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What would be better for a PhD admission?

I'd suspect having a weak conference paper would certainly be the better option, but my supervisor was very adamant about not sending it to a weak conference, that a strong one would be preferable, even if rejected. And I think the chances of it being accepted into this strong conference he has in mind are practically zero.

Edit: Just to clarify, by "PhD admission", I mean being accepted into a PhD program, to which I intend to apply. I'm currently a M.Sc. student.

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    I ignore weak publications or papers in unknown venues. I also ignore publications where a student is not the lead author. Your supervisor is probably wanting useful feedback from experienced researchers -- you find them usually at good conferences or journals. Sep 3 at 1:44
  • Thanks. This might be his reasoning. He said something along the lines of any slightly positive feedback I receive from the reviewers being valuable for mentioning during the PhD application, even if the paper got rejected.
    – jonesy
    Sep 3 at 2:22
  • your supervisor is probably not thinking of your PhD admission. If you are continuing with him/her, maybe you don't need the publication for admission. So the feedback is more useful. Sep 3 at 2:27
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    It depends on what you mean with "weak conference". In my field, there are conferences which are "good but not top", and crap conferences. Crap conferences look poorly on a CV and should be avoided. "Good but not top conferences" look good, and if your work is valuable to begin with, it should have a realistic chance to be accepted. Sep 3 at 6:29
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    If none of you heard about it before, it's probably rather a crap conference than a good one. A good one would have papers from top researchers in the field (normally the ideas that don't work out well enough to be suited for the top conferences). Sep 3 at 8:35
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It's easy to get a paper rejected from a strong conference - just submit something written in gibberish. Getting accepted is a different matter since it implies your paper meets some minimum standard. Therefore it's better to be accepted by a weak conference than rejected from a strong conference.

Your situation however is different. You have an advisor (i.e. someone who is much more experienced in the field than you) who thinks you should submit to the strong conference. You judge the odds of acceptance as minute, but your advisor clearly doesn't think they are minute, or he would not recommend you submit there. Your advisor is more likely to be right than you are simply because he is much more experienced than you, so you should follow their recommendation.

Note that getting rejected from a strong conference does not mean you will not be accepted by the weak conference; you probably still can get accepted there (if it is a recurring conference).

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    "Your advisor is more likely to be right than you are simply because he is much more experienced than you" The question here is whether these experiences are relevant -- specifically, if the advisor has a track record of papers at top conferences in the last 5 years or so. Expectations in computing fields change quickly, and I have seen my share of experienced researchers engage in wishful thinking in such matters. Sep 3 at 13:03
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    @Daniel 4 publications at relevant top conferences in the past 5 years actually sounds like quite a lot. The researchers I had in mind with my snarky concluding remark had no papers at the relevant conferences in the preceding 5 years. Sep 3 at 13:50
  • @lighthousekeeper I don't know, it might depend on the field. I would guess that for a world top 50 university, it's expected that an experienced researcher in my field would have at least 10 top publications in the past 5 years, and I know that you would easily find ones with 3x that in these unis.
    – jonesy
    Sep 3 at 13:59
  • @lighthousekeeper in that case the worst that can happen is some wasted time and most probably a poor review that would still help improve the paper before submission elsewhere, so I don't consider it a disaster.
    – Allure
    Sep 3 at 15:05
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    @Daniel "publish or perish" should perish. 6 publications a year is simply ridiculous, and the signal to noise ratio would be much better with a slower frequency. "What's expected" is stupid, and it filters out good researchers who only publish when they actually have something interesting to publish. Sep 4 at 7:39
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If you plan to apply for a PhD in 2+ years, I would submit to the strong conference. If your current advisor is pushing for you submit to a top conference and has previously published in top conferences, he may have better insight as to whether it will be accepted. I would first submit to the conference your advisor has in mind, and if it gets rejected, you can later submit to a weaker conference.

Depending on your field and the type of PhD program you're applying to, often times many students may not have publications when applying. If I were on a PhD committee, I would of course look for research experience. However, I would not judge a candidate who has a paper accepted at a conference with an acceptance rate of 75%+ to be superior to another candidate with similar experience.

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  • Thank you for the answer. Unfortunately, I plan applying later in this year, so this will be my only shot. My field is Artificial Intelligence. If I recall correctly, my supervisor said something along the lines of any slightly positive feedback I receive from the reviewers being valuable for mentioning during the PhD application, even if the paper got rejected.
    – jonesy
    Sep 3 at 2:20
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    Your supervisor is 100% right. The aim of going to a conference is having a feedback on your research. Even the rejection feedback can be valuable.
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 3 at 4:50
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    Is this CS-specific, where conferences are the main publishing venue? Conferences to which I am used to (traditional ones, with well known persons in the committee, no recent for-profit nonsense) often accept almost everything. At many of them people mostly present work that already appeared in journals.
    – Vladimir F
    Sep 3 at 13:29
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A possibility no one has yet mentioned: your advisor may be planning to write in your letter of recommendation “we wrote this paper that was so great we submitted it to...”

From this purpose, it’s irrelevant whether the paper is rejected or not!

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The premise that getting rejected from a top conference is worth anything at all is ridiculous. To be rejected, all you need to do is submit something, even gibberish as @Allure’s answer suggests. This is no achievement whatsoever, and to submit something you think would definitely get rejected just so you can say you submitted to a top conference is an abuse of the academic publishing/conference system, and on top of that, one that doesn’t actually confer any advantage. It is only reasonable to submit to a top conference if you see a chance (even a small chance) of the work getting accepted.

One can debate whether the low-ranked conference you might consider submitting to instead of the top conference would help with your PhD applications — it is true that for certain predatory or junk conferences the opposite would be the case. But for a legitimate conference with real standards, even if they are not the highest you can find, getting your paper accepted there would count at least as a modest achievement.

One can also debate whether a small chance of getting accepted to a top conference is better than a higher chance of getting accepted at a not so well-ranked conference. Those types of questions definitely deserve careful consideration. But as I said, a rejection from a top conference is by itself worth nothing, and thus by definition is an inferior “achievement” to anything else whose value isn’t strictly negative.

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Any accepted publication is better than no publication.

However, strong conferences usually have good reviewers providing useful feedback that will help you to get the paper in shape for another strong conference.

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    "Any accepted publication is better than no publication." No, a publication at a very poor conference/journal might (a.) not be perceived as positive, because the bar for acceptance is low, (b.) even be perceived as negative, because it signifies poor judgement in the selection of the venue. You don't want your name to be associated with poor-quality stuff. Sep 3 at 10:39
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    Not all weak venues are s*itty venues. It could be a WS aimed at students/early researchers in an excellent conference. Sep 3 at 10:55
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    But you write "Any accepted publication". If you tone down that statement, it might be correct. Sep 3 at 11:06
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    I assume Eriks meant "Any accepted publication (in a real, peer-reviewed journal)", excluding the obvious trap predatory ones. Sep 3 at 13:02
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What do you mean by PhD admission, Dan? If you are at the MSc stage and looking to get onto a PhD programme, then having produced a paper worth consideration is already a nice plus. Timing is critical - if the paper is still in submission when the decision is taken, the prestige of the conference itself is more significant than the paper's ultimate fate.

If you are talking about one of several papers submitted to obtain a PhD, the situation is more delicate and rather depends on the mores and prejudices of the field you are in. But some general considerations are: (1) The thesis is to be judged on its quality, independent of the publication status of its parts. (2) Having been published is obviously a plus, having been publicised in a reputable place all the more. (3) Many people feel every paper should be submitted to the most prestigious journal and or conference where it has a smidgen of a chance (with people having widely varying opinions on how much that smidgen should be!).

Reading between the lines, by the way, it sounds to me like you might have dredged up a rather fly-by-night conference and your advisor said something like fergossakes don't even bother.

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  • I'm at MSc and I intend to apply to some PhD program by the end of this year. I'm honestly confused by some of the answers, some say that merely submitting it to a strong conference doesn't count anything, some others, like you, say otherwise. And I'm not sure if the "weak" conference I have in mind counts as a "fly-by-night" conference, it's an international conference and it has something like 60 % paper acceptance rate according to google, so I think it must have at least some standards. But none of us had heard of it before I searched for it.
    – jonesy
    Sep 5 at 2:51
  • 60% acceptance rate seems fairly high? My supervisor is very much in the "you need to submit (and get published) to high-quality venues". He puts particular weight on the acceptance rate, he considers getting into a conference with <30% acceptance rate good, Sep 6 at 0:49
  • Also to expand, much of his reasoning is you need to show (by the time you submit your thesis) that your work is accepted "by your peers", not wherever you can get it published. He argues that the reviewers will take this into account - although others in my faculty disagree so it's not universal. Sep 6 at 0:52

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