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I am recently writing my statement of purpose (or research statement, if you prefer this) for my graduate school applications (in the field of EECS). I have two conference publications, paper_A in one mediocre conference (1st author) and paper_B in one famous (but not yet top-tier) conference (2nd author).

I am completely happy with paper_A, despite its publishing venue being mediocre, simply because I did it completely myself and knew exactly why I was doing that. So I had a great time talking about that work in my statement.

On the contrary, paper_B, although accepted by a famous conference, really tortures and discourages me a lot while I am writing about it. Being the 2nd author, I now feel that there doesn't make much sense doing that work, and what we have claimed is weak and untenable. While elaborating on paper_B in the statement, I even gradually lost all the confidence about myself, which I have gained from writing about paper_A!

My targeted schools are those top-tier schools. So I am afraid this slipshod piece of research may even backfire, since the critical faculty may find my work lousy.

So should I simply delete that paper from my statement and CV? But, its publishing venue is indeed a famous and widely acceptable one. Or should I present the complete me to the committee with all my works? But, will that piece of slipshod research backfire and hurt me?

P.S.: One side information that may help. paper_A is in the area that I wish to apply for, and paper_B is more like a side work, which I don't wish to continue in my graduate research.

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  • From my POV, a weak paper is still better than sitting in the sofa doing nothing.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 28 '14 at 19:45
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    @Davidmh: Weak is much better; "nonsense" may not be. Oct 29 '14 at 2:31
  • To the OP: have you spoken to anyone about your doubts on the merit of a paper published in a "famous conference"? It seems natural that you would enjoy writing about and even value more the work that you were completely and solely involved in than work done under someone's direction. But are you sure that paper_B will be viewed by others as less valuable? Why did it get published in such a good conference? Oct 29 '14 at 2:34
  • @PeteL.Clark Well... The reviewers' comments point out a fatal flaw, and another professor who read the paper pointed out the same thing. And we indeed missed that point out during our research. That point is kinda like the foundation of the paper. If it is gone, then the whole paper reads like nonsense. So I feel it is really bad... Oct 29 '14 at 12:09
  • @Farticle: Why was the paper published if the reviewers found a "fatal flaw"? Anyway, I think it would be good to talk to others about this, including your faculty advisor. But in my opinion, if you really feel like the paper is "wrong", it would be best not to discuss it in your application materials. Oct 29 '14 at 17:44
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As an undergraduate, you are not responsible for the scope and scale of research you are not directly leading. If a graduate student or PI is the one in charge of the work, you will not be "dragged through the mud" for having worked on it. In general, you are given the benefit of the doubt—you are asked to contribute to a project, and you do it.

I don't think any committee is going to take a dim view of having published two conference papers while still an undergraduate. (And any committee that does probably represents a department you don't want to be at.)

If you are concerned about the impact, though, I would mention but not emphasize it. If you don't mention it at all, and somehow it turns up later on, it will raise more red flags than if you at least mention it in passing.

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  • Point taken. Yes, it is mainly the PhD's work. I should have opted out. But to be honest, I didn't realize that this is nonsense back then. Thanks, sir. So when you say "mention", do you mean mentioning that paper with 3 or 4 sentences? More than that or fewer? Oct 28 '14 at 13:18
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    I was thinking just one or two sentences. Again, it's not really your work, so don't worry about it too much.
    – aeismail
    Oct 28 '14 at 13:24
  • I'm not thrilled about the sentiment that "it's not really your work". If the OP is an author of the paper, then according to well-established academic ethics, it really is his work. Oct 28 '14 at 14:56
  • I do agree with the rest of the answer though, except: I don't think the OP is obligated to mention the work unless a complete list of publications is asked for. It is not beyond all plausibility that not mentioning a piece of work could be the better choice. Oct 28 '14 at 15:18
  • @PeteL.Clark: What I meant by "not really your work" is that while the OP has contributed to the paper, the OP is also unlikely to take any flak if the paper is weak—at least relative to the first and contributing authors. (Perhaps I should have said it's not the OP's project.)
    – aeismail
    Oct 28 '14 at 19:16

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