Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Many Times?

I've been working on something recently that has me following up on the conference literature-- I've been tracking down conference papers on a particular topic to see what the latest word is. Anyway, one thing I've found is that a seemingly highly active new Ph.D. has given roughly the same paper under different titles at (by my count) eight different conferences.

Now, I confess to having given pretty much the same conference paper on two or three occasions, but this was always with the intention of revising and reworking in light of comments and questions. But I somehow arrived at the view that three is the limit for a conference paper. (Colloquium presentations are a different story-- they evolve over time, and sometimes one gets multiple invites to talk on the same topic, etc.) Is the three-conferences rule unreasonable? Is three too many? Am I right to think that eight is too high?

25 comments:

imipolex_g-unit said...

Three is too many. Eight is bonkers. One or two is good, though for some I recommend zero.

Paul Gowder said...

As long as one is totally honest and transparent about it (i.e., listing it as one paper presented multiple times on one's CV), I don't think there are too many times. Two reasons: 1) papers should be worked up heavily by, in part, having many people comment on them before being published. That makes them better! 2) submission deadlines for conferences tend to cluster. Right now, I'm looking at submitting to a bunch of conferences that all have deadlines around Feb. 15, and I have one, maybe two, papers in the works that could really use conference input right now. I'm vaguely planning to submit to all and see what takes me, but if all take me, I'll instantly violate your rule simply by the logic of the process...

Krinos said...

I'm with imipolex -- 3 is excessive (but understandable), and 8 is 'round the bend. Has this person just got no other thoughts?

A follow-up. Is the paper any good? Maybe it's something this author thinks is worthy of multiple live audiences. Maybe it crosses multiple boundaries, and needs various resources for input. Or maybe this person is a one trick pony.

Anonymous said...

Three actually sounds good to me. I generally use the three-presentation rule myself. By this time, pretty much all the useful questions that can be asked about the project will have been asked, and it can then be patched up as needed. More than three seems only reasonable if one's got an ultra-relevant and super-interesting paper, and they want to give it another shot after retooling it from the first three presentations. But even then, the fourth time has got to be the most--after that, CV-padding seems the likely reason.

Anonymous said...

I'm party with Krinos. One might present similar papers at multiple conferences that are attended by very different folks. To take an obvious example, a paper on moral status might be appropriate at conferences on environmental ethics, general ethics, and bioethics, with little overlap in audiences.

There's also a difference between presentations and conference presentations. One might give the same paper many times to different audiences at one's institution, at a conference, at a workshop, at another institution, as a guest lecture, and so forth. Eight presentations of this sort would not seem excessive, even if eight submissions to conferences does.

Anonymous said...

This really surprises me. I work on papers until I feel I've got them right, and while doing so give them to whatever audiences haven't heard them before and might have useful input. Some papers get delivered once, others god knows how often as I take repeated cracks at the problem (and often the title does change as the content develops) -- I've got one that's been under construction for ten years now! But why is that a problem? I've got tenure, I work on lots of different stuff concurrently, and it's rushing papers out the door that would feel like cv-padding to me.

The real problem here, it seems to me, is that it's extremely unlikely that this paper actually fit the announced topics of all eight conferences. If it's a thematized conference (or APA session), people should present something genuinely tailored to it, not just waltz in with whatever they've got on hand. (And if it's eight successive APA's, audience overlap would seem to reduce the use of the exercise.)

Anonymous said...

I'm with others on the three-is-not-too-many-but-probably-enough idea. Usually, my strategy has been advancing it through the conference hierarchy. So once I've presented at, say, one of the APA meetings, it's off to a journal. Not sure if that's a good idea all the time. I usually figure that by then it's passed enough reviewers, nevermind actual comments at the conferences, that it's not completely hopeless. So maybe a journal will unwittingly accept it too.

Pad This said...

My experience on search committees is this: if you are looking to get a job, nobody cares too much about conferences. Exceptions might include big shows like the Eastern APA (regular program not the Society for Field-Being group meeting) but overall, nobody cares; it's pubs that matter. So the idea that you'll pad your CV with a bunch of listings of papes you've presented at nothing conferences and get an interview with Princeton is so silly that nobody with a brain will suspect that that is what you are up to or care if it is. So I say: milk those papers all you can and use it as an opportunity to get good comments with an eye toward publishing the thing.

Of course, the idea that you'll get good comments and questions at the North-Central Kentucky Philosophy Consortium has its own problems. 1. Since you are nobody, that's who will come to your talk: nobody. 2. If 1 is false, they won't understand your paper anyway because they only do applied philosophy of sports education ethics and never heard of any of this fancy stuff. But I guess that's another thread.

missamerica said...

As long as 1) the audience changes and 2) your CV doesn't misrepresent what you're doing (i.e. imply you're giving a bunch of different papers), then what's the problem?

And if the pre-published version gets better with each presentation, then isn't that a good thing?

So I'm curious as to why this is an issue, provided the aforementioned two criteria are satisfied. To me at least, the real cause for concern is people who actually publish "different" articles, all of which say essentially the same thing.

imipolex_g-unit said...

Hey all you "what's the big whoop with eight presentations?" people,

Whatever quantity and quality of feedback gotten from delivering a paper at eight different venues may very likely be gotten in other ways, ways that are faster, more thorough, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

I've never gotten feedback from an audience member that was as good (along several dimensions of goodness) as feedback I've received electronically from friends, blog commenters, and blind referees.

There are plenty of good reasons to rack up facetime in meatspace at the cons, but perfecting papers isn't at the top of my list of reasons for getting on another fucking airplane.

Anonymous said...

I'm with imipolex_g-unit about the relative disvalue of conferences. I've never like them much and have only submitted because I thought that it would improve my CV and being forced to prepare my paper for a conference is sometimes worth the negatives (like flying, attending other papers). That's why I only bother submitting to more esteemed conferences.

Krinos said...

No doubt that conferencing papers has the benefit of feedback payoff. But unless the conferences are of ascending prestige, it's more than likely that there are diminishing returns. I love going to conferences and attending papers, but if the travel is on your department's dime, I think you owe it to your department for the travel money to yield maximum payoff for your research.

The best resources for feedback, as imipolex rightly points out, are a group of friends with good judgment and the scrutiny of bloggers. Spiros' observation that the person in question is a "recent PhD," which might mean s/he doesn't have the connections or networks yet. That's a good thing about conferences, too, and it's likely that this person is developing those ties. The jury's still out on this case. It's a problem only if this person is a repeat offender.

729 said...
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729 said...
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Anonymous said...

Another justification for multiple presentations is the simple fact that at many (most?) schools, the only way to get travel support to a meeting is to have a paper selected for the program. As an earlier comment observed, deadlines tend to bunch for many meetings and you don't know which ones will accept your paper.

Audiences also tend to be very different at different meetings and many philosophers have multiple affiliations (APA and a specialized organization, such as applied ethics or aesthetics). So repeating papers gets very different and often useful feedback at multiple meetings.

Internal review on your campus for retention-tenure-promotion is a different matter. A conscientious review committee will see the papers you presented and appropriately discount them for repetition.

If you're on the job market, I agree with comments here that a lot of papers won't carry much weight. For a non-research campus, papers have the benefit of showing you have some professional activity going, but that's all.

Finally, there is some risk in the selection process when you submit identical papers. As a former member of a program committee for an ABA division, I sometimes had a sense of deja vu reading a paper. Had it already been published (which is disqualifying)? Had it been read at another meeting I attended? That made it a lower priority for the program than it would have been otherwise, at least for me.

729 said...
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chrono said...

I'm a graduate student, and I think the ground rules ought to be different for us.

1) It's harder or me to get comments from people on the cutting edge of my field, since I have nothing to offer in return.

2) It takes a lot more working through a paper in order to get it publishable.

3) I can present at graduate conferences, which is a good experience for a lot of reasons, so it's worth taking advantage of. Also, that makes the conference hierarchy even more vast.

4) Why not? It can't hurt.

Anonymous said...

hey, what the market wants, the market gets..

Anonymous said...

You know, this thread makes me think that an unforeseeable collision with a massive carbonaceous thus non-radiating low-albedo-mass-extinction-producing-asteroid would not be at all bad.

My my. This will worry me from good sleep. At least as much as the asteroid worry.

The Brooks Blog said...

I suspect that the real problem here is not that this person has submitted essentially the exact same paper multiple times, but that this person has perhaps been stating a long list of papers given at different conferences when it is only one paper.

The better rule I have followed is that --present as often as you like-- one should ensure that the paper eventually gets published. A few papers that didn't work out are fine. However, always get papers in print eventually.

While everyone's work will have overlaps over time, I take that the potential worry here is that if one is presenting the same paper all the time (under different titles) this will translate to a very poor 'transition' score (i.e., the number of conference papers that became articles/chapters). This might turn off some committees and should be avoided.

Anonymous said...

Estlund's 'Utopophobia' anyone? I've seen it advertised at about 5 different conferences now, in addition to hearing it this year at Oxford in All Souls, and hearing about from those who attended his presentation at Nuffield last year...

Spiros said...

Anon:

Giving the same paper at multiple conferences you've been invited to as a plenary speaker is OK in my book. It's submitting the same paper over and over again that strikes me as problematic. So lay off Estlund.

Anonymous said...

I think that it depends largely on the conferences, and whether you can expect any overlap in the expected audience. If you are presenting at the Texas Philosophical Society, the Great-Lakes Philosophy consortium, and the Croatian association for symbolic logic, there probably won't be a problem. If you present the paper on the main program at the Eastern, then its pretty much done as far as other conferences go.

Anonymous said...

I don't think presenting a paper several times is something I'd penalize. Even if the title changed, this might represent a new emphasis in a significantly revised paper. However, the 8 presentations is definately a bit much and I wouldn't give much positive credit for each additional presentation (law of diminishing returns type of attitude). Maybe multiple presentations is good if it results in an APA presentation and a decent publication.

There was a mediocre grad student from my program who I encountered at 4-5 different conference over three years and it absolutely amazed me that he gave the essentially the same paper each time. He actually did end up with a job (though not one I considered desirable). So, obviously not everyone was as put off by it as I was.

Anonymous said...

I agree with an earlier blogger that one good reason to present a paper at a conference is that it puts fire under your ass to get something written in a presentable form. With the deadline bearing down, you write something. Afterward, especially with the help of comments, you can revise it for submission to a journal.