I am a graduate student in engineering whose work includes a lot of programming and implementation of the developed theories. I am not a computer scientist, but I am a fairly skilled programmer, at least when compared to other people in the field.
In the recent months I went to a few conferences and to meetings with partners participating in my research project. In most cases my supervisor attends these events as well. We do not have the same background, and while I get a lot of support from him, there are some gaps where he is not proficient and does not have a good overview, especially about the amount of work required to get something implemented. In such tasks we have a relation that is based on trust that I am doing a correct job, which gets disrupted when other researchers are involved, as described in the continuation.
At such events I have encountered the problem that some people boldly enquire why I did not research or develop a particular (usually irrelevant) feature, and give suggestions for the extension of the work which are far beyond the scope of my project and time. This is especially the case about programming, and it comes from people who have never implemented anything. For some of the suggestions, I would need my own research team and a few years of funding. And sometimes the people asking such questions try to show-off in front of others by trivialising my research. This is annoying. And this situation gets worse when I give a simplified presentation of my work in order to make it more understandable to a wider audience. On conferences I see that other young researchers experience the same problem. Indeed I am a young researcher and it may look like I am overestimating my work, but I have a good overview of the field and I have no issues with suggestions that require an additional but reasonable amount of work. My papers so far all got good reviews, and at my department I am one of the most productive graduate students, which makes me confident that I am on the right path and do more than enough work.
While I tend to ignore such demands, this puts me in a difficult position when it is about a topic where my supervisor does not have expertise. My supervisor gets a wrong impression that I am not doing a right job, and that my work is basic touching only the tip of the iceberg. Other people in the audience instantly get such opinion as well. This escalated today when I have received a very good review of a paper that I have submitted with my supervisor. From the beginning I was very confident about the work, however, when presenting it around, I run into issues described above. So the comment of my supervisor on the review was “I am happy to see that you have improved your work after the initial hiccups and confusion. You did not research what others told you to do, so we have been lucky here.” This was really annoying because my work was never in question, and from day one I have followed the same path and did not encounter any difficulty. So this gives you an idea how much such comments on conference may influence one’s opinion about a work.
Is there a general way how to deal with such situations at conferences and meetings? Luckily I have not encountered this behaviour during peer-reviews, but if I had, it'd be easier because it doesn't require an instant reaction.
I have some generic answers such as:
- “Thanks for your suggestion. I have been thinking about this, but it requires too much work, and that is outside the scope of my project. Further, it would not significantly contribute to the value of the work.”
- “I have considered it, but I don’t find it of interest, so I have decided not to do it. If you are interested in this topic, I invite you to collaborate.”
- “That seems to be an interesting point. We can discuss this at the break in further details.”
but sometimes they do not give the desired outcome because people can be persistent.