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I am in 4th year postdoc working in applied math areas in which 1-3 papers a year is considered a good publication rate. I have been publishing 10-13 papers a year for the last 4-5 years (have never gone for a 'low-quality' journal as considered in my respective areas). I would think that my hardwork would be looked upon in a good way by my colleagues. But I gradually realized that some of my peers have been seeing this publication rate in negative spirit. I keep on having to explain them how I could publish so many papers - that I work hard is not a good answer for them. I feel strange that hardwork is being judged, e.g., the quality of my work, or that my coauthors may have worked harder than me, or that I might have found some low-hanging fruits, etc. I don't know how to deal with such a reverse peer-pressure.

Moreover, sometimes, merely answering that 'I work hard' may be taken offensively by the other person.

Is there any better ways to explain 'overproductivity' to peers, in a non-offending way, how I publish more (and good quality) papers than the average in my field?

This question may be related to Productive but not respected advisor - Should I continue with him? , though the OP also states that his advisor's citation count was 'too low' which I think is not the case here.

This question is definitely not meant to self-praising nor to demean my colleagues who are generally very nice people. I feel that this issue could come up when searching for permanent job-search and the search committees may also see the record in a wrong way adversely affecting my chances. Hence, the question.

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    You're working too hard. Other people may be working well, but people will always be compared to other people in any field. Your output of 300% is likely to negatively impact the workspace. – Compass Jun 22 '15 at 19:40
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    @Compass, Sometimes if I say 'I work too hard' in my response, then the other person may take it as if I am saying that 'he\she is not working hard'. This has actually happened to me before, even though I didn't mean in that way at all. – John Jun 22 '15 at 19:45
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    Surely you can say something more specific than "hard work", how do you work hard? how do you spend your time differently? Answer with the assumption that they work as hard or harder than you. – ryanpattison Jun 22 '15 at 20:12
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    @John "low hanging fruit" doesn't mean bad quality. It can mean that you have found a key understanding, and suddenly everything falls in place 4 times faster than the usual. I don't see that as a deprecation of your work, on the contrary, it may very well the cornerstone of a good deal of future work. – Davidmh Jun 22 '15 at 20:30
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    It's worth addressing the quality question head-on. If I met a person with very high output, I would be suspicious that the output was of low quality, i.e., making the wrong quality-vs-quantity tradeoff, or engaged in a LPU strategy. E.g.: Are you sure your output is of high quality (good journals publish bad papers all the time)? Are you sure you are publishing in chunks that best serve the field, rather than LPU? Etc. Why? Some of the resistance you are encountering is likely to be skepticism that these things are really true. – Reid Jun 23 '15 at 17:26

14 Answers 14

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I'm not surprised that hard work isn't considered a convincing answer. It's not plausible that you are putting in four times as many hours as your peers. Hardly anyone actually works a hundred hours per week, and even that would achieve a fourfold increase only if your peers are putting in just twenty-five hours. Instead, it's possible that you are working far more efficiently than your peers, but that's a tricky answer to give. You'll offend people if it comes across as "I'm probably just smarter than you are" or "you sure must be wasting a lot of time", and you won't look good if it comes across as "I cut corners to try to rush my work into print as quickly as I can".

One common attitude in mathematics is that publishing a lot of papers is a waste of your potential: if you have the time and energy to do that, then you should be spending it trying to write better papers, not more papers. How strongly this is felt depends on the subfield, so I don't know whether it applies to your area. To the extent it does, there may be no compelling explanation you can give for publishing a lot of good papers but no fantastic papers. (If you are publishing some fantastic papers, then you don't need to worry about this.)

Is there any better ways to explain 'overproductivity' to peers, in a non-offending way, how I publish more (and good quality) papers than the average in my field?

Probably not. Your peers might simply be envious, in which case they already feel bad about the productivity difference and there's probably nothing you can say to make them feel better about it. (They might need to vent to a friend about how frustrated they are or talk with a mentor about how to improve, but they probably aren't looking for an earnest conversation with you about how you manage to accomplish so much more than they do.) Or your peers might have legitimate concerns about your approach, in which case no boilerplate explanation will address the concerns and you'd be better off discussing this issue with a trusted mentor instead. Either way, I don't think you should interpret their questions as genuine requests for information, but rather as complaints. There's probably no simple answer that will change their minds.

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    Thanks. In my areas, more papers is usually better. Anyway, I can certainly ignore my colleagues in a polite way. But I was more worried about someone judgmental in the future search committees during my job-search. Anyway, perhaps there is nothing one can do about such things in one way or another. – John Jun 22 '15 at 20:49
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    Exactly: such questions are not requests for information, but are passive-aggressive complaints. – paul garrett Jun 22 '15 at 21:24
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    FWIW, I can see myself asking a peer who outputs much more than I do (at a quality level I respect) for what they do differently. Learn from the best, or so they say. "I don't have a life", "I manage to remove distractions from my work hours", "I give ideas and sketches to students and have them work out the details" and "I don't know, it just works that way for me" can all be valid answers. That is to say, if I were to ask such a peer and were brushed off, then I'd be offended (because of the assumption). Feel the situation before choosing your reaction. (cc @paulgarrett) – Raphael Jun 23 '15 at 7:14
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    "One common attitude in mathematics is that publishing a lot of papers is a waste of your potential". Out of curiosity, was the same thought of Erdős? Or did he get a free pass in the community because he was already a recognized genius by the time he became a prolific publisher? – Conor Jun 23 '15 at 16:36
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    My impression is that Erdős largely got a pass because he was brilliant and eccentric. His reputation is a little tricky to assess historically, since his style of discrete mathematics based on elementary techniques has become increasingly popular. Nowadays everyone acknowledges that he was an important mathematician, but decades ago there was some grumbling that his personal story led to his getting more attention than his mathematical contributions deserved. I think it was mainly prejudice based on his field, but publishing so many papers probably didn't help. – Anonymous Mathematician Jun 23 '15 at 17:08
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When I hear people use terms like overproductiveness and hardwork, I essentially tune out. In general, I find individuals who describe themselves as hard workers to be some of the worst colleagues. While potentially unintentional, these terms are insulting in that they suggest that the person you are talking to is not productive and not a hard worker. Your publication rate is not solely because of your hardwork.

When needing to describe a publication rate that is 5 to 10 times higher than "good" colleagues, and you will have to do that often, you need a better reason. For example, do you have lots of collaborators, less teaching, is writing just easy/fast for you? It is unlikely that you work 5 to 10 times longer (or more efficiently) than good colleagues. Maybe ideas come 5 to 10 times quicker to you than good colleagues. The key is to understand and be able to explain why you are publishing more.

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    @John unless someone can explain how, not why, they are a high achiever, I discount self proclaimed high achievers. – StrongBad Jun 22 '15 at 20:22
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    @MrMeritology how else would you view "I publish 10x as much as you because I work hard"? – StrongBad Jun 22 '15 at 21:13
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    @StrongBad there are many ways to interpret it without any consideration of what such a statement may imply about me. First, the speaker probably knows nothing about me and how hard I work (or don't). And I have not basis for evaluating how the speaker uses "hard work" vs. my usage. Finally, I personally know that phrases like "hard work" are often short-hand for a whole complex of things, not just one thing (time or energy or whatever). One more thing: I make it a practice not to tie my assessment of myself to what other people say, intentionally or unintentionally. – MrMeritology Jun 22 '15 at 21:18
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    @MrMeritology: specifically, saying "the only reason I do 5 times more than you is that I work harder than you. There is no other reason" is nothing other than a claim that you work 1/5 as hard as I do. Of course, it's wise not to be too riled up when colleagues say such things, but the fact remains that telling colleagues they don't work hard is not good people-handling and isn't helpful to anyone (even to the questioner's self-insight), even if the colleagues ought to be wise enough to weather it. – Steve Jessop Jun 23 '15 at 9:53
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    it's very common in social settings to use expressions that labels or symbolic, and thus are less than full statements — It is also very common in social settings to be unintentionally insulting, because you are assuming incorrectly that the listener uses the same social idioms as you do. – JeffE Jun 25 '15 at 13:25
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I would suggest that you may find it very informative to step back and take some perspective. I recommend consideration of Joy's Law:

"No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."

The fact is, that the world is very large and full of a lot of very intelligent and very hard working people. Some of them are very scientifically productive by some metrics, some of them are not very productive by those metrics but are productive by other metrics, some are taking long gambles or running into "normal problems" that make them not look particularly productive at all even if they are doing all of the right things. Others have made choices that mean they are not actually being particularly scientifically productive---they may be productive in other areas (e.g., teaching, parenting, StackExchange) or they may not be for any number of reasons.

If you are one of those very smart and very hard working people, that great!

When somebody else asks you about your productivity, however, I think that it is a good idea to begin with the assumption that they are also a very intelligent and hard-working person who simply has a different mixture of skills, preferences, opportunities, and choices than yourself. Something is causing a difference between your circumstances, and it's probably not just hard work.

The fact is, if you are producing a lot of good papers, that's going to be due to a whole bunch of factors lining up nicely. Please understand that I am not trying to undervalue your accomplishments in many ways: it's simply that there are so many ways that circumstances can run counter to rapid scientific publication.

I would thus recommend reflecting on what circumstances beyond hard work that are enabling your current productivity. You may find it interesting and informative for its own sake (and your future maintenance of productivity when you are inevitably faced with challenges), and it will give you a more palatable answer for your peers. And if you don't know what it is that's making things work well for you right now, you can just say something like:

"I'm not really sure. Things are just really going really well right now!"

  • That response tells the other nothing. If they want to think you somehow cut corners, this will reinforce that believe. And that is what the OP is explicitly trying to avoid. His problem is not dudes in the coffee line, it's hiring commitees. – Raphael Jun 23 '15 at 7:18
  • @jakebeal, I never said nor even alluded to that people having 1-3 or 0 papers a year are not intelligent. If the whole experience of scientific research and being constantly peer-reviewed doesn't make one humble and respectful to other's research, then there must be seriously wrong in him/her. – John Jun 23 '15 at 17:49
  • Similarly, I also expect respect from others. If a postdoc who is struggling with bad salaries, disrupted family life due to frequent moving for different postdoc positions, visa issue in foreign countries, constantly under thread of loosing visa if his funding is running out, etc. and yet is doing his best to get some work out, 'a whole bunch of factors lining up nicely' are the last words he wants to hear. My question, now with others' comments/answers I can put it better, was how I could quantify 'hardwork' in this case. This has been concretely done by MrMeritology and others' answers. – John Jun 23 '15 at 17:50
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    @John It sounds like you are taking offense because you are thinking narrowly about "factors that are lining up in your favor." These include: 1) Your research interests and skills are well-matched with your community, 2) You appear to be quite capable as a writer, 3) You are not suffering from significant physical or mental illness impairing your ability to work, 4) Your chosen avenues of research are not turning out dead ends that cost you years, 5) Your chosen research goals can be accomplished with moderate resources and time. These and more like them are integral to your productivity. – jakebeal Jun 23 '15 at 18:38
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    it is a good idea to begin with the assumption that they are also a very intelligent and hard-working person who simply has a different mixture of skills, preferences, opportunities, and choices than yourself . That's the way to go. +1 – rpax Jun 24 '15 at 4:37
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If you publish many papers, there are several possibilities. One is that you are good. Another one is that you are higly specialized and solve problems hardly anyone else is interested in. Another one is that you can communicate well and work efficiently together with other people. Still another one is that you abuse your social skills to make your coauthors do most of the work.

So "How do you publish 10 papers a year?" is an honest question, and "I work hard" is an evasive answer, which might lead to a negative reaction. However, having been in several hiring committees I am pretty sure that envy hardly ever plays a role here. I want the best possible colleagues, unless they are so good that working with me is not a serious option for them. And that is probably not really correlated to quality, but rather to selfishness and social incompetence.

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    Yep "evasive" is the key word here. How on earth are you 4-5 times more productive than all of your peers? If it really is "I'm just that smart" then good for you. I doubt it though, not because I doubt that you might be very smart, but because that alone can't explain your over-productiveness. The day has only so many hours and a human has to sleep at some point. You'll surely get a better attitude from your peers if you gave them an honest answer. – Gabriel Jun 26 '15 at 20:08
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The important thing to recognise here is that they're comparing you to the norm (i.e. themselves). Asking "why do you do so much, relatively?" is equivalent to asking "why do you do so much more than me", and to "why do I do so little, relatively?". Consider your answers in this light.

You may have felt that saying "I work hard" is a modest answer to the question, but it really isn't. Almost anyone can "work hard", it's perceived almost as a moral choice. Perhaps it shouldn't be, but hard work is a virtue and you're saying you possess much more of it than they do. The janitor works hard, and it doesn't seem to have done his publication record any good, so your answer lacks insight. Which is not unexpected in a three-word answer ;-)

Imagine if someone asked Terence Tao "how come you've published so much, achieved so highly, and won the Fields medal?", and he said "the only reason is that I work harder than you do". No, it's not only because of that, it's also (indeed as a prerequisite) because he's way better than me at what he does. That was true before he put in the hours and the effort. There are people who've put in just as much hard work as he has and achieved less (albeit, I'm not one of them). So for him to claim that the only difference between himself and me is that I work less hard would be an insult. I can accept that he works harder, but I cannot accept that the only reason I'm not a Fields medallist is lack of effort on my part, and it's rude to tell me that it is. If he's going to pick one reason then I would far rather he picked "because I find mathematics much, much easier than you do". But, for what it's worth, here's what Terence Tao actually says instead of saying "I work hard".

Now, your colleagues might not be ready to admit that you're smarter than them (indeed, you might not be, there might be some other reasons), so you're right to be cautious about claims to your own ability. But avoiding a claim to your own ability by making a claim to your own virtue isn't helping matters.

If your colleagues genuinely want an answer to their question, because they're half-wondering whether you have some silver bullet that they could benefit from, then you need to look more closely at yourself and find more detailed answers. As others have said, it's just not plausible that you do 4-13 times as many hours a week of work than any of them does (although, with different teaching commitments and working hours and focus levels it's certainly plausible that you do 4+ times as many hours a week of proper research work than some of them). Find what else.

This isn't necessarily easy, because you don't know why they only produce 1-3 papers a year, but try to figure that out. These people will be open to the possibility that you're better than they are, but they can't believe it's just that you do 4+ times as much work, and if there's anything else you do that they could in theory do too then they want to know about it. For example, if you've found some way to avoid "overheads" that cut into everyone else's research time, then perhaps you think to yourself, "I'm just concentrating more on my work then them, i.e. working harder". But you can do better than that, you can help them remove some of the barriers to them working harder on their research in the hours available.

If, after a full investigation, you literally cannot find any reason other than hard work, then you might just have to say, "I've thought seriously about this, the typical postdoc in this department after all overheads and distractions and everything, only actually manages to sit down to about 20 hours of concentrated work on their research a week. I'm incredibly unusual, I seem to have more stamina than most and more ways of avoiding the rest of the world, and I manage to sit down to 80 hours of uninterrupted research work a week. That's why I do 4 times as much research as the average". That's a much more satisfactory answer, for them, than "I work harder".

If your colleagues are just looking to diminish your achievements due to their own insecurities, then as you've identified they want to come away with some conclusion like, "his papers aren't high quality", "his co-authors do all the work", "he's struck a rich, easy vein of work and is rattling through it spinning off a paper for every result". You have no obligation to pander to this nonsense, but for your own sake don't compound it by implying that they could do the same as you just by working harder. You could perhaps prepare some genuinely modest answer, in the hope of achieving the best case outcome, which is that they come away thinking, "well, he's a nice chap, and he made me feel good about myself, lucky for him he's getting so many papers out of his work". I can't give you one, though, because it has to relate to your actual work processes as compared with theirs, and it has to convince them that they aren't doing anything wrong, so that they can feel secure in their work. It could perhaps start from, "what can I say, editors seem to really like what I'm doing, I think perhaps it's because X, and I can polish off the papers really quickly because Y". When mollifying the insecure, make yourself sound blessed, don't make yourself sound like you somehow earned and deserve 4-13 times the public recognition they're getting.

Hiring panels want you to be excellent and work for them, so your approach to those can be completely different. It's not a necessary politeness to be modest at interview. If they ask a question like this then their fear is that you've produced 10-13 mediocre papers per year but nothing great, in which case they wouldn't want to hire you. They want you to allay this fear. You need to justify to them the value of your work, so that they're confident that you've produced the 1-3 solid papers they expect, and more. You need to justify it in more detail than "well, a top tier journal accepted it", or "I have a high citation count", which means talking qualitatively about your impact on your field and on the work of others. You also may need to convince them that you somewhat understand your own process and success, because they're running a department of interacting individuals, not a paper-factory. If they're going to hire you for tenure-track then they want to know that you'll benefit the department, as well as generating research. They won't turn you down for producing too much high-quality work, but they might turn you down if they think the good work you're doing would be more than cancelled out by the negative effect on department morale of you going around telling everyone the secret to success is to put the effort in.

  • I doubt Terry Tao has to justify his productivity. If people ask him, it's because they want to know his secrets. – Kimball Jun 24 '15 at 5:19
  • @Kimball: I picked him as an example because he's absurdly productive in terms of published papers, and because he's interested in the process of how mathematics is done. You're right of course that he's well past any risk of people putting him on the spot to justify himself, but nevertheless I expect he can do a much better job of explaining high productivity than either I or the questioner can :-) – Steve Jessop Jun 24 '15 at 6:52
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Is there any better ways to explain 'overproductivity' to peers, in a non-offending way, how I publish more (and good quality) papers than the average in my field?

First, put some thought into where their reactions are coming from. Is it genuine curiosity? Is it envy? Is it a form of cultural sanction, e.g. to let you know that you "are making waves" in the culture? As intellectually smart as academic people are, many are not very emotionally intelligent, and thus lack self-awareness and self-control when they feel negative reactions.

Second, I suggest that you put together a set of answers that follow this statement: "I am fully aware that this is much higher than normal. There are trade-offs involved, for sure, but this strategy fits my goals and capabilities. I have made specific choices to make this possible." Then go on to explain the choices you have made if it makes serves your needs with that questioner. Maybe you start every project with the plan of publishing multiple papers in multiple venues. Maybe you "modularize" your work so it can be packaged in multiple ways. Maybe you have many collaborations going at the same time. Maybe you work longer hours in a typical week, or you work when other people are typically taking vacation or doing other things. Maybe you are particularly efficient at the paper writing process. Maybe you chose publication venues that have a quick acceptance cycle, without long revise-and-resubmit cycles. Maybe you have a supervisor who is particularly productive and guides you (inspires you, directs you) to do likewise. Maybe you are careful to choose problems and topics that are well suited to "minimum publishable unit" approaches. And so on.

This type of answer may or may not meet the real needs or motivations of the questioner, but at least you have answered clearly and directly.

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    Your answer here reminds me of an oft-used phrase: marketing is everything. The O.P. insists on answering with "hard work," which can be misconstrued to mean "I work harder than you do." It would behoove the O.P. to find another way to say the same thing in a more palatable way, such as, "I don't have a lot of outside commitments, so I'm able to put more time into writing." Or perhaps an answer that's a bit self-deprecating would do the trick, such as: "I know! If I had a life, I wouldn't be able to write so many papers." Hopefully, such responses would be perceived as less condescending. – J.R. Jun 26 '15 at 19:42
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As mentioned in other answers, simple hard work does not explain the large number of publications. I think that the main factors that explain wide variation in number of papers in general are

  1. The type of problems worked on. If you need to build a theory or develop techniques to solve a problem versus apply known theories/techniques, the amount of time required varies greatly.
  2. The type of papers written. This is highly connected with the first point, but generally 4 page papers take less time than 150 page manuscripts. Also, many computational projects take less time than more theoretical ones.

From only seeing your number of papers (and maybe what journals they appear in), some people will be really impressed, and some people will be suspicious at first that you're not doing anything important/deep. Of course, there are many mathematicians who publish a lot who are very well regarded (e.g., Noga Alon, Benny Sudakov).

Applied math is a huge, disparate area, and there is a lot of variation for what is a "normal" publication rate. Is 1-3/year really what is normal for your collaborators and/or strong researchers who do similar kinds of things you do? This is what you should be comparing yourself to, rather than all of applied math. If you can say something like: In my subfield of XXX, 5-15 papers a year is pretty typical, then most people won't think it so strange. It's even better if you can back it up with reasons related to 1. and 2., such as because we have a few techniques that we can apply to a lot of problems in different areas.

When it comes to the job search, people from other areas/subfields looking at your application often won't have a good sense of what's normal versus spectacular versus below average in terms of publication records, because, as I said before, things vary wildly. Here what is really important is your letters of recommendation. They will clarify whether you are great, good or mediocre at what you do.

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I suggest you offer a self-deprecatory answer. Your answer of "I work hard" suggests that you feel you work harder than your peers. That might even be the case. If so, you probably spend far less of your day on non-work related activities. If you just want a way to answer without inciting envy or sounding like you're too full of yourself, try:

- How do you publish so many papers a year?

- Easy, I have no life.

This has the benefit of i) being self-deprecatory instead of tooting your own horn; ii) being a light and jokular answer; iii) suggesting that there's a trade-off, you loose something for what you gain in output.

I don't care if you're Feynman himself, stating that you work harder/better than your peers will never be well received, even if it's true. In fact, the truer it is, the likelier that people will take offense at it. So, instead of answering along the lines of "I'm better than you", give an answer that highlights that you're losing out on something.

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While I think that Steve Jessop above has already fully answered this question, there is one thing that he just barely skimmed over that I think is worth highlighting: Tall Poppy Syndrome.

In an ideal world this wouldn't be an issue, but unfortunately even in academia, humans are humans, and some people will always feel the need to cut down others to make themselves look higher.

Remember that the better you are doing and the more papers you publish, the worse your colleagues look by comparison - and this doesn't just apply to people looking at themselves. Others in your field may also be facing questions, such as "why do you publish so little?" or "if he can do it, why can't you?" I don't know what your exact circumstances are, but if others are being pressured to step up their output to match yours, they may be feeling frustrated, and blaming you for their additional workload.

As annoying as it may be to have your peers asking you "how do you do so well", I assure you it is ten times as bad when your boss asks you "why are you doing so badly".

5

You say that "1-3 papers a year is considered a good publication rate". This seems to imply that any researcher who manages such a publication rate is considered to be hard-working. In any case, most people consider themselves to be hard-working. It is therefore not surprising that your colleagues aren't satisified with "I work hard" as an explanation for your unusually high publication rate, or that they might interpret this statement as actually implying "I work much harder than the average".

Unless you actually do consider yourself smarter than your colleagues, and that that is the main reason for your superior productivity, I don't think it's impossible to give a simultaneously honest and non-controversial answer to why you have an above-average productivity. But first you need to really understand the reason yourself: Are your papers generally shorter than average? Is your particular research area more "fertile" than average? Do you put in a lot of overtime? Are you more efficient than average during the hours that you work? (Of course, this is the potentially controversial option.) If so, why?

When thinking about what to answer, don't sacrifice honesty for humility. Anyone who expects you to do that shouldn't have asked a question for which they couldn't deal with the answer. (But if the only conclusion you can think of is that you simply must be a smarter researcher, it is perhaps best to lay low.)

  • I think your answer (and many other peoples') are caught up in a form-of-the-good type analysis (which leads to skittishness), with a particular good in academia. Can't someone's research be a form of creative expression? I guess it depends how highly one thinks of their station within the academy (above, in, or below the milieu). – gfjhjgfhj Oct 17 '15 at 18:11
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To deal with your colleagues: You already tried the nice way, when asked, just smile/laugh and change the subject. Based on your description, it doesn't seem like they'll be convinced of any answer you give. Rather, it seems like you're in a toxic working environment and relationship-atrophy is already setting in. Just remain cordial, and let it go. Thankfully, it doesn't seem like you'll be sticking around for too long since you're bringing up the topic of a job-search.

The only other way I've ever dealt with a negative opinion due to over-achieving is to work very closely with those that criticize. This requires that they be non-malicious individuals; otherwise, you're in for a very unpleasant set period of time. Basically, proof through action rather than words.

Concerning 'choosing your words carefully': It seems like you already picked up on how you may be misinterpreted (i.e. I work hard = you're not), you should also avoid the 'why don't you do so and so', I've been told very recently that the malicious individual behaves in a passive-aggressive way towards you because they believe that they cannot, so your statement serves to enrage rather than win them over; true or not, better play it safe and avoid this one as well.

To deal with your interviews/job-search: Add a column to your publications list showing the ranking of the conference/journal you submitted the paper to. If they're all high tier then, if anything, your rate should help you land a pretty solid job. You may also want to add a line below the publication outlining exactly what your part was in the research that led to the publication to avoid the co-authors argument.

Best of luck with all your endeavors.

  • Great answer! +1 for 'work very closely with those that criticize.'. However, about the job-search. In the first stage of applications when applications are mostly judged using CV/cover letter/research statement etc., it seems very difficult to go away from someone who thinks 'it may also be the case that the O.P. has recently broken through into a new area of low-hanging fruit, or is very good at collaborating.' as @jakebeal mentioned in his\her comments. – John Jun 22 '15 at 20:10
  • If you're going to be interviewed for an academic position then the person interviewing you should be aware of the field and they'll know if you were in fact researching in a new domain and if you really were picking the low hanging fruit. - If you're being interviewed by industry; if the interviewer is highly technical then the same applies, otherwise, they won't care about your papers. – HBSKan Jun 22 '15 at 20:13
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    @John the point of your research statement is to convince people about your research. You are correct that describing your productivity as due to your "hardwork" will likely get your application looked at negatively. – StrongBad Jun 22 '15 at 20:19
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    Not necessarily. I've seen highly technical and non-technical HR head-hunters and managers, but only technical professors; here my previous comment still applies. I think you're worrying a little too much. Please keep in mind that a lot is taken into account and a lot of compromises are made when you're talking about getting a job. Your language skills, if there are any other applicants worth considering, equal-opp., etc. Ward off the basic arguments efficiently, i.e. the conf tier and co-author args, and strive on. Time is often wasted when we obsess on things that are outside of our control. – HBSKan Jun 22 '15 at 20:25
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    I understand, I'm not saying it's not warranted. It just seems like you want some secret key that would convince anyone of your point of view. I'm not sure one exists, or that I may be able to supply it. You could try several mechanisms like the ones StrongBad and I described, and then beyond that, it's out of your hands, and up to them to believe it or not. Now get back to work, you've got papers to publish ;) Good luck! – HBSKan Jun 22 '15 at 20:44
3

Assuming that the papers are really strong and the best you can give (i.e. your high productivity does not trade off against the potential even higher quality research): having had the luck to meet quite some fantastically brilliant people in my career, it is clear to me that hard work may be a necessary, but is far from a sufficient condition for high-quality productivity in a difficult field.

If you belong to this class of people that pick just the right approach, just the right question, just the right set of methods and have a knack for actually finding the low-hanging fruits (if indeed they are), good on you!

However, this means that "hard work" is simply not the appropriate response, other people may be working very hard, too. So this statement sends the message that you refuse to tell them your secret of success. This is perfectly in your right, and they are actually quite shamelessly "invading your territory" by asking you how you do it. Nevertheless, it may be advisable to apply some diplomacy to alleviate this; lower your profile, statements such as "I got lucky" or "I had a good run", or, as mentioned earlier, humour, for instance, to create a screen to seemingly decouple the success from you. Obviously, you shouldn't say that when you interview for a position or report to your boss, but such a strategy may take the sting of the interaction with your equal-status colleagues.

Frankly, your colleagues can find themselves lucky to have such a brilliant co-scientist. This reflects on the whole department. However, unfortunately, it may also endanger the career of some of them in very competitive environments and so you may be a realistic existential danger to them - but don't take it personally. This is not your fault and you should not be tempted to reduce your productivity/quality just to be likeable! Just don't rub your success (and certainly not "hard work") under their noses.

And make sure to demonstrate in your CV that the quality of your output is not trading off against output quantity.

Finally, concerning your worry about hiring committees: I have heard about cases of first-rate people being rejected in interviews because of the reason that they were effectively too good (this is a real case, I am intentionally not using the original phrasing here). You probably don't want to be hired by these departments, anyway. Always remember: first-rate department heads hire first-rate people, second-rate department heads hire third-rate people.

3

I have run into a similar situation when working at labs that are a few years old (being new) or just not attracting researchers from 'good' schools. To me, this is relevant for two reasons, much of the productiveness (at least early in the career) is based on training of how to be productive. Second, established schools and labs have usually worked through many of the typical hurtles in documentation and practices, having experience in this can help someone in a new/upcoming lab more quickly adapt and become productive.

I mention this to make a point, as others have, there are many reasons why you can be more productive than others, unrelated to harder work than others. I would consider it more about productive work than hard work, as the latter seems to instigate issues (as the answers have pointed out). Hard work also narrows you into the comparison many have pointed out, whereas productive can lead to many things, which you should identify for yourself.

Now, my experience has been, even if you think people are jealous (may or not be true), skeptical, etc., using some humor can alleviate tension. My default explanation is with a chuckle, saying:

Yea I've just been getting a lot done these days, which is easy since I have no friends and don't go out.

In my own life, this has worked out well, since people asking are not likely to be friends that I hang out with, and personally, I do not go out much and like to work, so when people meet my SO, it naturally comes out in conversation that I am always working and how it strains the relationship.

In essence, I would say pointing out, similar to how JakeBeal describes it, you may be productive in one aspect, but not in others, and using humor about your own life is a good way to calm tension.

2

There are many reasons why one person could, even with "hard work" and talent held constant, be more or less productive. When someone asks you, "how are you so productive," and your answer is only "hard work," it shows you have either not thought deeply about these issues, or you are intentionally being insulting.

Many of those issues have already been mentioned, but here's some more:

    - Typical turnaround times of journals
    - Degree of experimental/other outside data input required
    - Amount of advisor pickiness. [Some submit on the first draft, others more the 25th].
    - Subfield standards for advancement of the field - does your subfield publish papers that are more "Here's the same statistical model, but applied to a different dataset?" or "Here's a model, and an argument for comparison of different models, and detailed convergence analysis, and proof of accuracy in case X, and ...
    - Fraction of work done for authorship on a project. Sometimes 2nd author = "sat in meetings," sometimes 2nd author = "Wrote half of the code and paper."

This is not just sour grapes or the Tall Poppy syndrome. I am on the high end of productivity in my field, but I am aware that I have many of these features on my side. I know many people who are hard workers and just as talented as I am, who do not publish as much, because they have made different choices about what is most important in their papers or have rate-limiting steps that do not apply to me. It is unlikely that you are not also benefiting from similar factors. This isn't necessarily bad! But the more self-awareness you develop about how you benefit from this sort of variance, the easier it will be to talk with people about your productivity.

  • Very good. A "grown-up" answer, rather than seeming to need to relate to "adolescent" conceptions of the point of trying to advance human understanding ... :) – paul garrett Nov 13 '16 at 0:49

protected by aeismail Jun 23 '15 at 14:30

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