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I'm beginning my graduate study in theoretical computer science soon, and I've been admitted to two graduate schools in Northeastern Asia.

One of those makes it a rule to grant compensation for travel to conferences to graduate students who finished their master's thesis. However, for beginning graduate students, they said they cannot be sure if they can fully afford their travel costs for conferences.

The graduate school requires the students little coursework and all I will do there will be do actual research. As you may know, conferences are important in computer science and reputable conferences are usually held far removed from us in Northeast Asia.

Can I do with journals and preprint servers, and possibly without reputable conferences, in the field of theoretical computer science, as a beginning graduate student?

(By the way, the cons of the other school are that the professor supervises too many students and that he hasn't been nice to me.)

  • what happens if you have a paper accepted ? – Suresh Jan 18 '14 at 8:04
  • @Suresh They say they fund beginning graduate students on exceptional circumstances, so if the conference is top-class, the department might fund me. In addition, if my future advisor succeeds in obtaining a grant he can afford my travel expenses. – user11000 Jan 18 '14 at 10:56
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    Whatever you do, don't study under a professor who you don't get on with. That's likely to be a terrible experience. – Tara B Jan 18 '14 at 13:15
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Conferences are very important in CS. Journals are also important, but they tend to accept more mature work, and therefore might be especially hard to publish into as a beginning graduate student (which, in your terms, seems to refer to someone who hasn't finished his/her master thesis yet). Nothing is impossible, of course, but you have to be careful not to end up with no publications after 4 years, just because you were aiming too high. In addition, some journals are very slow to respond, so you might spend half a year or even more waiting for a decision. In the mean time, you cannot send this work anywhere else.

You should ask students there how the official policy is, it might just be that they don't want to fund you a trip to a small workshop in Hawaii, but the question could be different if you were to get a paper at POPL. You should also consider that there are good conferences coming to Asia, and many conferences offer financial support to students (including reducing the registration fee, sometimes even helping with transport/accommodation). Finally, if you're writing your paper with someone else, such as your advisor, this person might be able to travel to the conference and present the paper (which would be a shame for you not to attend, but it still counts as a publication in your CV).

EDIT Some clarification: technically speaking, the only important thing is to produce good research, and to write good paper. What you plan to do after your PhD also matters, but if you'd like to stay in Academia, you will need at some point to get a job, and you will be judged on your papers (on other aspects too, but papers are very important). Now, to answer your question: yes, you could get a job with only journal publications, as long as they are good. Is that the best strategy? Probably not. Conferences are very important because they allow you to meet other people, to be exposed to state-of-the-art research, to confront your ideas with the community, to get published within a relatively short time period, to receive more frequent feedback, to construct your research project in a more incremental way (present your idea at some workshop, work on a good conference paper, present the extended version to a journal).

If I can give you one example, I've presented some of my work at a workshop with no proceedings (so it didn't count as a publication), and I met there someone who accepted to be one of my external PhD examiners.

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    "but the question could be different if you were to get a paper at POPL." Sure, but for POPL et al the same is true as for journals - building your career plan on publishing at POPL as a master student seems a bit ... unreliable. The important question is: do they fund trips to non-bogus conferences that the OP can reasonably expect to be accepted in? (for instance, B-ranked conferences) – xLeitix Jan 18 '14 at 10:42
  • If I could be accepted in, say, POPL, I could convince the department to offer financial aid, but for B-rank conferences, financial support by the department is not expected. However, as Charles pointed out, I might still write paper with someone else or utilize aids by conferences. – user11000 Jan 18 '14 at 11:04
  • @xLeitix: Yep, I just wanted to point out that it was unlikely there is a strict "no-conference-funding" policy, and that if a conference was really good for the sub-field of the OP, than perhaps a case could be made. – user102 Jan 18 '14 at 11:11
  • @CharlesMorisset I'd like to make some points clearer: do you mean if you do publish in journals, you can more or less do without conference papers? And will presenting at such a small workshop that my dept won't fund me help me in my career? – user11000 Jan 18 '14 at 11:33
  • @Pteromys: edited the answer to bring clarification. – user102 Jan 18 '14 at 11:56
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In CS, conferences and journals serve different purposes: conferences are great for networking and exchange of ideas, and the important ones are having low acceptance rates so publishing there is worthy, but still, many (most?) are not listed in citation indexes and often people are just checking there for "real publications" (aka journal publications).

Edit due to many comments: Just to clarify this: I did not say that it is GOOD to judge someone based on journal papers, I just said some people do! I personally had to learn this the hard way since I had many good conference publications which were not regarded as "publications" in some contexts. Edit end

So if you do write journal publications, you made an important step towards a successful PhD (I know several advisoors who want to have x journal publications (x in {1..3} as pre-requisite), but you are missing the interaction and exchange of ideas. Especially in the first half of your thesis, this would be very valuable.

But maybe the people at grad school were just honest: Usually there are not enough travel funds to let everyone travel to every conference - one has to build a strategy on who visits which conference and how often. It's just a matter of resources since an international conference visit costs about 2.500€ and most funding schemes would not allow for more than one international conference per year.

I would recommend asking a grad student who is already there, how this is handled in practice.

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    "still, many (most?) are not listed in citation indexes and often people are just checking there for "real publications" (aka journal publications).". I could not disagree more strongly with this, in the field the OP mentions (theoretical computer science). But asking students who are already there is a good idea. – Suresh Jan 18 '14 at 8:01
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    +1 to @Suresh - especially in CS, conferences and journals arguably serve the same purpose, which is to publish. The exchange of ideas thing happens, but it never appeared to me as the main driver for people. – xLeitix Jan 18 '14 at 10:38
  • +1, @Pteromys, avoid grad schools and jobs where citations/whatever indexes are primary way of judging you. Citations indexes are so last century - they do not have clear policies on what is in, what is out, they CANNOT be used for research evaluation - see, for instance pacs.unica.it/pacs/documenti/… – al_b Jan 21 '14 at 7:27
  • just to clarify this: I did not say that it is GOOD to judge someone based on journal papers, I just said some people do! I personally had to learn this the hard way since I had many good conference publications which were not regarded as "publications" in some contexts. (Edited post to clarify this) – OBu Jan 21 '14 at 10:30

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