19

My question is similar to this one but it applies to PhD who wants to find a postdoc position after graduation.

I am a PhD student who publishes a new paper as soon as there is an improvement in my research. Each year, I manage to publish 2 or 3 papers into high quality conferences but not the top one in my field.

Recently, a senior researcher suggests me to combine few improvements into one paper so that it will have more improvements in comparison to the previous one. It will result in less papers per year but increase the difference in term of research contribution between them. She argues that, in order to get into a good postdoc programme, the quality of paper is more important than the quantity and I should aim for top conference in the field with very high quality paper instead of good-but-not-great conference.

I wonder if my colleague's suggestion is correct and I should reduce the number of published papers per year in order to increase the difference in research contribution between them.

My field is computer science but answers from other fields are also welcome.

  • Obviously your advisor thinks they are quality papers and approves of this strategy since he/she has been letting you do it for years. I'm shocked you haven't graduated yet at that rate. Are you sure they are good conferences? – Austin Henley Dec 21 '14 at 4:44
  • Well, the Admissions committee will be evaluating your papers against someone else's. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 21 '14 at 12:51
15

I don't know what publication rates are typical in computer science, but in mathematics it is true that quality is more important than quantity, when it comes to getting postdocs and competitive research positions.

This does not mean quantity is irrelevant. But postdocs are partially given based on your promise as a researcher. To that end, one truly excellent paper may be enough to land a job (along with good references), because it suggests you have the potential to produce more excellent papers. On the other hand, 10 truly mediocre papers is not likely to be as impressive, because it only shows you can publish lots of mediocre papers.

  • in mathematics it is true that quality is more important than quantity — This is also true in computer science. – JeffE Dec 20 '14 at 4:19
12

I need to disagree somewhat with the other answers posted. Publication quality is very important. Do not, however, confuse quality of a publication with the impact factor of the venue where it is sent.

If you have completed a piece of work that is significant for a narrow community, then you should publish it in an appropriate place for that community to be able to find it. This can be a high quality publication and good for your citation indices, even if it is not a high impact factor venue, if it is the right place for the paper.

High impact venues typically require research that is more broadly relevant. High impact venues are definitely better for your reputation and future career. You cannot, however, turn several narrow papers worth of research into a broad paper just by stacking their results together. Rather, you need to take a step back and look deeper into the work that you are doing. The postdoc from the answer by @user3550416 is a good example: those five new-species publications in obscure journals are probably in the right places, and the important decision is to start looking for deeper analyses rather than more species.

Finally, getting obsessed with high impact can get you into big trouble because you are placing more weight on less outcomes in an unpredictable process. If you are shooting too high for the work that you are doing, you might end up going a long time without a publication, and feeling increasing pressure because each individual publication is so high stakes. Likewise, you place yourself in danger of getting scooped, which is much less of a worry if you are publishing at regular intervals.

In short: do not think of this in terms of adjusting the unit size of packaging a homogeneous product. Instead, look at it in terms of how you scope the work that you are doing in order to make your research products more broadly relevant.

8

My idea of how to evaluate the candidate is completely orthogonal to what you are asking.

1) What counts towards evaluating your research potential is what you proved and what tools you developed. You can put 15 theorems into one paper, and the theorem count will still be 15. You can repeat the same idea in 20 different variations in 20 papers and the idea count will still be 1. You can have 3 tricks and publish 7 papers with all possible non-empty combinations of them and the trick count will still be 3.

2) What is derived from how you split and group your results for publication is your maturity as a writer. At the graduate or postdoc level, as far as I can tell, almost nobody cares about this aspect because it is commonly assumed that the choices here are made not as much by you as by your mentors and advisers (especially if the publications are either joint with them, or just thank them for helpful advice anywhere in the text).

3) Ideally, a single paper should contain a single statement. This statement may be simple or complicated, long or short, a startling novelty or a small twist of a routine, etc., but it should be a statement that can be understood and digested as a single block like a sentence in a book. Of course, it is not always possible, but still this is what (in my eyes) determines where to put a comma and where a full stop when writing. The other considerations are far less relevant because you write not for the members of hiring committees, but for unknown people for most of whom you exist merely as a combination of the ideas you share and who do not care in the slightest about your personal status or reputation.

4) With all that said, if you want to land a good job, you need to show up on radars. So, write sparingly and concisely, but talk profusely. Don't hesitate to go to conferences, to meet with people, and to use any other opportunity to get acquaintances. Quite often "I see John is applying..."; "Yeah, Peter told me he would..."; "They also consider him at..." can secure you a position better than "Look, this theorem is just brilliant!"; "Theorem by whom, you said?"; "I cannot tell much because it is so far from my field, sorry...". The second approach works too, but you need to be really good to just throw things into the wind and see how they soar higher and higher. Most of us, poor mortals, need to hold the strings of our kites firmly and pay attention to their tension :-).

5

Coming from the marine sciences field, the impact factor (prestige) of the journal where you publish is more important than the number of papers you're able to churn in the short-term.

I know a post-doc who has published at least 5 papers in 3 years describing new species in different, but rather obscure, journals. This same person shared with me that he is currently working on papers with more analytical content to be submitted to more prestigious journals. He needs higher-profile publications to really boost up his resume.

So my recommendation would be to wait until you have some substantial findings that could lead to a quality publication in a high-profile journal or conference.

5

With time number of publications will be almost everything. The quality of the publications is usually determined by the impact factor of the journals in which they are published even though this under no circumstances is a guarantee for the quality. Now someone may easily object to this description but the point is simple. As a senior researcher you will have so many papers that no-one will read and evaluate them and so people resort to proxies for their evaluation. So what about your situation?

for early career scientists your list of publications is not that long and so it is more likely that people actually read all, some or parts of the papers apart from judging where they have been published. In an early career your number of citation will not be large since it takes time for the impact of a paper to become known. All this points at the importance to not just be prolific but to also to have some stamps of quality in the list. This does not mean that publishing smaller or shorter studies in lower impact venues are bad.

I would argue that a healthy mix showing you are productive but also capable of quality productions is a good way. To provide a number is pointless because it is difficult to plan and succeed in publishing according to some plan within only a few years so people do generally expect quite varying types and number of publications. A short and condensed narrative that describes your research efforts can also help set the specifics of your list of publications in perspective.

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