What makes a paper publishable?

  • #26
mathwonk
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things have changed a lot in 20 years or more. 25 years ago we interviewed a top algebraist for department head, and the dean asked him if he had any grant support, since he did not list it on his vita. he replied indignantly, "no self respecting scientist would list his GRANT support on his VITA!"

this is considered rather quaint today. I for one lament the passing of the day when the criterion for prestige was the good opinion of ones scientific peers, not the pay of federal granting agencies with their own criteria for their largess, which can, and often does, include race, gender, age, citizenship, and field of specialization.

for example my university just received a multimillion dollar grant targeted specifically at US citizens among our students. this has forced us to target citizenship as a prime criterion for grad candidates, above scientific strength. I have also known many people to apply for funding from the defense department when the NSF turned them down. The idea is that the desire to track down Bin Laden may add to your chances of funding your computation of conjugacy classes of esoteric group elements. (Even the great classic Commutative Algebra, by Zariski and Samuel, was funded by the Office of Ordnance Research [i.e. the design, testing, manufacture, arming, controlling, maintenance and disposal of weapons and munitions], US Army!.) To mention this seems quaint by todays standards. i.e. "so what's your point?"

in the old days i naively thought summer funding was to support me to do my research, and when i no longer needed it i stopped applying. then i found out it was more for bragging rights within my university. the idea is that you can say, well i may be stupid and uncreative, but i do have more grant money than others, so you have to respect me!

realistically, you need to serve both masters. publish freely and apply for grants to satisfy your job requirements, but be aware your real reputation rests on the scientific quality of your best work, published or not. But if you do not publish it, awareness of your role will be very brief and temporary, limited to the memories of those you tell about it.
 
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  • #27
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This is a very interesting conversation: I'm a grad student in a business school (content of work differs but the nature of work is similar). One thing that I learn (and am learning) so far from my grad school experience here is that a paper is publishable for two reasons:

1) It is theoretically interesting (i.e., 'aha!' moment: See Murray S. Davis (1971) paper on "that's interesting! Towards a phenomenology of sociology and a sociology of phenomenology).

2) It is theoretically impactful (i.e., how is it that your paper adds to what we already know?)

Some mentions that a well-written paper is important. I agree, but only to certain extent: writing well is very important, but you can write an idea (and research report) very well without being impactful or interesting. That, at least as I know in my field, is not enough.

It doesn't need to be ground-breaking either: The key is: Is it interesting enough that offers organizations (or physicians for the Physics community) a different perspective previously not understood AND is important?

As I said, I'm still a grad student and I'm still learning. It's very difficult because doing something not obvious is just a pure challenge. But hang on there and keep persisting is the way to go...

I'm glad to have joined this conversation, especially with most of you who come from a different field from me.

Best,
J
 

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