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I worked with a professor over the summer where I explored a slightly original avenue in a fairly niche domain. Basically, I ran simulations that validate previous lab experiment results. The work also explored a slightly new scenario in the domain, and I also conducted a parameter study.

As far as I know (which is very little, although I have tried my best to go through the relevant literature), nobody has published the simulation results before, but only experimental and theoretical. My professor did say at the beginning of the REU that he has no idea what to expect for the results since they have not been done before. I am also not aware of any parameter studies regarding this (which is again, not saying much).

I don't think my results are publishable as is, but I think I could refine them, and they could probably be interesting. My professor was happy with the work.

How do I broach the idea of a possible publication for my work with him, if at all? I am at a disadvantage for grad school since I will be switching fields, and my country does not have many resources for research, so I could not conduct a whole lot of it in my early undergrad years. So, I need to try and get a publication to make a case for myself in grad admissions.

But I worry that:

  • such a suggestion could look naive
  • or worse, he might think I am in it just for a publication and I don't think much of our research otherwise (which is not true of course)
  • he may not want to collaborate with me after the summer (which is soon)

Note: In case it matters, this was an online REU and the professor is German. The field is Physics.

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  • 4
    You might be interested in hearing what Steve Jobs said about the effectiveness of just asking people for things.
    – littleO
    Aug 28 at 1:14
  • Thanks @littleO, that's a nice resource. He makes a good point.
    – justauser
    Aug 28 at 9:25
  • You can just ask, "Do you think this is paper-worthy?" Aug 28 at 23:30
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    It's possible it will look slightly naive. You have to be OK with looking naive if you want to learn anything. Aug 28 at 23:31
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You should not be afraid of asking. For example:

Dear Prof. X

I am wondering if the results of our work this summer would be worth publishing. I think they could be interesting to the community because [...]. Do you think it would make sense to write a paper about them?

But you can do it in any other way: the format is not so important.

To debunk your worries:

such a suggestion could look naive

You are an undergraduate, and this is probably one of your first experiences in research. You are allowed to be naive.

or worse, he might think I am in it just for a publication and I don't think much of our research otherwise (which is not true of course)

Quite the opposite. If you did not think much of the research, you would not want to publish it. If the professor thinks that you are too eager to publish before getting meaningful results, he will tell you so, and then you will have learned something.

he may not want to collaborate with me after the summer (which is soon)

That will not depend on whether you ask this or not. Showing initiative will probably not harm.

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    Agree with all this. Few things — 1. nothing you have said strikes me as naïve, rather they seem to be genuinely good questions, 2. if the professor suggested the project and has any self interest (assuming he publishes regularly) he’s probably hoping something interesting and publishable may come of it, and 3. if you’ve done good research that is novel, the responsible thing to do is to share it with the field — through publication — sure some people may not find it interesting, but for those who do it could be a jumping off point or just the thing they needed for their research to progress.
    – Greenstick
    Aug 28 at 0:23
  • Thanks a lot, wimi and @Greenstick for your thoughts! Your words have put me at ease and I'll take your advice.
    – justauser
    Aug 28 at 9:26
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    +2 (if possible): "You are an undergraduate, and this is probably one of your first experiences in research. You are allowed to be naive.": exactly!
    – Our
    Aug 28 at 9:29
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There is no special format or no special etiquette for this. Just ask. Straight up.

But don't forget the follow up questions if they say no. Why? What do I/we still need to do to make it worth publishing?

These are completely natural questions for a newcomer to research.

If this is a cross-border collaboration then you might also ask who else might be interested in pushing the work along.

Like a lot of things in education, if you don't ask, you don't learn. Just. Do. It.

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  • Thanks a lot, Buffy! This is some useful advice. I like "If you don't ask, you don't learn". I'll remember that. I think I was worried about looking stupid/embarrassing myself.
    – justauser
    Aug 28 at 9:28
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such a suggestion could look naive, or worse, he might think I am in it just for a publication...

There are several good things to be said about looking naive when asking this kind of question that may involve a substantial commitment by your professor to see it through:

  • you may receive a more complete answer, where your professor takes some time to lay out their reasoning for you.
  • That then provides you an opportunity for a follow-up, including a "But..." if the first answer was negative.
  • if you approach this indirectly, leading with "I'm surprised, I can not find any published work of this sort anywhere. I wonder if there's some reason..." or similar, your professor may "suddenly have the idea" that it could and should become a publication.

The last point is particularly helpful. I'm not an expert in this, but I believe that professors can sometimes be more motivated by and enthusiastic about ideas they believe that they've had themselves, than by ideas that students suggest to them.

I have also heard that this "planting an idea in someone else's head" strategy works well, way beyond being an undergraduate. ;-)

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  • Thanks uhoh! That's an interesting strategy. I'll keep it in mind.
    – justauser
    Aug 29 at 5:48

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