I am a MSc graduate student, still trying to get a PhD position, but with no success at all. During and after my graduation I struggle to publish some articles (right now I got 6, mostly published in IEEE conferences or indexed in Scopus), but I do not feel happy at all.

The problem is that I see my publications as having a lack of public interest. I would like to publish more interesting, formal and mathematical stuff (I am in the field of Computer Science), but the problem that I have is that in my current place of work almost all my time is dedicated to lecturing. Also, and because I am working in a university of applied sciences; the research made here is highly applicable and less theoretical. All this things has put me in a state of deep depression.

What should I do to start looking to my research and my made publications with a different attitude? Should I seek for medical counselling?


  • 21
    I think all research suffers from a lack of public interest. I'm surprised that applied science makes you depressed. Theory definitely won't have much public interest. Dec 1, 2014 at 21:37
  • 12
    (right now I got 6, That is too many papers for a master student. You maybe were able to publish, but that does not necessarily mean good papers.
    – seteropere
    Dec 1, 2014 at 22:18
  • 10
    Should I seek for medical counselling? If you are suffering from a clinical depression, certainly. What you have described in this post are feelings. Seek medical help if your feelings are adversely affecting your general well-being (which may or may not be the case for you - only you know).
    – ff524
    Dec 1, 2014 at 23:52
  • 2
    "deep depression" - yes go ask a good councellor about it. Here is a very helpful checklist that might reassure you whether you need to or not: beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/signs-and-symptoms As a person prone to depression, I can highly recommend actually getting good help. There's nothing to loose from trying it out (help). Dec 2, 2014 at 2:00
  • 3
    When you say "public interest", do you mean that you want ordinary people to be interested in your work, or do you just mean other academics? Dec 2, 2014 at 9:27

6 Answers 6


What should I do to start looking to my research and my made publications with a different attitude?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that your problem isn't that you are working in applied sciences vs. theory. Further, I am not sure if your problems are of medical nature (but this can of course not be ruled out from what you wrote). Let me recap some things you wrote and provide some interpretation. I am not sure to what extend this will answer your question, but I hope my ramblings will provide input and perspective anyways. Maybe somebody else will provide a more direct answer to the question.

You are a master student who published 6 papers during his masters at a university of applied sciences. All of the papers have been in IEEE/Scopus venues. Yet you still can't get a PhD position.

First of, IEEE conferences or indexed in Scopus isn't the quality label you maybe hope it is. There are terrible venues for which both of these things are true. The fact that you say you have very little time for research, and still wrote 6 of those things indicates that the quality of your papers may be not all that super. If this is the case, the problem that prevents your papers from having impact isn't that they are applied, it is that they may simply not be very good.

This may also be the issue with your PhD applications. For me, and many others, papers below a certain (subjective) quality standard count for next to nothing. Really bad papers may actively work against you. Again, "IEEE conferences or indexed in Scopus" does not rule out either of these cases, so try to evaluate your publications independently of these labels. For instance, pick a few PhD student papers from the group that you are applying to. Try to neutrally evaluate whether your papers play in the same league as those. If all papers of PhD students of the prof. or lab you are applying to are much better, and/or have appeared in much better venues than your papers, I am uncertain how much your publications will help your case.

You worry that your papers do not have a strong impact.

I think this point warrants some additional explanation. One of the sad realities of research is that most papers in all but the very top venues of your field (think ICSE or CHI for applied computer science) have very little to zero impact on the research community - and even the papers in the top venues often have close to zero impact on anybody outside your research community. Papers that really get the attention of your fellow researchers are few and far between. I have written papers that I personally consider good to great, which remain pretty much uncited (and, presumably, almost unread) to this day.

You want to progress as a researcher, but you work almost exclusively as a lecturer.

Try to see your situation as it is. Similarly to above, your problem isn't so much that you are working in a university of applied sciences - your problem is that your current position is incompatible with your career goals. You want to do research, but your job is teaching. Your situation would be none the better if you worked as a pure lecturer in a research institution (maybe this would in fact be even more frustrating for you). What you need to do is either (a) find a job or stipend that allows you to do what you want to do, or (b) accept that you are currently not on a research track.

  • I would imagine it may be helpful to ask for someone else's help is evaluating the quality of the papers and looking for ways to improve. Who would be an appropriate person to ask?
    – jpmc26
    Dec 3, 2014 at 3:00
  • 1
    Can I read one of your papers that isn't highly cited? I'm always interested in good publications that get overlooked.
    – James
    Dec 3, 2014 at 4:23

I think that to be happy in research, you have to be doing it for you. Not for external validation.

Are the papers that you published in your opinion good? Did it give you fulfillment completing them?

And ... most importantly ... are you looking forwards to doing more? Looking forwards purely because you like doing them, and it fulfills your academic curiosity?

If the answer to these is no, then you may have a problem of doing what you're doing for external validation (IE you want to feel good about yourself based on what others say about you).

As a comparatively senior (age) person I can tell you from life's experience that this is a recipe for depression. In order to have a fulfilling life, you need your validation to be coming from inside. If you are relying on others for your self-worth, you are always going to be let down.

This is true in any field of life, but especially so in academia, where lets face it no-one really cares about your little area, no matter what it is (unless you are one of the lucky lucky few ... do you want to base your happiness on that chance?).

This stuff sounds simple but can be hard to get your head around and mentally fix up. A good counsellor can help a lot: you don't need to go to them because you are "depressed", you can go even if you are basically healthy but need to have your self validation improved to enjoy life more. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is one good technique for this, if you are wondering what "kind" of help to look for.


Aim High, target top conferences and take your time when doing research.

@xLeitix gave a nice answer. I would speak from my experience here.

I was in a similar situation when I finished my Master degree. I published several papers with my advisor, all in ranked C conferences and two in unreputable journals. This was partially because I was new to research. I thought publishing anything anywhere is something good; obviously this was not true. I am now 2 years into my PhD and I have not published a single paper. The result: I am happy now that I have a manuscript that has a good chance to be accepted in a top conference.

I assume part of your feeling of depression is because you do not believe in your results. You do not see them as being as good as other (even uncited) related results. This might be true. And this is a good sign that you are in the right track of becoming expert in your field. Take your time in doing research. Instead of publishing every single small idea you have, try to combine them into one more solid paper. The bottom line: if you work on something, you have to believe in its merits and fight for it.

For theoretic versus applied research, I believe this is a personal preference and interest more than anything else. If you see yourself more as someone who is into the theoretic aspects of the problem, then do theoretic research. Either ways, the joy of research is that 1) you give crazy ideas a try 2) believe what you did is something really good 3) people (at least the reviewers) either admit it is good or provide a learning experience through constructive criticism.


If you really want to write for the public, consider trying to write "popularizing" articles for magazines/newspapers/websites that the public reads. There's definitely a market for well-written articles that explain new discoveries -- or even old discoveries, interesting techniques, and basic principles -- on a level suitable to someone who is science-literate, generally curious, but not deeply steeped in your field.

Scientific American used to have magnificent examples of this kind of writing, though my perception is that they've gone downhill in recent years. Technology Review magazine often has good examples, though they're obviously biased toward articles contributed by the MIT community.

Steven Jay Gould's extended series of essays in Natural History magazine were a great example of explaining fairly subtle aspects of science -- and of the history of science -- in near-layman's language. Anthologies exist covering just about the entire run -- including pieces where he corrected his own prior essays when new information became available.

As a much older example of the scientific essay form, Berton Rouche was just about synonymous with the "medical mystery" form, in which a puzzling (preferably real) case is presented in semi-story form, which is then used as a springboard to discussion of the biology, chemistry, history, diagnostic technique, or whatever else the essay is really about. Most of his pieces were originally published in a magazine (the New Yorker?) but subsequently collected into anthologies; it shouldn't be too hard to find them and they're fun reading if you're a scientific omnivore.

Of course those two were excellent writers as well as having scientific knowledge. I'm just suggesting that, if your focus is on the public, that's the kind of ideal you might aspire to. You'd need to be able to write well and clearly, have something to talk about which they'll find interesting (or that you can quickly convince them they should be interested in), and be able to discuss it in terms of things they're already likely to have at least some knowledge of (or be able to define your terms as you go without losing the reader along the way).

Of course as with any kind of writing, don't expect it to come quickly or easily. Popularizing articles are a craft of their own, the market isn't huge, expect to see lots of rejection letters unless you're "self-publishing" onto the web (fewer as you hone your craft)... all the usual platitudes and advice about writing for the public apply.

And as Gould demonstrated, this can be done alongside a productive research career producing results not immediately accessible to the public. Doing both simultaneously is a lot more work, but it's one way to reconcile the conflicting goals of advancing the field and advancing public knowledge about the field.


You are not alone

I somewhat recently wrote a paper that makes multithreaded programming easier, guarantees that there are no data races and offers more optimization potential. Seeing how multithreading is one of the major topics at the moment and how much my system improves that I expected to get the Turing Award by now. I sent my paper to a couple of experts on the matter and only got one replay that said sorry no time. The conference I sent it to said Sorry, this is off-topic this year. I am not even convinced my professor actually read it. This is probably the greatest contribution to science of my life and nobody cares. It is indeed very frustrating.

Medical help

Seeking medical help will most likely not work out for you. I am no psychologist but the gist of it is that if you get sad because something bad happened that is normal and there is nothing to be done about it. If good things happen to you and you still get sad for no reason that is a depression that can be treated. Seeing that you are upset about a real problem, solving the problem will help whereas therapy will not.

Solving the problem

Send the paper and presentations or articles about it to conferences and journals. When they reject your paper (they will!) they will give you reasons. Some of those reasons actually make sense, so you can fix your paper. Find local meetups or study groups to present it and get feedback. Sometimes you just didn't word the point in a way that people understand it and in a live audience someone may ask the correct question. Keep improving the paper. Make real applications that solve real problems, don't just keep to theory and paper writing. This is a lot of work that we should not need to do and are not particularly good at, but I hope eventually someone will "discover" us and it will be worth it.


Don't give up, keep at it.

  • 1
    This medical advice is wrong and irresponsible. Feeling sad about something to the point that it affects your general well-being is a mental health issue that can and should be treated, regardless of whether you are sad for a "real" reason or not.
    – ff524
    Dec 4, 2014 at 3:26

I was always thinking about the visibility issues and finally I come up with a reasonable strategy, I also hope that these steps can improve the data dissemination of your research.

  1. I may suggest using arXiv preprint server for your works and of course you should have a web page and googlescholar account.
  2. If you developed a simulator for your work, try to improve it a bit and make it opensource (upload it to github or something similar).
  3. Prepare a walk-through for your simulator and upload to youtube.
  4. Prepare a presentation for your paper and prepare a video of your presentation and just the sound via a video editing tool. Uploading this presentation to youtube also improves the visibility and dissemination of your findings.

P.S. You should start with the work that you are most satisfied :)

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