I am already at the end of my 2nd year of PhD studies. Currently, I do not have a publication in a journal; however, I have few published proceedings from conferences. I have chosen my own research topic, which is not a traditional PhD topic in my discipline, and I work mostly independently on it. Just for the set up.

The thing is, there are many interesting PhD workshops (basically conferences - you need to send a working paper), where I would love to attend just for the opportunity to meet other young scientists, see what they are working on (mainly to be able to compare it with my own research), present my own work, and similarly... Nevertheless, when I submit my work to them, I get rejected, almost always. No feedback given, only something bland such as: "we had many brilliant works, we had to reject few of them".

Well, noone needs to give me the feedback, I know, I know... So where is the problem...? The problem is that, recently, I have written an article I really love and believe in. Most importantly, the article is currently under review in one of the most prestigeous journals (D1), so I guess it has a merit (knowing that this journal does not hold back with desk rejections, as that was the fate of my previous article).

So, I feel a certain cognitive disonance: I send this paper to PhD workshops and it gets rejected, however more prestigeous entity gives it a chance?

How shall I read this?

  • Is my paper bad and the journal just honors me with a review process since I already tried to send something there?
  • Is my research so specific that conference committees do not give it a chance but the journal does?
  • May committees focus primarilly on CVs? Do they accept only people who have already published in journal?
  • What do PhD workshops even look for?
  • 9
    Have you asked your advisor or at least run your work past them?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 10 at 19:48
  • 1
    @BryanKrause Well, this would lead to an additional question, I suppose. :D So, in short, I study at a small department in a small country. My PhD advisor is from a different field (pure mathematics) than the one I would like to profile myself in (Philosophy/Economics). There are similarities between the fields and he still may be the best advisor I could realistically get, however, I cannot send him my papers, because he just cannot read/understand them due to lack of formulas (his words). That's why I need to work mostly independently... And search for feedback elsewhere.
    – Athaeneus
    Commented Jan 10 at 19:58
  • 9
    The whole point of a PhD is getting training to develop as a researcher. I suspect you will struggle and should expect to fail, as would nearly anyone, without sufficient supervision. The situation you describe does not sound tenable; I think you are seeing the effects in not knowing why your work isn't seen as suitable in the field (or maybe these workshops are not suitable to your work). StackExchange won't be able to replace a competent advisor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 10 at 20:26
  • 5
    Additionally, who is going to decide you've earned your degree if your advisor cannot read your papers? I think this is an issue to resolve sooner rather than later, before you've put in too much more time.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:00
  • 2
    You say you have published proceedings from conferences, good. Did you go and present (talk, poster) at those conferences? Anyway, there does seem to be some community that you fit into, so perhaps selecting events closer in topic to those conferences might have a better yield?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 10 at 22:43

4 Answers 4


My best guess is that your papers are considered out of scope for the conference or workshop. That can easily happen without feedback. You also say the topic is non-traditional.

My experience (different field) is that your third bullet is incorrect. Committees I'm aware of take advice from reviews on the work itself.

I'd guess that most committee (or program) chairs would respond to a polite note asking why the paper was rejected. It might be just too many competitive papers, in which case you need better papers, but it might just be the scope issue above.

Your advisor might give you some feedback on that as well.

  • I always ask them when they reject me. The standard reply is that they cannot provide me with detailed feedback. Yes, they sometimes state that the workshop is highly competitive (the record was 30 spots for something around 250 submissions, with the usual being 20 spots for 100 submissions). But then, can I interpret this as my paper being bad, if it is in the review of prestigeous journal? On the other hand, can the journal be just nice?
    – Athaeneus
    Commented Jan 10 at 20:04
  • 2
    Working without an effective advisor is very risky, I'll note. Not everyone can be successful at it.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jan 10 at 21:25

I feel like I've experienced just the opposite. I rarely, and I am profoundly thankful of it, been rejected to a workshop and their funding. I did my PhD in biochemistry with computational biology. My system was profoundly basic science: protein folding. Despite the essence of my research, we even got the "paper of the year award" with the journal of my first paper. I have several colleagues and fellow candidates that were less lucky on that regard, and the difference I could clearly tell between our applications is how do you explain your problem to a broader audience, and how do you interest them in your solution. Yeah, I know this is easy to say, but I think it is quite important to:

  1. assume the people at the conferences are not experts in your topic. Sometimes they are, yet a highly specific and methodic paper usually pushes people's interest away. Try to give them the bigger picture, even if your problem is as elemental as mine.
  2. make your solution reachable. I know writing a paper requires you to put the specifics of the methods. But we do that in length when we have plenty of space. When you are a bit more restrained in that term, try to just stick to the elementals of your approach, i.e. in my case 'molecular dynamics', 'computational approaches', 'biological modeling', so remember that the main point of an abstract/paper is to make yourself understood to everyone who is reading it, and not to confuse the reader with fancy words.

I think there is a learning curve, the more exposure you get, the more you learn how to interest people in your research, get contacts and essentially learn a lot, which is the main goal of a PhD. My advisor taught me plenty on how to do this, by reviewing my applications when I just started. He is still quite an interesting invitee to conferences, so that helped me a lot. For us, third world resrarchers, going to a meeting in Europe or USA is quite expensive, and we normally lack the resources to do so. Thus, funding is really crucial to us and making good applications so important as well. Don't give up, it is a struggle, it is frustrating, but if you stop exposing yourself then everything becomes just worse. From your points, I just believe that you are not putting yourself out there in the best light. Again, it has nothing to do with intelligence nor how good is your research, but mostly with how interesting and approachable do you seem to other researchers/fellow students. Sorry for the long reply, but I sincerely hope that I showed you that it is just experience and soft skills. Bests of luck!


It might well be that your working papers get rejected there for very superficial reasons. The selection committee will often handle a huge amount of submissions and work hard at first whittling it down to a manageable size. They might first check whether your paper looks like it belongs to the field.

In economics conferences, you might run into trouble if you write in Word (in theoretical subfields), use a note citation style, or do your statistical analysis in SPSS. All these things shout that you are not part of the community. However, nobody will ever tell you that your paper was rejected for such reasons; these reasons do not look scientific enough. Journals might be willing to take more time to check whether there is something in an unconventional-looking submission.

During your PhD, you need not just learn the in and outs of your research topic, you also need to learn the in and outs of the research community. These are the people that will referee your work and decide about acceptance at conferences and journals. If they are not willing to buy, you will not be willing to sell. Usually, your advisor should serve as a guide to that community.


Papers for PhD workshops and journals are inherently different, at least in the field of computer science. There, the goal of a PhD workshop is not to present your latest results but your PhD project itself. Hence, your paper for a PhD workshop should provide

  • a general motivation for your project
  • some background explaining the basic techniques/concepts of your area
  • a literature review clarifying why your PhD project is novel
  • an overview of your (published) results so far
  • an outlook how your PhD project will advance the field

While the general ideas of each section are similar to a scientific paper, the scope of these sections is very wide (your whole project). This could be the reason why you got accepted at conferences and a review in the journal but rejected by PhD workshops.

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