Research Papers: A Necessary Evil

As a graduate student, I have been (un)fairly exposed to writing research papers. As most graduate students at some point in time, I began to question their usefulness and purpose. I didn’t go too far before finding this:

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.

This leads us to four very simple questions:

Why do we write papers?

Socially and academically acceptable answer: To expand the human knowledge and make contributions in our field that other researchers can then use to expand our own research and then other researchers… you get the idea. *


The truth: To boast our accomplishments and receive the credit we think we deserve for the work we think we do. (That, and to travel for “free” all around to world to explain what people won’t understand when they read it).

Who are we writing to?

Socially and academically acceptable answer: We are writing to researchers all around the world so they can improve their own research by not incurring in our own failures.

The truth: We are writing for a group of ten people, who are the only ones who will be able to understand a third of it. If you are lucky enough, you will get cited (yay! your whole ten-page research paper summarized in a  single line on someone else’s work).

Hugo Cabret

Hey Hugo, I feel like writing a research paper today!** (check out SCIgen, the automatic research paper generator and all the conferences that have accepted these automated papers)

Is it worth it?

Sometimes. As a Ph.D. student I like it when my job is appreciated, and it will never be if you never publish anything. I’m not saying we shouldn’t write research papers, I’m just criticizing the amount of papers we write, their true purpose, and their effectiveness. Not everything is bad, this is how I’ve met some of the smartest minds in my field, and by meeting them, I have developed (with their help and insights) some great ideas that have been brought to life (plus friendships and very interesting collaborations which would otherwise be impossible).

Do you think there is a better way of doing this?

Perhaps, and I would love to tell you all about it, but the deadline for my research paper is coming up, so I gotta go!

* In case you have no idea what this is all about:
** Image taken from the movie “Hugo”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s