As a PhD candidate, I finally got my first conference paper published in a good reputation conference. My professor said that, even though the paper contained good theory and analysis, the results were only of incremental improvement over the state of the art techniques. He told me that I need to come up with another idea that is big (i.e., has substantial improvement over competing techniques) to be able to graduate. Even though I felt disappointed, I tried to accepted his comment as a challenge to make myself feel better.

Do you think my professor is right? Don't you think that a PhD should be centered around well defining/formulating your problem and proposing/evaluating feasible solution(s), regardless wether incremental or not, as long as originality is preserved. I tend to -respectfully- disagree with my supervisor, and hope that someone else can convince me otherwise. Any thoughts?

  • 2
    Your professor is correct.
    – GEdgar
    Sep 25, 2015 at 1:29
  • @GEdgar thanks for your feedback, but can you explain why?
    – rak
    Sep 25, 2015 at 1:35
  • 1
    Are you misinterpreting what your advisor meant? In my field, one conference paper doesn't make a dissertation regardless. Sep 25, 2015 at 1:47
  • @austin-henley no I'm not misinterpreting my professor. I already have at least two other "incremental" (but original) ideas which my advisor did not advise me to pursue. He wants me to find some other BIG idea with substantial improvement! Do you think this is a reasonable request?
    – rak
    Sep 25, 2015 at 1:59
  • 1
    What do you want the PhD for? A dissertation with just incremental improvements using known techniques is never going to get you an academic job, or, indeed, any job that actually requires a PhD (though if you're after a job that wants a PhD simply because it looks good, it might work). Sep 25, 2015 at 4:13

1 Answer 1


AFAIK, to have a PhD you must make a significant original contribution to the field. Therefore, I'm inclined to agree with your advisor. Incidentally, your advisor has considerably more experience at this, trust him.

And yes, @jakebeal is right, likely duplicate of What makes someone deserving of a Ph D?

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