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Publish or Perish; Quantity or Quality? March 11, 2009

Posted by keithkchan in Philosophy.
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These days I am kind of impatient. I finished writing a paper two months ago and I gave it to my adviser t to review. Since he also has been writing a companion paper, and so far he has not yet had time to review it. This field I work on is rather hot. Two weeks after I finished writing, somebody put a paper on the arXiv, and they did some something quite good, and make our results less impressive. Yesterday, another guy puts another paper on the arXiv, at least from the title, they claimed that they have done something similar to what we have done. At the time when I was writing the paper, we were the first one to be able to do it, I am not so certain now and may need to modify the wording in the paper. Is it reasonable to feel pissed off now? Well I am not really pissed off. He is nice guy, and he teaches me a lot of things. It is just a bit “unfortunate” that his paper is unexpected long and time-consuming. Probably this kind of things happen between every student and their advisor. Perhaps I am more fortunate than other students already. The reason I spell it out simply because I like to bullshit every now and then. =)

Another thing that I am not so sure is should we write as many papers as possible? Of course it is excellent if one can write a lot of papers and all of them are of high quality. Here I assume that the product of quantity and quality (citation or in whatever sense) is roughly constant. If one writes a lot of papers it is more likely that the similarity among them is relatively high. I asked some professional guy who was a professor, he thought that quality was more important than quantity. If I recollect correctly, he told me that Alan Guth did not write any paper for first several years of his post-doc, and the only paper he wrote was the inflation paper.

However, I also think that the quality of a paper is not so clearly defined concept. If you write a lot of papers, some of them may fall into the category that the person who you want to please like it. And also for graduate students, it is quality not yet so important? After all, we don’t have (much) reputation yet. Of course you don’t want to get bad reputation from poor quality papers.

Any thought? I am still not so sure which way is the best way. I don’t think I will write many papers since my advisor is a very careful guy and he certainly thinks quality is much more than quantity.

Update: In light of the comments by my colleagues offline, I clarify that I am not unhappy about my advisor. We are in good terms. This post is meant to express my thoughts on publishing only.

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