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I won't present a paper at a conference until after it's published, because if you do it first, someone might steal your idea or try to disprove your idea before its even published. This does happen to people. Also, I have never found any feedback at any conference useful. The trick is to find one or two smart people who you trust and set up a quid pro quo relationship where you read each others' drafts. Other than that, the peer review system is your feedback.


Speaking purely from my own experience, conference feedback is variable in quality and usefulness. What I've found most useful about conferencing a paper is (1) the act of paring it down for presentation forces me to think about the structure of the paper, and usually leads to significant restructuring on my part, and the act of responding to questions/criticisms is useful for gauging the kind of stuff you should maybe address when you expand the paper, (2) it's publicity for your work, and (3) it helps you build and maintain a network of peers, some of whom will read and comment on your work, invite you to do or contribute to stuff, etc.

(1) was more useful to me when I was still new to publishing and struggling to find my feet. Now that I've had a decent amount of success, I'm not at all shy about drafting and sending papers. And that's because I think I have a good eye for when a paper is ready, now.

So: no, it's not necessary to conference your papers first. I still like to do so, however. (Or: to conference them while they're under review somewhere.) I like participating in conferences, seeing my academic friends, talking shop, etc.


One of the reasons that philosophy has a high rejection rate is because people send papers to journals long before they are ready. Presenting at a conference can help reduce that. Conference presentations really do give you an idea of how others will receive your paper and argument (or interpretation).
Further the point is not to publish PERIOD It is to contribute to scholarship. So you want your papers read. As Michel, above, notes, when you present at conferences, people get aware of your work, people who might not otherwise hear it (or find it in journals).


Postdoc says above: "I won't present a paper at a conference until after it's published, because if you do it first, someone might steal your idea or try to disprove your idea before its even published."
Many conferences, such as the APA or the PSA, have official rules that prohibit submitting papers that are already accepted for publication. And other conferences often assume this as an implicit rule (organizers don't always remember to specify this, but it's usually assumed that people shouldn't submit published stuff). This makes a lot of sense, since conferences are supposed to help people present new ideas and get feedback that helps them improve their paper. I hear the worry about getting scooped, and it does occasionally happen, but I don't think this is a good enough reason to never present anything unpublished. Moreover, it's fine to present something that is already under review somewhere, because in that case, you can still improve the paper when you get feedback.
I myself usually present a paper a few times before I send it to a journal, and I usually get useful comments or citation recommendations that make the paper better. But I am not under huge time pressure to publish and I have travel funding. I agree with Marcus that this is an ideal scenario that is not available to everyone.

elisa freschi

I agree with Pro-conference that there is no need to publish at all costs (especially since the reader doesn't need it for tenure). So, the reader might focus on whether *they* are interested in getting in touch with colleagues, get their feedback, be forced to rethink your paper… Many conferences also accept skype contributions and many colleagues are happy to read your papers (especially if you start by offering your help). I, for one, do it constantly, and I am sure I am not alone.

Assoc Prof

Marcus's advice sounds right to me. Sending an unrefined paper to a journal places a burden on the reviewers, but the same is true to a lesser extent if a project at an early stage is presented at a conference or sent to friends.

So it seems like a matter of degree and context. Try to be reasonably diligent in composing a paper and getting feedback, but if that's not possible, the journal review process can also help.

One further downside of straight-to-journal publication is that, if the paper is accepted, just 2 or 3 reviewers may give advice, rather than many more people who could weigh in at a conference. So it may leave the final paper less polished than if conferences were also part of the process.

Nicolas Delon

An aside. Pro-conference writes:

‘One of the reasons that philosophy has a high rejection rate is because people send papers to journals long before they are ready.’

I keep hearing that but I’ve never seen the evidence. Do we really know that that’s what explains, in large part, high rejection rates in philosophy? There are many alternative explanations, including that there’s just too much good work waiting to be published. People are over sensitive to the few bad papers they’ve had to review, and cued by the availability heuristic tend to generalize. My experience is journals are extremely conservative and will reject great work; not that too many papers are sent before they’re ‘ready’ (whatever that means).

Re conferences. The only argument I see is prudential. It’s certainly not wrong to send papers for review if they are ready even if you’ve not presented them before. There is a plausible correlation between papers being ready and papers having been presented but there’s multiple ways of preparing papers, including being good at writing good papers, and multiple ways for a paper that’s been presented many times to not be ready for publication.

anon conferencer

In response to postdoc's worry about getting scooped if you present at a conference, the very same worry applies to journals, and in fact I've heard stories of famous person refereeing a paper, sitting on it for a long time (while writing and sending out their own paper with the same idea) and then rejecting the paper they were asked to referee.

One of the benefits of conferences is the publicity. You get your idea out there, you get it attached to you, you get people talking about *your* idea. Some conferences are better for this than others, but people pay attention to the line-up and the talks at prestigious conferences. Some conferences have rejection rates as high as the best journals, so getting in and presenting is a big deal.

Daniel Weltman

I'm pretty much in agreement with Marcus (although in some ways it's even harder for me to go to conferences because I live in India). I'd like to never send anything out to a journal until it's been tried out many times at many conferences, read by a million people, etc. but my tenure clock is ticking and I don't have a lot of conferences I can easily go to or people to send stuff to.

Do I feel bad for journal reviewers? Yes, I think the whole system is a mess. And I send out less stuff than I would otherwise if I didn't feel guilty. But I don't have a "never submit until it's been presented at a conference" rule.


Can people suggest effective ways to get feedback other than conferences?

The problem for me is simple: I just cannot afford most conferences. The travel funding for grad students in my program is far from enough. I know a few graduate students who go to many conferences each year, getting to know people, receiving feedback, and some of them got letters from "big names". I feel like a good financial situation becomes a huge advantage for one to succeed in our profession. I'm curious to see alternative ways to get feedback and to know people.


Nicholas says:
"An aside. Pro-conference writes:
‘One of the reasons that philosophy has a high rejection rate is because people send papers to journals long before they are ready.’
I keep hearing that but I’ve never seen the evidence. Do we really know that that’s what explains, in large part, high rejection rates in philosophy?"
I find this response quite perplexing, and I have seen it as often as he has seen my remark.
Imagine that people are sending papers to journals that have never been vetted at conferences. (You do not have to imagine it, people here are saying they are doing it). Imagine that these papers are in general, less polished than papers that have been presented at conferences - imagine they have to be sent out twice as much to journals as those that have been at conferences.
It is not hard then to see that there will be many papers reviewed by journals that should not be there, or need not be there, if they had been presented at conferences first.
Further, I have refereed about 160 papers - the many rejected ones are NOT papers that really should be published, but for lack of space they got rejected. Sure, some may fall in that class, but by far most do not.

William Peden


I've found that, if you have written something that cites an academic in a substantive way, they will often be keen to give at least a little feedback. Even if it's just asking them something like "I'm 75% sure you're saying X, but is that really what you are saying?" can sometimes save you what might otherwise be a mistake that adds up to a negative evaluation by a reviewer.

Obviously, this shouldn't be done to excess, but retired/semi-retired faculty in particular are both (a) happy that someone is interested in their research and (b) often have some time to help you out. I even contacted a famous philosopher once and he was helpful.

elisa freschi

@poor: 1. some conferences offer travel grants (I just sent an email to participants of the next conference of the European Ass. of Asian Studies ---which includes philosophy--- and has travel grants for early-career colleagues).
2. some conferences (ask Marcus!) offer skype presentations also.
3. use sessions on Academia, write on blogs like this one, start discussing with colleagues online. Concerning the latter, I did it and got some very cold replies (including "you got it so wrong that I would not know where to start to correct you"), but also support and help. It helps to get through hearsay some basic idea about who would be more open to help.

Nicolas Delon

@Pro-conference: you're making a lot of assumptions. We just don't know the proportion of papers submitted to journals that have never been presented at conferences beforehand. We know that people do that but we don't know that their papers are not ready, nor do we know that most journal submissions have not been vetted. You just don't know. Even your experience doesn't tell you that.

Here's another hypothesis: many people think it's necessary to present their papers before submitting them. Then they might be tempted to think it's *sufficient*. They incorporate some feedback, and voilà. You get a lot of un-ready papers submitted to journals just because their authors thought the conference presentations would do the trick. Meanwhile, you get polished papers from folks who didn't spend time and resources at conferences where they may or may not get good feedback but have spent considerable time working on their papers. Are they perfect? Of course not. But no perfect paper is submitted. For the same reason that folks on this blog recently said they often don't bother to take into account referees' feedback (which I actually find pretty astounding), why not think conference feedback is not always helpful? (I'm not saying *you* hold the view that referee feedback is often useless.)

I've received extremely helpful feedback at conferences, but not always. I've submitted some papers only after presenting them several times, but not always. It's still not entirely clear to me that the former is necessary for success at the submission stage. You cannot really know if your paper is ready until you submit it and get a verdict. Because the verdict is what determines if it's ready.

33 y-o academic

I am in the embarassing situation of revising now a paper that I presented twice at conferences. and... I don't remember the comments I received on those occasions. I remember smoking afterwards with a conference attendee, I remember that I received very good feedback in that informal setting and yet I don't remember now what he told me. Should I email him (saying: ehi, do you remember what you told me more than a year ago while we smoked a sigarette together?)
I hope it's only me. (33 y-o academic somewhere)

Mike Titelbaum

One thought that might help the new academic who wrote to Marcus: Conference feedback and referee reports are intended to *do* very different things. When I'm listening to a paper at a conference, I'm in "learning" mode and "helping" mode. I want to get things out of what I'm hearing, and I want to try to help the author improve the piece. My questions during the session and possibly one-on-one comments after are directed towards those two aims.
On the other hand, when I'm refereeing I'm primarily in "judgment" mode. I have been asked to render a judgment on the paper for the journal, and to explain the basis of that judgment to both the editor and the author. That may be helpful to the author, but that's not the main thing I'm trying to achieve. So this kind of feedback may not be as useful in improving the paper.
I realize many folks don't have the luxury of getting the first kind of feedback, so that pragmatically they have to settle for the second. But perhaps what I've said partially explains why, when you can get the former, it's worth seeking instead of just exclusively the latter.

elisa freschi

@33 y-o: I would not expect your colleague to remember what they told you some time back. Instead, I would send them the paper as it is now and write them that you would like to know whether they think their criticism still stands and what should or could be modified. (In other words, I would prompt their memory through the paper.)


Consider the set of people, some on this thread some elsewhere, who claim that one should not submit work to a journal before it has been vetted at a conference.

How do they know this? Personal experience: they have reviewed many papers and the ones that were submitted to a conference earlier are better while the other papers tend to be worthy of rejection.

How do they know *this*? Well, it's *possible* that they determine this retroactively, although searching for the conferences after the fact would be an unusual hobby. More likely they remember the conference presentation or have heard about it.

In other words, the people who say this tend to know who wrote the papers they recommend for publication. And the papers worthy of rejection -- perhaps they know if they google, perhaps not.

It's funny how although everyone lies to themselves and to everyone else about how things really work they often unwittingly reveal it anyway.

elisa freschi

I forgot to add that, in my personal experience, writing down a blog post is also often a good experience to clarify my thoughts for readers I know will be not familiar with the topic, hence a good exercise which in some sense can be adopted instead of drafting conference papers.


It is me pro-conference again ... replying to Skef and Nicolas.
I think Skef's paranoid reading of this issue is not helpful. Every time this issue comes up I try to give some helpful advice. And every time it comes around to this. I think I may have finally learned my lesson (I will resist commenting next time). I assure you I have never googled a paper to find the author. I do not have time for that. And I really do not care who writes the paper. I often see the fate of papers I rejected, when they are published in nearly the same dismal state that I saw them, but now they are published in an obscure journal that I am confident the author has never read before. Indeed, I think in some cases people are using that Springer service that allows one to send a rejected paper to another journal ... that is a very bad development in academic publishing.

a philosopher

I'm confused (by skef). I went back and read pro-conference's posts carefully, and they never said that "they have reviewed many papers and the ones that were submitted to a conference earlier are better while the other papers tend to be worthy of rejection." All they said was that they have reviewed many papers, and seen many that were nowhere near ready for publication. Pro-conference than assumed that sending to conferences was a difference maker, or at least that such papers were less likely to be so unready for publication. So pro-conference actually hasn't said anything about substance that's pro-conference, and definitely hasn't said that they recommend papers they've seen their friends give at conferences for publication.

I think a more charitable reading is just that pro-conference has in mind the kind of common sense, a priori thoughts that others have voiced: the rigmarole of preparing a conference presentation affords one an opportunity to clarify and organize their thoughts, while conference Q&A sessions can afford some good feedback. Of course, others have pointed out that you can get these same benefits in other ways.

I guess I'll just say that I think this process is most likely to help with papers that are 90% there, and unlikely to help with the sorts of papers that pro-conference complained about (i.e., those that are at best a half-baked idea). Why? Well, say you're an early career researcher or graduate student not quite solid in either your grasp of your problem space/literature, or in the mechanics of writing a publishable paper. You write up a paper that isn't sensitive to half the literature on the topic, is conceptually confused (e.g., misunderstands important points of the debate), perhaps misuses some jargon, and just overall isn't written in a style appropriate for a journal. The process of making up some slides for this paper isn't likely to fix any of these problems, and attendees at the conference will likely be too nice to bluntly tell you that you've confused basic points X, Y, and Z and missed big swaths of the literature. In any case, I've sat through a few conference presentations (e.g., at the APA) like this, and I definitely didn't see anyone bluntly raise the major problems of a paper.

I guess what I'm getting at is the problem of people submitting papers to journals before they're ready isn't due to people not presenting at conferences, it's due to the publish-or-perish culture that forces people to try to write research papers on topics before they're ready. We have to get real as a discipline and acknowledge that we're working on some of the hardest, most complicated, and conceptually subtle problems mankind has ever tackled. Asking a graduate student (or whoever) who just learned about the problem six weeks ago in a seminar to write a publishable paper which makes a real contribution to a debate is just mind-numbing stupid --- and yes, that's exactly what we're doing when we expect (via our hiring practices) graduate students to come out of grad school with multiple publications.


To back up pro-conference on this one point, there are definitely a lot of papers submitted to journals that should not have been submitted. Even papers with lots of obvious typos! Now some of these papers (such as the typo-ridden ones) could have been substantially improved even without having presented them at conferences. Still, conferences are nice when you can get them.

I have sometimes submitted things without presenting them first (and have even gotten them accepted). However I would never submit something I hadn't already gotten feedback on. I wouldn't do it because I'd be too nervous about it, but I also do think that it would be a bit selfish, barring exceptional circumstances.

Feedback from colleagues outside your area is still very valuable (you just won't get references from them). And I still trade papers with friends from grad school. I would hope that everyone has *some* good relationships with other philosophers that you can draw upon for favors like this (favors you can reciprocate)?

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