Lesson in Arrogance

I just missed the submission deadline for a major conference in my field. I was targeting this conference and I consider not submitting to be a major failure. However, this has taught me an important lesson.

Several months ago I began developing a research idea that I thought had significant promise. The final idea would be the combination of three novel pieces of research. Assuming the whole idea came together and produced significant results, it would have resulted in a single high quality publication. Instead of implementing the entire idea, I became arrogant and greedy. Why put all three pieces together in a single publication, when I could split them and triple the number of associated publications?

This type of thinking suffers from several flaws.

  • I have no proof the entire idea will produce a significant improvement, let alone just a subset of the idea.
  • One great paper is better than three mediocre papers. I do not mean to imply any paper I write will be great, but stringing along incremental improvements is a path to mediocrity.

I completed the first piece and began testing it long before the conference deadline. While the technique worked as expected, it did not produce significant improvements over the baseline comparison system. This is the point where I made my critical mistake. Instead of moving on and adding the next piece, I focused on making modifications to the first piece. For the next several weeks, I tried what amounted to testing various parameter settings, hoping one setting would produce a significant result. The problem was that I had no real reason to believe different parameter settings would help. Also, even if I did get a slight improvement, such a result would not have been especially interesting. My time would have been better spent just moving on.

With the deadline fast approaching, I came to the realization that the first piece would not produce a result on its own. At this point there was not enough time to fully implement the additional two ideas. All I could accomplish was approximations of the two ideas. The final deadline passed as I frantically tried to cobble together a viable system.

My final rewards for trying to stretch my idea into several publications were frustration, wasted time, and a missed deadline. I would due well to remember there is a difference between quantity and quality. In the time it took to fail to obtain a mediocre result, I could have succeeded in obtaining a good result.

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