32

This has been puzzling me for a long time, I have seen professors and other academic people hang up their research papers on their doors. What is the purpose of this?

My first guess was they were announcing some important papers related to a class they are lecturing, so students can look at them without disturbing professor. This doesn't feel right because there are not many papers studied in a typical class and there is internet to announce these things.

As the time passed I started thinking it is a way of advertising. But, this also doesn't make sense because web pages exists to serve this purpose and few people come to visit the office physically.

Maybe this practice is limited to my country, but any answer is appreciated.

  • 9
    Which country are you talking about? – Massimo Ortolano Jan 19 '15 at 12:45
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    What? I see all kinds of things on office doors but haven't seen research papers... – ff524 Jan 19 '15 at 12:49
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    So people can read them, of course. – JeffE Jan 19 '15 at 13:04
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    I would like to add that another reason may be that the alternative of hanging reviewers is typically frowned upon. – Marc Claesen Jan 19 '15 at 13:55
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    If you hang them on the window, they block out the light. – Dave Clarke Jan 19 '15 at 16:18
52

In addition to the reasons mentioned by others, I think there may be something of the big-game trophy hunter about the practice: "Behold, visitor, I am a mighty scientist, capable of hunting the fearsome [prestigious journal]!"

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    ...or the near-extinct [generous funding agency]. – JeffE Jan 20 '15 at 2:58
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If you have worked hard on a specific research question and finally have your peers approve of your work through a review process, would you not want to display the result? Basically, it is one way in which to show any passer-by that, yes, something is actually accomplished within the walls of the office. I have seen many variants on the topic. I have seen a world map with journal article title and abstract tied with a string to a point on the map where the work was done.

Essentially, it is an analog analogue to a web page or site such as ResearchGate where you highlight your recent publications, in this case, of course, to students and peers in the department rather than a wider audience. The main purpose is, as you also point out, better served by a web site. But, if you end up waiting to for an audience with the professor, you may actually look at the posted paper and get to know something you would not necessarily otherwise check out. So, I think the main purpose now is "just" to display something that has taken time and effort with some pride.

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    On a side note, I worked in a lab where PhD Students were "suggested" to keep their latest poster in some wall close to their desk, which turned to be quite useful every time a visitor arrived. Papers may not be so "visually catchy" at a first glance. On a side (joke) note, robotics departments can become cool places to visit if this kind of demos become standard, not so much for others, like epidemics research. – Trylks Jan 19 '15 at 13:40
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    I've seen just the first page printed rather large so the abstract is easy to read before as well. – Chris H Jan 19 '15 at 17:48
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There's often a good reason to post something on an office door: many academic buildings have long corridors of similar looking office doors, so posting something on it helps an office stand out. It doesn't really matter what; once your students (or colleagues!) have found your office, it's easier for them to find it again, because it's easier for most people to spot visual cues like the paper titles and even just the arrangement of papers rather than the door number or remembering it's the third door.

As for why papers, I assume a combination of being proud of the accomplishment and hoping one might catch the eye of a passerby, student or colleague. The audience who sees it is quite different from the people likely to look at the list of papers on a website.

13

For the same reason that a house has pictures of the family living it, or a photographer who has some of its fine prints in his studio. Everyone is proud of what accomplished, so he/she displays it. Also, office walls need decoration as any other human living environment, so why not hanging the papers or the posters? They can also function as "wall of memory" or as "talking bibliography" of an academic's career.

5

I used to see this all the time in my undergraduate university, so I know just where you're coming from. While I never asked specifically about them, I may have an answer based purely on my experiences.

Whenever I had a meeting with one of my professors, I would usually arrive a couple minutes early and the professor would usually be finishing up their previous meeting with student/colleague/phone conversation. Obviously I wouldn't want to intrude until they were finished but I did want to be able to go in as soon as they were done, so I would loiter outside their office until I could go in. If the professor had some of their research papers up on or next to their door, I could scan the titles and quickly learn about some of the topics they were interested in and what work they had done recently. This wasn't something that I would look up on their website, it was just something I could quickly learn about them in two minutes and file away for later. If they've published on something I was interested in, I could mention it in our meeting. If I was utterly confused and had no interest, no harm done. I always thought of it as a way for professors to market themselves to students who don't see them very often and are more acquaintances to the professor or department. Or perhaps like magazines that medical offices put in the waiting room - they're not supposed to send a message, they're there to pass the time and if you're in the mood for it you can learn something.

So in short, I think the papers are there to reach out to the audience that wouldn't look at your website and doesn't know a lot about your field, but may be interested either in your work or in learning something new about your field of study.

  • What kind of departments? and what country/type of school? Conference posters I commonly see on doors, but research papers never. – Kimball Jan 20 '15 at 15:06
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    The school was in the United States and I used to see papers on doors of biology, math, neuroscience, and physiology professors. The school had conference posters up in general hallway areas, but offices were tucked away from the main hallways so there usually weren't many posters. Also usually the posters highlighted undergraduate student research, not the research of the professors. – pocketlizard Jan 20 '15 at 15:29
  • Interesting, I'm in the US (in math) and have never noticed this. I'll need to keep an eye out. (By the way, by conference posters I meant posters that advertise a conference a professor may have a personal interest in, not student research posters presented at conferences--indeed, those are usually just up in hallways or bulletin boards.) – Kimball Jan 20 '15 at 16:21
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    It might also be worth mentioning that this school was focused on teaching undergraduates, particularly those in the health professions. The papers may also have been there to show focused students what a life in academia (versus applied medicine) was like. Thanks for the clarification on the conference posters - I was clearly thinking of research posters! – pocketlizard Jan 20 '15 at 18:43
5

Who can say for sure but the professors in question? It may simply be a cheap and considerate way of letting interested colleagues or students have access to a hard copy, avoiding both the inconvenience of continually being asked to provide one or the awkwardness and waste that comes with offering a copy to one who doesn't wish to read it. A habit retained from a pre-digital age, perhaps.

A long time ago in an Oxford college far away, the majority of my peers attempted to confine academic work to a couple of busy hours mid-morning, leaving the rest of the day free for the usual business of undergrads (traditionally smoking, drinking or various means of working up a sweat). The hours 9-12 were when most of the undergraduate assignments were handed in, new ones were handed out, lectures were attended and tutorials were grimly endured by all parties. To avoid constant interruption during these busy hours when they were frequently tutoring, several tutors would keep the doors to their rooms firmly shut and only communicate with the wider world via the envelopes pinned thereon. Assignments for students to collect, student essays awaiting appraisal, reading lists and wotnot, would all pass through the vertical mailbox system on the outside of the tutor's door.

4

My experience is that this is mostly done to communicate new publications and general scientific progress to the rest of the department.

Specially in larger departments that cover different sub fields, this is a way to externalize what everyone is doing. Posting the abstract/first page of a published paper in the communal area was encouraged and widely adopted in my previous Computer Science department.

Although most researches also post newly published papers to their website, having these new papers on their door or in a communal area (kitchen or water cooler) is a nice way to share what is going on in the department. I rarely check my colleagues' websites, but I enjoy reading abstracts or the first page of their papers when I encounter them.

1

In addition to the other good answers, four good reasons noone's mentioned yet:

  1. Not every student/research partner/ visitor will have an academic login or online access to journals/JSTOR/proceedings/whatever, or in that discipline. That stuff costs big bucks.

  2. Especially people from industry, prospective students, auditing students, people from other departments/disciplines [1], high school students, visitors, journalists, friends and family of any of the above.

  3. Even if they have online access, they may not know the keywords to search or their correspondence across different disciplines. Huge example: the terminology in data science machine learning vs statistics is seriously not standardized. Ditto EE/CS.

  4. Or be aware of developments in related fields, e.g. Neural Nets, SVM, HMM, clustering.

[1] For example EE and CS academics [in Europe] almost live in different universes, which is sad because they miss a lot of valuable stuff from each other. Ditto, mathematicians, statisticians.

Anyway this practice seems perfectly fine unless the degree of self-citation gets excessive/ silly/ petty/ vain. Also, it's customary not to just display your own, but your grad students'/ co-researchers'/ other key papers. It beats the usual Calvin and Hobbes.

-3

I agree. It sounds somewhat ridiculous and archaic. My first attempt at an answer would be pride/arrogance or desire to impress.

You know what I would do? If I were a professor on the same cell-block as the other professors, I'd deliberately not hang anything up on my door except my business card with my own personal web site address where all my papers are located.

My door would look more orderly and professional because of that.

  • 4
    This answer includes what you prefer to do instead of why people do hang up their papers on their doors. – Enthusiastic Engineer Jan 20 '15 at 9:20
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    Why not a QR code leading to the web site address and a calendar with the current year (currently "2015") in big print? – Trylks Jan 20 '15 at 12:29
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    "Archaic" would be more appropriate if it referred to something predating the lifetimes of the professors. It seems inappropriate for merely predating lifetimes of college students. – user2338816 Jan 21 '15 at 5:59
  • @Trylks : because most journals and almost all conferences will not let you freely redistribute your publications. A QR code to a paywall is worse than useless. – smci Jan 22 '15 at 2:00

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