Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Conference Papers and Publications

Something that occurred in a comment thread at Philosophers Anonymous got me thinking. Dr. Killjoy says,
What actually may hurt the candidate is if I spy several years-old conference presentations ("Qualia Can Suck it" Main Program Eastern APA 2007, "Girthy Concepts" Main Program Pacific APA 2007) but notice a lack of transition to publication. Just because something's interesting enough to make on to a conference program doesn't mean that it's good enough to get published. And there are some folks out there who are quite adept at coming up with projects of the former sort but are terrible at turning those into works of the latter sort.
Suppose I have a bunch of refereed conference presentations, and just one that never turned into a publication. Would that be bad? Or, suppose I have a bunch of refereed conference presentations, and one of them has like a six-year lag between when it was presented and when it was published. Would that be bad? Or, suppose I have a paper listed as a conference presentation under one title and a descendent of that paper listed as a publication under another title. Should I fudge the titles of conference presentations so they match up to the publications they resulted in?

--Mr. Zero


Xenophon said...

Unfortunately, people can find problems with anything if they want to. My advise is don't worry about things you can't change. That would mean don't worry about old conference papers, but maybe consider this in the future.

There are plenty of reasons why Dr. Killjoy is being harsh. You point to one: if a presentation yields a paper of a different name; also if several presentations contribute to one paper.

But there's an underlying assumption here, that the normal progression is from conference paper to published paper, and I've never seen why that should be the way it is. If I'm ready to publish something, I won't wait a year to get to the APA with it. I'll write it up and send it out. And the feedback you get at a conference isn't worth much generally.

I go to conferences with things that aren't appropriate for papers, but might get useful discussion going, and I think that's perfectly valid. Also, I think that being active professionally is useful, and if you're a VAP who can't find time to write, conferences are better than nothing. Won't get you a job at Harvard, but maybe at someplace quite acceptable.

Conferences are also useful for making professional connections, especially so if you're speaking. And they're good for getting reimbursed by one school to go job hunting at another. Everyone knows it happens, why not admit it?

Of course, Dr. Killjoy won't be persuaded -- rightfully, because he's a killjoy. It's his job.

Anonymous said...

Many facts can be given a spin both for or against the candidate, depending on the attitude of the SC member. Someone with a lot of conference papers and only a few publications might well be attractive as a person who is more "active" in the profession than someone with more publications but fewer conference presentations. My own take is that the conference paper should be a different genre entirely than the publication. The best conference papers are short and either (1) make one or at most two related points that a general audience will want to discuss in a way that is a helpful for the presenter's larger project or (2) communicate a summary of the presenter's important ongoing research in a manner that a general audience will find informative. Neither of those kinds of papers will translate directly into an article. The only exception would be an article length piece distributed ahead of time to a known audience for a small conference at which the paper will only be discussed (not read by the presenter).

Will Philosophize For Food said...

I've been inspired to write a paper called "Qualia Can Suck It."

Anonymous said...

At most 10-15% of my papers make it to the publication stage, twice that do I present at conferences. A majority of my published papers have been presented in one form or another, whether under the original title or something quite close. I think that it is just as helpful to pre-publish your papers on Social Science Research Network or PhilPapers as to present them. Often-times, you'll get feedback that is better quality than what you would find from an audience at a conference. And it is a hell of a lot cheaper.

Anonymous said...

This seems like complete lunacy to me, but then again, we are sometimes put in a position to be hired by complete lunatics. D'oh!

I asked my very famous advisor one time over beers for some publication advice. His advice was: go slow and aim for quality and impact. That is unfortunately hard advice to follow, as there's a sort of arms-race for producing more and more crap-ass clap-trap. He referred to a particular paper which had a huge impact on his field: "Do you know how long I spent writing and refining that paper? About six years." To my mind, that is Bad Ass. . . .

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:46,

What if he had worked on the paper for 6 years and it turned out terrible? He could have written 6 so-so papers in that time and instead he wasted it on one horrible one? Supposedly it only took Quine three months to write "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". Does spending years on a paper necessarily translate into a better paper? I doubt it. It sounds like something someone would say to make their achievement sound bad ass. But only a starry-eyed grad student would actually think that it was bad ass. Otherwise, it's a formula for never finishing anything. An excellent example: the faculty member at Auburn University who took 18 years to finish his Ph.D. at Harvard:

Ian said...

Anon 6:40-

Can you write six so-so papers in the time it takes you to write one terrible one?

Anonymous said...

I think most of the folks here are reacting the wrong way. Here is the candidate being warned about:

Candidate who has 10-15 papers presented at conference, and 0 publications.

Nobody cares if one of your conference presentations wasn't published. What a potential employer doesn't like is a candidate who seems to be sending out every single graduate seminar paper to conference and then not working them into publications. It shows that one is a mere CV-compiler, rather than a serious philosopher.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:42,

One paper a year in a refereed journal is usually the minimum to earn tenure at a state university or SLAC. But I've met a few perfectionists who've spent years working on one paper or book (or in the case of grad students, their dissertation), made a mess of it, and were denied tenure (or for the grad student, the Ph.D. degree). Word to the wise: Perfectionism rarely pays. And it is definitely NOT bad ass.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:40 wrote: Does spending years on a paper necessarily translate into a better paper? I doubt it. It sounds like something someone would say to make their achievement sound bad ass.

"Necessarily"? Nobody's claimed that spending more time on a paper "necessarily" translates into a better paper. The point rather is that one's more likely to produce better quality work if one isn't rushing to secure a publication. Frankly, I wish more people in our discipline would take this approach.

J.P. said...

"What actually may hurt the candidate is if I spy several years-old conference presentations . . . but notice a lack of transition to publication."

Exactly. Another detail to look for when inspecting applications is the number of staples they use to hold their CV together. If there is more or less than precisely one staple, or they haven't managed to align the staple at a perfectly horizontal angle, I throw the application on the ground and stomp on it while shouting, "Kripke would not accept this!"

I always go home immediately afterwards, so I can call up my friends and talk about what a great philosopher I am.

Anonymous said...

Quine should have spent more time writing "Two Dogmas". It's not that good despite it's influence.

Anonymous said...

(1) No.

(2) I doubt it.

(3) Yes.

(List the published title of the paper then the places where essentially that paper was published at without giving a title, that way you aren't really fudging anything but also aren't giving the impression that you flit from project to project not accomplishing much in the end.)

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:42 wrote, "One paper a year in a refereed journal is usually the minimum to earn tenure at a state university or SLAC."

Yeah, that's a little high. I'm at a normal state university and the minimum is two, though they would like three.

Xenophon said...

Anon 9:39,

Just to clarify, that's 2-3 papers for tenure, i.e., in 5-6 years? So it's a paper every 2-3 years. And probably the rules for promotion and raises after that are similar, or maybe slightly lower?

That's been the rule at most of the schools I've snagged interviews with.

Anonymous said...

Xenophon, Anon 7:42 here - yes that's right. 2-3 papers published in refereed journals in 5-6 years. That is more than reasonable in my book. The sacrifice is a higher teaching load - but that's what I like.

What I do find funny, however, is that research is pushed the most for tenure, even over teaching. I thought I was going to a teaching school - and they are quite big on good teaching - but it is the research they care about most. So one could be a great teacher, have only one pub, and be booted at the final tenure review. I would have thought the order to be teaching, research, service. Alas, that is not the case. But 2-3 pubs is nothing really to sweat about if one has something to say (and the motivation to say it!).