Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's Not the Receiving, It's the Reporting

The first of two attempts to get something publishable (i.e., meaningful) out of my master's thesis was a submission of a much simplified version of the thesis to a conference. The challenge was that the only discipline conference to submit to didn't just take poster abstracts on a first-come first-served basis (that was the conference I wanted to submit to when the research was in early phases, but which my advisor vetoed). Instead, you have to submit a six-page paper that would be published in the proceedings of the conference. Pros: reviews of the paper to be read, and more prestige than the normal poster presentation. Cons: submissions are actually reviewed, and get rejected.

At submission, I was of the opinion that the paper was much more interesting and convincing than it had been when written up as my thesis, but was still full of enough only-marginally-significant results that we weren't quite sure how to interpret that it certainly wasn't going to be worth trying to publish elsewhere (although my advisor will veto that opinion as well). The reviewers seem to agree: official verdict is rejection, but there was enough mixed opinion that we go four reviewers in three rounds instead of the two reviewers mentioned in the form response. Individual opinions range from 1/5 (unoriginal fishing expedition) to 4/5 (cautiously recommended as a talk, not just a poster).

I'm not any more upset about this than I was about my abusive FCQ commenter. Perhaps I'm going through an unemotional even-keel week, but I prefer to think I've finally matured to the point that I have realistic opinions of my work and appropriately healthy respect for other peoples' opinions. I can disagree with some of the comments (since when is considering three factors that have reasonable explanations for contributing to something "fishing"? would it be science if I picked my favorite theory and didn't even consider the alternatives?), but overall the comments are in line with my own opinion (not that I would tell my advisor this) of "somewhat interesting results but not at all impressive".

So I'm not bothered by the rejection. What I actually am bothered by is the expectation that my advisor won't let it die. I have no intention of mentioning the status to anyone else unless asked, because I don't need or want whatever consolation comes with manuscript rejection, but I have to notify my co-author. And she'll want to comment, and try to revise and submit it somewhere else, and I'm just done. I'm not particularly interested in following up on the research. I spent two and a half years on the topic, I was incredibly dedicated and fascinated at the time, but interest can only be sustained for so long. I have been forced onto bigger (if not better) things by the requirements for my comps paper, and I would much rather spend my time on the impending research and consign the master's work to the It Is Not Worthy annals of science.

The only question I want to deal with is whether I want to attend the conference as audience. It's an expensive prospect, since funding in my department is generally limited to people who are presenting research. But I've never been to a conference before, and it might be an important piece to figuring out what I want to do. If it's exciting enough, it might even tip me towards research over teaching. There is also the question of how important attending and presenting at conferences will be on my yearly progress reports, since I won't have a chance to present a poster before even next year's progress report is due. I don't want to get a letter or equivalent black mark for not working with the broader scientific community, just because my attempts to do so have been rebuffed.

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