I wrote a paper under pressure from my supervisor who gives high importance for publishing. I feel that both the conference and my paper are mediocre. What is done is done. How to distance myself from this evil mistake hanging in IEEE explore with my name on it forever? Is there any way? I really hate my predicament.

There is no incorrect information in my paper. The finding is nothing startling. The experiments lack rigor. Anybody serious researcher reading it will definitely point it out. Being associated with a work of mediocre quality pains me. I feel embarrassed.

The conference has a 65% acceptance rate. My supervisor says it is a good conference. It is not small. Neither is it specialized. It has multiple tracks. And it's definitely accepting mediocre papers.

As for the choice of supervisor. It's life. Mistakes happen. I want to make sure it does not become a blunder. No point in wasting time whining about it. When the time is ripe I will disengage from mediocrity.

Edit: Today while the publications were being discussed with another professor my paper was discussed. The professor whose ideology differs from my supervisor's clearly found the paper lacking in substance. And then my supervisor disowned me saying he had a different opinion about my results and this discussion brought new knowledge to him. This makes my wound deeper. First I hate publishing my work and then I am to be blamed when it is criticized? This is price of working with wrong mind. Note that the paper was read by my supervisor before sending it.

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    @Saturnus Not all IEEE venues are highly reputable. – PsySp Apr 21 '17 at 10:23
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    If your advisor is on quantity (publish anything anywhere) and not quality, you might need to rethink your choice. – PsySp Apr 21 '17 at 10:24
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    There's nothing inherently bad about occasionally publishing mediocre papers, and mediocre conferences seem like the ideal place to publish them. You did some work, you found some results. Isn't it better that your work be available to the community, rather than dumped in a file somewhere? It could still be of use to somebody someday. – Nate Eldredge Apr 21 '17 at 18:13
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    This seems to be more a problem internal to your own sense of self and not an actual problem. You produced a paper that lacked rigor. It was adequate and had unsurprising findings. So what? One of Einstein's most important papers was wrong everywhere. Now that the field has advanced, he would get a failing grade as a grad student. You are assuming that people are judging you, or even remembering your name. You are also assuming hiring committees are even going to look at your papers. I have read submitted papers for hiring, but I have never dug into the literature to check other work. – Dave Harris Apr 21 '17 at 19:21
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    You produced something for conference. Five people will look at it at the conference. They will be in your room. No one else will ever look at it. The people in the room will comment on it and tell you what you already know. Lots of papers at conferences are works in progress, if not most. I would guess that 80%+ are not yet publication ready. That is why you go to a conference, to be criticized. That is their purpose. – Dave Harris Apr 21 '17 at 19:24

12 Answers 12

up vote 113 down vote accepted

How to save face? Have more high quality papers than poor ones. People understand that a student's first paper is not necessarily outstanding, especially if his/her supervisor is more about quantity than quality. So it reflects more badly on your supervisor than you as long as you have the 'student' badge on. However, you can only wear the 'student' badge for so long. So, aim to get better papers published.

Personally, when I glance at a person's CV, I only look for the best publications. That's what I judge him/her on.

In summary, people remember successes or high quality papers or those with impact.

Aside: in my area, there is a paper in a poor venue with 10K+ cites. In contrast, lots of high quality papers have zero citation. Don't despair, there is hope!

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    @Prof.SantaClaus: I would be very interested to know of an academic field in which a standard PhD thesis contains at least 15 journal papers. – Pete L. Clark Apr 21 '17 at 14:33
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    @Prof.SantaClaus unfortunately, there is nothing you can do as a student — This is simply not true. The student can say no; publication requires the affirmative consent of all authors. If necessary, the student can find another advisor. – JeffE Apr 21 '17 at 16:06
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    @PeteL.Clark Materials engineering/science. – Prof. Santa Claus Apr 21 '17 at 19:48
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    @JeffE In practice, students feel they are powerless, especially international students; not many are willing to challenge the wisdom of their supervisor. Also, in my school, the unofficial policy is not to accept a student that wants to transfer from another colleague; i.e., we don't want to be accused of stealing students. – Prof. Santa Claus Apr 21 '17 at 19:50
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    @Prof.SantaClaus The natural defense against any accusation of stealing students is that students are not property and therefore cannot be "stolen". It's tragic that so many students and faculty feel otherwise. – JeffE Apr 22 '17 at 12:37

I feel the first step is to calm down, and to stop exaggerating. Seeing this as an "evil mistake" and a "predicament" that's "embarassing" is really, really over the top for just having published a paper that's correct but uninteresting at a low-competition conference from a reputable publisher. As you say yourself - "when the time is ripe" you will start publishing better papers, and then nobody (including you) will care anymore about this weak one. And before that time you have at least gotten some experience in writing papers.

Now to answer your actual question:

How to distance me from this evil mistake hanging in IEEE explore with my name on it forever.

The only way to "distance yourself" from a paper is to retract it, and that's not really an option given that the results are not wrong. That is, you or one of your co-authors have submitted this paper under your name, and now you need to live with it. However, note that it "hanging in IEEE explore with your name" is much less of a big deal than you may think it is. The internet is a big place, and a paper in a small, non-competitive conference is virtually invisible as long as it does not get cited frequently or otherwise gets viral (which, if it is boring as you say, is very unlikely to happen).

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    The internet is a big place, and a paper in a small, non-competitive conference is virtually invisible as long as it does not get cited frequently or otherwise gets viral (which, if it is boring as you say, is very unlikely to happen). +1 - can't be said better than that! – Failed Scientist Apr 24 '17 at 7:58

Your supervisor, who has more experience than you, thought that the paper was worth publishing. The conference programme committee, who are all more experienced than you, thought that the paper was worth publishing.

You should give serious consideration to the possibility that they actually have a better idea of your paper's worth than you do. It is very common for research students to feel that their papers are of little value.

And even if you're right about the quality of the paper, one mediocre paper really isn't a big deal. A pattern of mediocre papers is... well, mediocre. But you surely get more credit for a single mediocre paper than you would for no paper at all. Make sure you feel the next one is better.

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    As a graduate student, I had this feeling that my papers were nothing special for quite a while. Then I started to present them in conferences, and to my surprise, people were actually interested. Now, when I look back at those papers, I see some pretty decent research. It was just me, selling myself short. – Magicsowon Apr 22 '17 at 9:40

Save face by owning it and not making it worse. Go to the conference and cheerfully present the paper. Do not over or under sell its merits. Let the audience be the judge.

Avoid a meta-discussion about how and why you ended up publishing it. This could be insulting to the others at the conference.

Maybe there is something in your paper that will enable someone else to do great things.

Likewise, get as much out of the conference as you can. Learn from each speaker. If the content of the conference is not interesting to you, you can always analyze each speaker's approach to find what works and what doesn't work.

I'm guessing that your supervisor pushed you to submit the paper due to pressure from above. Perhaps someone higher up is making funding decisions based on the number of papers that are published.

If so, publishing your paper will provide future funding for you and others to write more important papers. Plus, others realize this and will give you the benefit of the doubt. Next time, just make it one you're proud of.

  • I am not really attending the conference. My supervisor is. – Damodar Apr 22 '17 at 0:43
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    I think the second paragraph is important, even if OP is not attending the conference. One of my friends, who had a low opinion of the methodology he used in research made a few disparaging comments about it in his pre-defense talk. We convinced him to skip the comments in his actual defense, because that always looks bad to an audience from outside the field. – Magicsowon Apr 22 '17 at 9:49

What I've often done at conferences is to give a talk that significantly deviates from the accepted paper. So, if you have some new results in the pipeline that would be more interesting for the audience than what's in the paper, you are free to base your talk on that. No one actually reads the conference proceedings, people visit conferences to have a chat with their colleagues, to listen what they've been up to recently, to show off their work to their peers, to introduce their Ph.D. students to possible new employers etc. etc.

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    that's a great idea, Count! hopefully the OP is doing some work that is exciting and he/she might try to leverage the mediocre paper into a better-than-mediocre presentation with some of the "good stuff" in the presentation. (hey, i'm still alive and i still edit WP anonymously. thanks for sticking up for me about a decade ago.) – robert bristow-johnson Apr 22 '17 at 5:42
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    @robertbristow-johnson Yes, I remember you! Jimbo should unblock all the blocked old accounts, there is no point in having blocked accounts from decades ago except for certain exceptional cases. – Count Iblis Apr 22 '17 at 19:51
  • there's no good reason for them to have perma-blocked me in the first place. the Intelligent Design article displays ostensible bias. and it's fatally flawed for insisting that ID=DI and the term has existed centuries before there ever was an organization called the Discovery Institute. – robert bristow-johnson Apr 22 '17 at 22:29
  • It's always a good idea with conference papers to remember that the criteria used for deciding what papers to accept are quite different from the criteria of the audience listening to your talk. Make your talk interesting and entertaining, and no-one will really care whether it has much relationship to your paper. – Michael Kay Apr 26 '17 at 8:05

You appear to be a student working under the direction of a supervisor. Try to actually PRESENT the paper yourself - not your supervisor. You need the practice of standing up in front of an audience and sounding interesting - and answering questions from the audience. The fact that it's not stellar will not damage your reputation at this stage of your career. You can say, if you feel you must, that it's a first draft or a first step in a larger project - but if you say this, be prepared to outline the larger project.

Really, just try to give the paper yourself and relax, if at all possible.

  • I have a better paper in a much better conference accepted and I opted to present that. – Damodar Apr 22 '17 at 5:05

A question of mine, when I was a student (and administrating the unix systems at school) made it up to alt.humor.best-of-usenet. You hardly can go below this when working in IT.

My friends and not friends were rolling with laughter to the abysmal (but funny) stupidity of the question. I was ashamed like hell.

25 years later

  • I smile when recalling this
  • I think that the documentation which led me to that question was written by a lunatic and that guy should be tortured by making him use a Mac, for writing such piles of [censored], leading young and trustful people into asking such questions. So it was not my fault, but I digress.

No worries, you will publish more and nobody will look at how you did early in your life.

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    Wow. Did you ask how to shot web? How to patch KDE2 under FreeBSD? – darij grinberg Apr 24 '17 at 1:28

Your paper getting accepted means that reviewers have agreed on the significance of you paper's results.

Therefore, I personally would not see a need to save face. Your paper, with these results, got accepted. If it is mediocre, as you say, it should be the ones who accepted the paper who need to save face.

And also, slightly related.

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    The name of reviewers is not mentioned anywhere. Mine is as the first author. That is the problem. – Damodar Apr 21 '17 at 12:27
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    I don't think it would have such a big influence on your career. You just submitted a paper and it got accepted. It is the conference's reputation to be lowered – padawan Apr 21 '17 at 12:31
  • I believe that it is the author who is ethically responsible for publishing innovative and sound papers and avoiding mediocre ones. Journals and conferences are often money-driven, and being accepted today does not imply one's work is worth the effort, public money and community's attention. – dominecf Apr 25 '17 at 14:20
  • Unfortunately, I've had the experience of getting preposterous and baseless reviews even from very well-rated conferences - both when being accepted and when being rejected. So, disagree. -1. – einpoklum Apr 27 '17 at 7:20
  • @einpoklum I don't think this experience has anything to do nor with the question neither the answer. Reviews being quality or not is not the debate. – padawan Apr 27 '17 at 8:03

You need to start somewhere.

Your supervisor probably asked you to submit the paper, knowing that it had a few shortcomings (at least that's what he implied to the professor).

But he probably thought that a mediocre publication was better for you than nothing. As your supervisor, he's being paid to make these judgments.

A mediocre first (or early) paper is nothing to worry about. Just make sure that your next one is better, now that you have a "baseline." And given your conscientiousness and new-found experience, that will certainly be the case.

Most academics have experienced some sort of knock back, and there always will be different views to whatever you submit, don't expect everyone to worship you!, most especial on one of your first!. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you have, so use the feedback to make the next better!. As said above, distancing yourself from you paper only makes you look badder!, better to proudly say, as you do that you submitted some truths, but it is a "work in progress". In saying all that, I, and the academia world are not surprised in the least that a young up-start thinks papers and/or conferences are some what of a joke!, and are lazy and mediocre and submit average-to-trivial material!. Congratulations, your one of the modern lazy ignorant arrogant students so don't go around thinking your a dismal failure and there are none others like you!, unfortunately your part of a large minority!. Some advice, TAKE ALL PAPERS AND CONFERENCES SERIOUSLY, as, you can bet your last dollar that your co-students will never let you forget your "mediocre" attempt!.

There is an old saying in marquetry work:

if there is some defect in a piece of wood, do not try to hide it, at the risk of cheap dissimulation. Put it in evidence.

Sometimes, an apparently shallow work grows many sides. After years, seemingly mediocre PhD insights (mine) revealed deeper after more experience. This is the personal side. For the outer readers, you never know who you reach, and at which level. One man floor is another's ceiling.

A suggestion for your future researcher's life: strive to find deep roots in this work. Flowers grow from manure. Future will tell. Good or bad, all of mine PhD works revealed structurant.

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    In my work, I have not found any defect in results. It is just that it is kind of "obvious" and not deep rooted as should be in a good publication. The experimentation is not to my satisfaction - but I was kind of forced to go with it because a publication is more desirable in my place of work than its quality. – Damodar Apr 27 '17 at 4:14
  • I did not wrote there were defects. I made an analogy of this one, as a potential defect, in the marquetry of your future research pattern – Laurent Duval Apr 30 '17 at 10:18

It is important for a PhD student to write papers and participate in conferences. By 'forcing' you into this, your supervisor is developing your career. Also, going to a conference can be a good change of scene; when you go, you'll feel much better.

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    I strongly disagree with this answer. What is important is to do quality research. There are conferences of very low quality and acceptance standards. By submitting a paper there and presenting it, there is very little added value but a high risk (these conferences clearly serve the purpose of quantity) – PsySp Apr 21 '17 at 11:12
  • @SpySp Level of a conference where you get accepted summarizes many factors, including how novel is you work, what amount of work you did and how big of a name you are. On a way to a large amount of novel work to publish in a big venue, a PhD student first has to do a small amount of incremental work and publish it in a small one. – Alexey B. Apr 21 '17 at 11:36
  • @alexey I neither disagree or agree with your comment. When a paper is online for everyone to see it contributes to my reputation , positive or otherwise. If the work is not fit for someone to read and spend his or her time, I consider myself party to crime. – Damodar Apr 21 '17 at 12:16
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    "On a way to a large amount of novel work to publish in a big venue, a PhD student first has to do a small amount of incremental work and publish it in a small one." While this is not necessarily bad career advice, saying "has to" is just not true. A PhD student doesn't have to publish lots of papers good or bad; they should be learning and doing the best work they can. Publishing something of little value can certainly be a waste of their precious time. – Pete L. Clark Apr 21 '17 at 14:32
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    I don't completely disagree with the answer, but if you are insecure with your research, going to conferences too early will only make you more insecure. When you go, you should have some decent research results ready and you have to be able to discuss them with the audience. If that condition is met, the adviser could take upon themselves to "force" the student to write papers and go to conferences. – Magicsowon Apr 22 '17 at 9:54

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