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I am currently in an unbeneficial situation with my PhD supervisor/advisor. At the beginning of my PhD, I've targeted non-top but reasonable venues for my papers and quickly succeeded with 3 publications. Since then, my supervisor has encouraged me to target top-10 Computer Science conferences or h-index > 100 journals for further papers. I've submitted 3 papers to such venues and have received 2 rejections and 1 major revision, which is not great, but better than 3 rejections.

In our regular meetings, my supervisor and I used to discuss the content of my papers. However, every since I started targeting top venues and trying to do research at the required level, my supervisor was clearly not able to follow/understand my work. This went so far that, now, during our regular meetings, 95% our time is spent by me (unavailingly) trying to explain my work to my supervisor. I don't expect my supervisor to understand my papers as good as I do, yet in my opinion there should at least be a certain minimum understanding. After all the reviewers at the top venues seemed to understand the paper quite well and gave me accurate feedback.

Regardless, my supervisor keeps pushing me to submit at top venues and over-optimistically states that my work will be accepted there. However, I typically know where my paper's flaws are, and I receive no help there from my supervisor. After submission, the (meta)-reviews stated precisely these flaws as main reason for rejection.

How do I get more qualified feedback on future manuscripts before submission? Changing supervisor is not really an option, since they are my employer and since my PhD is anyway soon complete.

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  • 21
    Three rejections is not many. May 17 at 13:21
  • 67
    Congratulations. You're ready to graduate. May 17 at 13:35
  • 18
    Apart from the other answers: do consider that maybe your explanation skills can be improved. Usually your supervisor is not supposed to have all the details of the previous meeting in the head, so it is important that you have a good narration if you want somebody to follow. Also (I dont know if this applies), if you state something as fact, it better be fact (verified beyond doubt by your research). The first is difficult because you have everything in your head, but try to see your presentation from the other perspective. Summarize key findings.
    – lalala
    May 17 at 17:48
  • 4
    If you had there submitted three papers and gotten three accepts at first try, now that would be bad, as that would indicate that you could have (and thus should have) sent them to more selective venues and gotten a better publication out of the same work.
    – Peteris
    May 17 at 19:29
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    As a side note, consider using a more obscure name when talking about your supervisor online. I am 99% sure I found out who he is and it turns out I actually know him. Just sayin.
    – cheersmate
    May 18 at 8:19
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Is your supervisor overly optimistic? At least not obviously so. Getting a major revision and two rejections is a 1/3 success rate. That is actually pretty good for a round of first submissions, especially to top venues. But in the end it's of course your choice where you submit your work, and if you don't plan on staying in academia, you may wish to be more pragmatic.

Is your supervisor unhelpful? At least not less helpful than other supervisors of advanced PhD students. It's not uncommon for PhD students to eventually surpass their supervisors with respect to their research topic. At some point, you become the foremost expert on your specialization. All your supervisor can then do is offer hands-off guidance and mentoring, which they seem to be doing by evaluating your papers on an abstract level and suggesting suitable venues.

How can you get better substantive feedback? I understand you also need substantive feedback that goes beyond soft guidance. Here are some sources:

  • Submit early and often to respected journals to get feedback by reviewers. Reviewers are selected based on their specialization, so the feedback will be more specific than what you seem to get from your supervisor. (You're already tapping this source, good.)
  • Attend specialist workshops and conferences (especially if, like me, you're in a "journal field" where conferences are largely for work-in-progress).
  • Approach selected specialists and ask them for feedback on one of your drafts. The worst that can happen is that they ignore you, but many people are surprisingly generous, and specialists are often interested in what people in their subfield are working on. As incentive, you could also offer to reciprocate. (Even if you feel you're not senior enough to offer them advice, there's often something you can do - be a discussant in a panel, read a draft for overall consistency etc.) And who knows - this might even lead to a cooperation.
  • Share drafts with other students on your own level. Even if they don't have the specific expertise you are looking for, their feedback can improve your paper, and their misunderstandings can improve the clarity of your exposition (and thinking).
  • Finally, you might also consider looking for a more specialist co-supervisor. I know of some graduate programs that even require a second supervisor that can be selected at a later time.
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I really don’t understand what the problem is here. What are you’re career goals? If you want to work in industry just apply for jobs and graduate when you get one and stop worrying about more papers. If you want an academic job, then your advisor is right, you’re going to need to publish in top venues and you clearly weren’t being aggressive enough about where you were sending papers since they weren’t all rejected. It’s natural that a strong student who is ready to graduate is going to spend a lot of their meeting time explaining things to their advisor, so again it’s not obvious that there’s a problem there either. You may have already learned most of what you’ll learn from your current advisor, but that’s fine because you’re about to go do a postdoc with someone new. You’re ready to move on to the next stage of your career, so do that!

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    I agree that this is not an issue. Regarding explaining work to your advisor, this can help you publish in a higher impact venue, because a clear and concise exposition helps you to write a better paper.
    – Dawn
    May 17 at 14:14
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    Great point, Dawn. It’s possible that OP struggles at giving good explanations. If that’s the case, then they should focus some on improving their explanations, for example starting a student seminar and giving more talks. May 17 at 14:20
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    The question OP should remember that an adviser can not be all things and that an over reliance on the adviser at the expense of networking and branching out for other niches of support will only make a student frustrated with the adviser. My read is that the question OP should be doing a lot more networking at conferences.
    – Kwame
    May 18 at 13:29
  • Thank you for your answers/comments. I guess my main issue was that I was apparently not aware of how positive my situation actually is. I guess I will have to do more networking.
    – mto_19
    May 19 at 5:08
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After submission, the (meta)-reviews stated precisely these flaws as main reason for rejection.

So you know what was wrong with the article. Which is good because you understand what you are doing.

How do I get more qualified feedback on future manuscripts before submission?

Since you are one of the very few (if not the only one) who completely understands the topic, you have a great person to discuss these topics: yourself.

In software development, and IT in general, we have the rubber duck technique: you explain to a rubber duck what you are doing, speaking loudly. Since I do not have one handy, I have a dog who is enthusiastic about what I am saying (and it is annoying because he obviously does not understand so I have to do better), and a cat who is not cooperative and always seems surprised by what I am saying (so I have to explain better).

This works wonders to make sure that what you want to do is more or less consistent.

I am writing all this to say that research is sometimes a lonely journey - you can discuss with some people about general topics, but you are on your own when it comes to the tiny bump you are making to human knowledge in your specific field.

Do not underestimate your PhD advisor. They may help you with areas where they are good (administrative stuff, grants, teaching).

I had two supervisors because of the novelty of the work I was doing for my PhD. They were not helpful to my research because this was something nobody did before. They were extremely helpful in helping me to navigate the muddy waters of academia.

my PhD is anyway soon complete

As others stated: if you plan to leave academia afterwards, it does not matter at all. Nobody will ever ask you about your papers. You will be lucky if someone asks you about the topic of your thesis. Depending on the country, the PhD can be a great asset, or just a diploma like others.

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  • " Nobody will ever ask you about your papers" -- depends where you go in the industry. Most research labs/private research groups will ask aboutthem (although they might as well be considered an extension of academia). If said individual is working in a startup/company related to the field of their PhD that might matter too (ex: theoretical cs student going to a cs startup that needs algorithmic engineers might end up getting asked to explain "what did you actually do?"). 17 hours ago

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