In much of operations research, a conference is simply an opportunity to give a talk on recent research. At INFORMS, EURO, IFORS and many other conferences, there are no printed proceedings, and no real record of what was presented in a talk. While giving a talk is useful, it doesn’t really count for much in most promotion and tenure cases. If you want to continue in academic OR, you need to publish papers, generally in the “best” journals possible.
However, in some parts of OR, particularly those parts that overlap with CS, conference presentations are much more competitive and prestigious. In my own area, conferences such as CP, CPAI-OR, PATAT, MISTA, INFORMS-Computing and a few others are competitive to present at. A full (15 page or so) or short (5 page) paper must be submitted, and these are reviewed (with varying amounts of rigor). Acceptance rates can range as low as 20%, and are rarely above 40%. The papers are then published either in a book on their own or in a series such as Lecture Notes in Computer Science. These do “count” towards promotion and tenure, and researchers who can consistently get accepted at these conferences are very well thought of.
This has led, however, to some researchers (and entire swathes of some subfields) simply not publishing in archival journals. I have seen resumes from some very good researchers that have essentially no journal papers. I can understand the reasons: journal publishing is a slow and frustrating process (and I am part of that problem, though I am getting better at refereeing and editorial roles!). Further, since journals will typically not publish verbatim versions of papers published at conferences, new things must be added. It is unappealing to go back to the topic just to leap over a journal publication barrier.
But I think it is necessary to publish in journals where the refereeing is generally more thorough and the page limits are such that topics can be thoroughly explored. Samir Khuller at the Computational Complexity blog has made a similar argument (thanks to Sebastian Pokutta for the pointer):
Its very frustrating when when you are reading a paper and details are omitted or missing. Worse still, sometimes claims are made with no proof, or even proofs that are incorrect. Are we not concerned about correctness of results any more? The reviewing process may not be perfect, but at least its one way to have the work scrutinized carefully.
Panos Ipeirotis, whose blog is titled “A Computer Scientist in a Business School” has objected to this emphasis on journal papers:
Every year, after the Spring semester, we receive a report with our annual evaluation, together with feedback and advice for career improvement (some written, some verbal). Part of the feedback that I received this year:
- You get too many best paper awards, and you do not have that many journal papers. You may want to write more journal papers instead of spending so much time polishing the conference papers that you send out.
- You are a member of too many program committees. You may consider reviewing less and write more journal papers instead.
Panos also has an interesting proposal to get rid of acceptance/rejection completely.
I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, conferences work much more efficiently and effectively at getting stuff out (there is nothing like a deadline to force action). On the other hand, having watched this process for both conferences and journals, I am much more confident in stuff published in journals (by no means 100% confident, but more confident). Too many conference papers dispense with proofs (and have, in fact, incorrect results) for me to be happy when only conference papers are published.
Finally, in a business school at least, but I believe also in industrial engineering, promotion and tenure cases need to be made outside the field to people who are still overwhelmingly journal oriented. I would rather spend my time explaining a paper and saying why it is great than justifying the lack of journal publications as a field-specific phenomenon that should not be held against the candidate.
So publish that journal paper!