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For my master thesis, I worked on a topic that was new both for me, and my supervising professor. Because of that, we missed a well-known paper of our field, and I basically rediscovered the same idea.

We tried to publish it in two conferences, but it was rejected both times (unfortunately, no one pointed out that the work already existed, it was rejected because of too low impact according to the referees). Currently, it is published on arXiv. We are working on an updated version that includes a reference to the existing paper, and highlights that our results were discovered independently but are not novel.

To make matters worse, I also made a mistake in the central proof, so while the idea is correct, the conclusion needs to be weakened (that was done correctly in the original work).

Now, I am a Ph.D. student working for the same advisor. The paper has not been cited so far, but we will need to refer to it soon in a public report about a software we wrote, based on our technique. Also, my advisor is not in favor of taking down the paper entirely.

I felt bad about this for a while, but have come to terms with it now. While it is a bit embarrassing, I guess mistakes happen and there was no malintent. I am making up for it by doing an extensive literature review now, to avoid making the same mistake twice.

My question is about how to refer to this paper in my CV (or when presenting myself in general). I do have several other papers already, some of them in high-impact conferences with many citations (in a different sub-field). Currently, I have a section of my CV dedicated to those papers. I'm not sure excluding the questionable paper is a good idea, because I don't want to make the impression that I'm trying to hide it. But I also want to make clear that I'm aware of the flaws, in a way that doesn't harm my overall appearance.

The general format of my list of publications is as follows:

[Paper title], [authors], [conference name], [acceptance rate], [number of citations]
 - Main contribution
 - Second contribution

I'm thinking about using something like this:

[Questionable paper title], [authors], non-peer reviewed (arXiv)
 - Independently discovered [known technique]

This would not hide the fact that it's known, but also doesn't put too much focus on the paper. Also, it doesn't stress the fact that it contains a mistake (that would be part of the updated arXiv version). Is this reasonable?

The question also extends to how to present myself to other researchers, when they ask me about prior publications in a less formal setting. My plan was to own up to it, and reply something along the lines of "For my master thesis I focused on improving [topic]. Unfortunately, I missed [known paper] and independently discovered the same results." (again, not focusing on the mistake I made).

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  • Do you have an "expository papers" section in your CV? If yes, you can add it there -- while not quite expository, it is (once corrected and put into context) a similar beast. – darij grinberg Jul 21 at 19:37
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Since you are still working on it and haven't abandoned it, it seems an obvious candidate for a "Work in Progress" section of your CV. Other current projects can be listed there also.

You don't really need to apologize, especially in the CV.

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  • How would you describe the content of the paper? Still as "Independently discovered X", or differently? Or only give the title of the paper? To clarify: The updated version will include the reference to the known paper, and a note that the results are too strong. I'm not sure we will actually redo the experiments, as that would be a lot of work and is probably not worth it. Future work will focus on actually novel ideas, and be published as its own paper. – MissedKnownResult Jul 21 at 14:17
  • And maybe as a follow up question: The paper will never be published at any conference, given that there's no new information in it. Once the paper is updated, should I move it back to the main list of papers, or drop it completely? It's not peer-reviewed, after all – MissedKnownResult Jul 21 at 14:19
  • @MissedKnownResult Maybe it's different in your field, but in mine a CV is just a list of papers, not annotated. – Bryan Krause Jul 21 at 14:20
  • Is a description even necessary? If you need to say something, describe the project, not the paper. If you get enough results to replace it, or if you otherwise drop the project then either drop it from the CV or describe it as "replaced by ..." as appropriate. – Buffy Jul 21 at 14:22
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    It is always good to wait a bit before accepting. Note that you can also withdraw and assign an acceptance to another answer. See the help center for more: academia.stackexchange.com/help – Buffy Jul 21 at 14:41
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There is also always the possibility of just not listing it at all. Your CV is meant to highlight the positives of your career. We don't list the rejected papers and proposals and other failures :-)

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  • I agree with this (a lot). But the problem is that the paper is on arXiv already. I don't use that, but, IIRC, you can't withdraw a paper there. So, not listing is, which is fine, also requires you can have something to say about it if asked. – Buffy Jul 21 at 20:47
  • @buffy You can always replace it by a newer version that states that the original paper has been withdrawn. That said, I don't think anyone is really going to go out and do a literature search on a candidate when they have the full list of publications right in front of them! – Wolfgang Bangerth Jul 22 at 19:12

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