Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feeling Underappreciated

As academics we live and die by our research. While our proofs are either correct or not, the import of our work has a far more subjective feel. One can see where the work is published or how many citations it gets and we often say that we care most about the true intrinsic or extrinsic value of the research. But the measure of success of a research that we truly care most about is how it is viewed within the community. Such measures can have a real value in terms of hiring, tenure, promotion, raises and grants but it goes deeper, filling some internal need to have our research matter to our peers.

So even little things can bother you. Not being cited when you think your work should be. Not being mentioned during a talk. Seeing a review that questions the relevance of your model. Nobody following up on your open questions. Difficulty in finding excitement in others about your work. We tend to keep these feelings bottled up since we feel we shouldn't be bragging about own work.

If you feel this way a few things to keep in mind. It happens to all of us even though we rarely talk about it. You are not alone. Try not to obsess, it's counterproductive and just makes you feel even worse. If appropriate let the authors know that your work is relevant to theirs, the authors truly may have been unaware. Sometimes it is just best to acknowledge to yourself that while you think the work is good, you can't always convince the rest of the world and just move on.

More importantly remember the golden rule, and try to cite all relevant research and show interest in other people's work as well as your own.


  1. Citations- Certainly good, but you should distinguish the important ones. I was once miffed (is that the word?) because there was a paper that was a DIRECT sequel to mine, but the authors said

    Others have worked on similar problems [CITE 20 papers]

    The fact that my paper was the main one got lost in the list.

    People react differently when you tell them you've read there work.

    One logician who I told `I really liked that paper you wrote that solved my open problem' just grumbled and didn't care.

    One logician who I told `I did a finite version of your proof and taught it in my class'
    was really happy about that. He was a bit surprised (though still pleased) that the only written account of the finite version was on my slides.

    My book Bounded Queries in Recursion Theory got a high honor recently-- it is now available for illegal download! Makes me feel all gooey inside.

  2. Very well said Lance!

  3. What about people whose work is unappreciated by the community, but who have a sinking feeling that the community (in this case) is right...?

  4. "He was a bit surprised (though still pleased) that the only written account of the finite version was on my slides."

    Was he hoping you'd write a paper and cite him?

    Should you?

  5. No, he was more amused, as am I, that the only source of this proof is slides and not a more formal paper. I wonder about that--- the slides are actually the full proof though I think you need me pointing at stuff and flapping my gums to really understand it. Perhaps in the future we'll have DVDs of profs proving things instead of papers.

    If I ever write a survey of proofs of the Canonical Ramsey Theorem then I'll include the proof there. OR make a 2-hour movie of it. I'll invite Kevin Bacon to assist and get my Bacon-Erdos number down.