Are there cases where extra publications can hurt your record?

This is avoiding the obvious cases where you publish incorrect, or controversial results. Also avoiding the case of finite-time: you only have so much time to think and write, so writing a paper might cause you to lose time on another project.

An example use-case might be: you are aiming for a position in theoretical computer science, but often publish in non-theoretical areas which might be under the broader CS canopy or maybe even completely unrelated to CS. On the one hand, this can show broad interests and breadth. On the other hand, this could show a lack of focus, opportunism, or lack of commitment to the field.

Can you avoid the problem by simply listing 'selected publications' on your CV that tailors to the specific position, or will the hiring committee always google scholar you? If so, when should you consider not publishing or publishing under pseudonym (or alternative spelling of name)?

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    $\begingroup$ Jeff Erickson wrote a superb comment in the Complexity Blog on this topic a year or two back. I just tried googling it for five seconds, and couldn't find it, but I figured you might want to know it exists, in case you want to hunt it down. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AaronSterling my google skills have failed me, all I could come up with is this. Hopefully someone else remembers the link so I can go and read. EDIT: Although the last anon comment on that post is a good one, I thought. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ It is here. I realized I should use "JeffE" in my search, and the right link magically appeared. :-) $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ those are two really nice comments by JeffE (the second is the relevant one to this question). Hopefully JeffE will notice this thread and have time to contribute an answer summarizing his points from the blog comments. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 17:46

4 Answers 4


At Aaron's suggestion, here is my second comment from the complexity blog, warts and all. Italics are (linked) quotes from earlier comments.

I've seen candidates publishing more than 15 papers a year and then a question was asked whether these 15+ papers are good or not.

...because more often than not, the answer is no. Most of the uncharacteristically long CVs I've seen in hiring committee meetings are chock full of crap. Or they're good in the aggregate, but appear to advance their research in too many incremental steps. Even if there are diamonds in the slurry, I have to ask—why did they publish all that other stuff? Why didn't they make one big splash instead of this long, meager dribble? Did they not notice that most of their papers were weak? Are they publishing so many papers to advance the state of the art, or only to make their CV longer? Are they going to value quantity over quality in their own PhD students? Or am I in fact witnessing a miracle candidate?

Despite what Dr. Anonymous two steps above me suggests, these are not irrelevant issues. I don't want my department associated with someone known to publish reams of crap, or who wastes my colleagues' time reviewing tons of incremental papers, or who thinks they're Thor's gift to computer science when they're not, or who tries to convince PhD students that their CVs need to look like the Manhattan Yellow Pages. Those aren't the people I want to work with; that's not the culture I want to work in; that's not (in my opinion) what's best for the Advancement of Knowledge™.

And notice I said “suspicious”, not “deadly”. Of course we read recommendation letters and search citation indices and even (gasp) read the actual papers. Sometimes that's enough to allay my suspicions; yes, there are miracle candidates. But just often enough for me to keep my suspicions, they're proven right.

So where exactly does the long CV comes in as a negative, rather than the fact that the person does not have significant contributions?

The problem isn't just that they may not have significant contributions, but also that they may have too many not-significant contributions. (See my earlier comment about "max" vs "sum".)

Sounds like you guys are rationalizing a case of paper envy, rather than following sound academic decisions.

What the hell is “paper envy”? Result envy or impact envy or reputation envy I could get behind, but paper envy? Really? Since when are papers something to be envious about?

Also: Not publicly taking credit for your opinions? Deeply suspicious.



  • If you publish a lot of papers a low quality venues, then this will hurt you. You are better off having a few papers at high quality venues, and perhaps a few at medium quality venues, just to get the work out that doesn't get accepted at the top venues. If the medium quality venues reject the work, then perhaps there's a reason for it.

  • Papers not published at high quality venues tend not to be cited – this is the other criteria that hiring committees will judge.

  • Publishing papers under the broader CS umbrella certainly would not hurt you – it demonstrates that you are more than a one trick pony.

  • And yes, they will google scholar you and check other citation indices.

  • If you were to consider publishing under a pseudonym, I would start questioning the quality/motivation of the work being produced. Or perhaps it's poetry ....

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    $\begingroup$ "And yes, they will google scholar you and check other citation indices. " Do you write this based on first-hand experience, e.g. from hiring committee, or just speculate? (I'm fine with google scholaring, but basing hiring decisions on citation indices seems to me a bit unserious) $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ No hiring decision (and we just went through five of them this year) is based on any one criterion. But all of these factors play a role in deciding who to shortlist and who to interview. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MarcinKotowski it is important to know not only that you produce good research, but that your research makes an impact. I don't see how that is unserious; citations are one of the key performance indicators in various institutions. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ Citations are weighted much more heavily in certain other disciplines (I believe in physics, for example), but people on promotion/hiring committees are certainly aware of them and will take them into account. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2011 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Marcin: Speaking from first-hand experience on hiring (and promotion) committees, yes, we check Google Scholar, and Microsoft Academic Search, and Web of Science. But we also carefully read and compare recommendation letters, which carry significantly more weight than citation counts. For candidates that look especially strong, we also read and compare their actual papers and (gasp) judge for ourselves. $\endgroup$
    – Jeffε
    Sep 25, 2011 at 7:39

Never underestimate hiring committee members. It is likely that any manipulation you can think of, they will think of as well. They are more experienced than you and they already saw various types (all types ?) of applications.

Sure, if you have papers in various fields, some persons can say that you have a lack of focus, while others will take that as an opportunity to broaden the scope of their team. At the end of the day, it is more a matter of how balanced your application is, on how known your results/you are, etc.

Don't confuse good (resp. poor) papers and good (resp. weak) conferences/journals. IMHO, there is no such thing as a weak conference or journal (BTW it is not really true, there are terrible conf. and journals, but that can be easily detected since they are basically frauds maintained by crooks). There is only good, weak, false etc. papers. Of course some conferences/journals have mainly "good" papers. But what is a good paper ? If you are young, it is likely that nobody can really assess the global merit of your papers, unless you solve some long-standing problem. But it is surely possible to assess your technical merit, your work integrity (in applied fields), your seriousness, your ability to communicate,etc.

About google scholar. Not all the hiring committee will use it, but you will always have someone that will do. Most probably your strongest ally and your opponents : the first to find some evidence that you are good, the others for the contrary.

So, finally my advice is to always show ALL your publications, but in a list with clear category : journal/conf/other stuff, and field by field if necessary. And keep in mind that in a hiring committee, there is always someone in charge of verifying that list.


Some thoughts from another side of academia, but that seem to hold as decent general thoughts:

  1. "Too much teaching" - this is possibly to come out in your publication record too, through too many teaching/theory of teaching papers, even if they apply to your field. Even if you have a pretty strong publication record, that can hurt you at a very research oriented institution.
  2. Too much Theory/Applied work. Depending on which is the emphasis of where you want to go. "Yeah, but he's clearly a theoretician, and we already have some of those..." can be a problem.
  3. Accidentally defining yourself as really interested in a particular question. Lets say you had an unexpectedly productive side project, that generated three publications on X. You really don't care all that much about X, but there it is, sitting on your CV in a wall. That can cause folks to form an impression about your research interests.

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