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My graduate training is in an interdisciplinary field (bioinformatics). I am affiliated both with a genetics department and an interdepartmental program that encompasses everything from genetics to computer science to evolution to statistics to engineering. The life-science-oriented fields seem to place a lot of value in publishing papers in high-profile journals, whereas some of the more quantitative and technical fields (comp sci and engineering especially) seem to be focused on getting accepted to high-profile conferences with low acceptance rate. So far in graduate school, I have focused completely on publishing papers in journals and have not worried about getting into competitive conferences.

My question is twofold: first, is my assessment of the life sciences vs the quantitative sciences accurate? and second, should I consider submitting my research to competitive conferences in addition to journals? Will this make me more marketable as an interdisciplinary scientist down the road?

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I'll give you my own opinion, as something of an interdisciplinary scientist in a nearby field (I work in mathematical epidemiology) with publications in both places (the conference paper frankly by accident):

First, your impression is indeed correct. CS and related fields very heavily weight conference presentations and proceedings papers in ways the life sciences really don't.

In my mind, there's two things you should be considering:

  1. The opportunity to double-dip a bit. We had a question about this recently, but I think it applies to you as well. If your project has "Life science spin-offs" and "Computational science spin-offs", you can submit to both places. For example, I have a project that will end up living in both applied math journals and clinical journals. There's no reason you can't do both.
  2. This part is purely my opinion. When in doubt, I'd go for journal publications, for a few reasons. I've found most CS and technical people recognize that outside their field, its papers or nothing, better than the other way around. Journal papers are also more likely to get on the radar of people you want seeing your work, get indexed in PubMed (LNCS for example is not indexed in PubMed) etc. Those departments will also probably recognize your technical chops either via talking to you, the technical bent of your publications, or a few conference presentations.

I sympathize with your problem - it's sadly familiar. Generally, I'd try to figure out which audience you want to sell yourself to more, and do as they do.

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I can confirm the much heavier weight on conference publications in Computer Science. You should certainly consider publishing in high-profile conferences unless you want to shift your focus away from Computer Science.

The other thing I would add is that often conference publications become journal publications. This is mostly because of the page limits imposed by conferences -- short papers are often only 2 pages. There is also a fair number of Computer Science conferences that offer fast-track or special issue journal publication for the best papers. I think a lot of people in Computer Science do not consider publication at a conference or a journal, but rather conference first and then journal.

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As a "classically-trained" engineer who's moved into interdisciplinary work, I would argue that the weighting of conference papers seems to be restricted to computer science, rather than being generally true for "quantitative sciences."

For instance, I don't see any such strong preferences in mathematics, chemistry, or physics, and there's definitely no such bias in chemical engineering (my "home turf"). In engineering, perhaps this is because there aren't as many "prestigious" meetings, and because we don't submit anything more than abstracts in order to be considered for a presentation slot.

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I agree with @EpiGrad 's answer.

I'll also add that the lack of a deadlines for journals can reduce unnecessary stress and allows for a better revision process with reviewers. I've found that journal papers are consequently more polished and thorough compared with conference papers on similar topics.

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