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The politics of academia

  1. Feb 17, 2007 #1
    Ah, I'm considering getting a PHD in EE, probably in control systems. A tough decision to make; I have the next 4 months to decide. :)

    Now that I'm in my final stages of my master's , it's not so bad: I'm finishing implementing an idea. Although I'm still reading a few papers, it's mostly those I'm already building my work on.

    Now, PHD is the next level up, paper "reading" is even more important. "Reading" mean trying to glean useful information out of research paper to help you build your own ideas; unfortunately, I've yet to master this skill.


    It's not my fault, entirely. I'm a somewhat bright guy; I can read and understand grad level textbooks, seminars, etc etc. A few papers I do actually learn a good chunk from.

    However, most papers in my field, are, quite simply, horrendously written. After discussing with a couple fellow grad students (about to finish their PHD), this is an unfortunate fact of life.

    Why? They tell me it's because if you try to make things too clear and understandable, your paper simply won't get published most of the time; and that's the point, getting papers published in "respectable" journals.

    Also, in EE, a lot of the papers are written by people who's english is a 2nd language, and perhaps don't make enough effort to make their thoughts clear in english.

    So, is this the "politics" of the academia? Seems pretty stupid to me. Then again, what politics aren't? :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2007 #2


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    I have no idea how they do it in EE journals, but that claim is a load of rubbish in physics journals. As a referee of several physics journals, if I am sent a manuscript that is way too complicated than necessary, I will make a comment on that. In fact, one of the criteria that journals such as Phys. Rev. Lett. asks for is whether the manuscript is clear and understandable. A confusing manuscript is sufficient ground to reject it!

    I also find it hard to believe that this policy isn't adopted with EE journals. IEEE journals that I had come across did not read as being unnecessarily confusing and complicated. So I seriously doubt that such a thing is being done on purpose.

  4. Feb 17, 2007 #3


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    However, I would like to stress that the research article's language is one of extremely concentrated or distilled form:
    In contrast to literary pieces like a novel, speech or journalistic article, there are few redundancies in the research article; verbal garnish is minimized to a degree that for most laymen makes the article heavy reading, even if they are familiar with, and understand, the concepts presented in the article.
  5. Feb 17, 2007 #4
    Perhaps I exaggerate the situation then; perhaps it just seems that way when you get frustrated.

    I've honestly only read enough papers to make at least a (hopefully) small contribution to the field, I'm no expert by any means.

    I think IEEE journals are well regulated.

    To be honest, sometimes, the maths confuse me. Advanced control theory is a bit confusing; I believe this is due to the fact it is abstracted quite a bit, to the point where most people have a hard time understanding "what's the advantage?".

    Other times though,I think it's the paper. That's okay, that's life.
  6. Feb 18, 2007 #5


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    So, what you are confused about is why some researchers are wiggling their mathematical tentacles in front of them.

    Short answer:
    They hope to find something to grasp onto. That is part of research.

    Remember that in the vast majority of times, they don't find what they were hoping for.
    This holds for ALL theoretical research.
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