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Quality vs. Quantity

"Why should students publish?" asks the Exponential Book blog's Massimo. It's customary for science grad students to co-author some articles to beef up their resumes while they're studying, Massimo says, and there are many reasons to encourage them to do so — to disseminate their work, achieve milestones, and to begin building a respectable publishing list as soon as possible. But, Massimo says, we must be wary of any attempts to set a minimum number of published papers as a graduation requirement for grad students. "Yes, I have witnessed cases of students graduating with a PhD without a single published article, and while that may not be the optimal outcome, it can happen, and it should not be taken as a partial failure," Massimo says. And just as there are reasons to encourage publishing, he adds, there are also reasons against setting a minimum number: it can put too much pressure on the students, it "cheapens the pursuit of a doctoral degree," it could be potentially unfair to students in specific disciplines and subfields, sometimes failed experiments have learning value, and some students may want to go the industry route in which case papers could have less of an impact on their careers, among other things.

DrugMonkey adds that such intense pressure to publish sometimes leads to scientific fraud and data faking. "I agree with Massimo that the point of graduate student training is not to generate experimental successes," he says. "It is more to learn how to be a scientist and in my view this does not require that one demonstrate wild success (in terms of publishable, hypothesis-testing, P [value of] less than oh-point-oh-five paper figures)."

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