication.

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  • These are excellent points, especially how making publishing a target will ultimately increase the quality of the work for the exam. Thank you! – kjacks21 Jun 21 '20 at 14:04

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