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Do I disclose a publication that I am not proud of?


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Should I mention a publication (my only one) that I am not particularly proud of in my application? 
It will stay in my CV, but do you recommend that I discuss it elsewhere in my application like in my SoP or research experience?

It's not that I'm not happy for a publication; however, I felt that my mentor rushed it as a pet project rather than investing in more extensive studies, as per my request and desire. As such it severely lacks depth and impact factor. Also, as a pet project it is not related to the field that I want to pursue.

Fortunately/unfortunately, I worked with my mentor exclusively and am the second of two authors on the paper. What should I do?

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You should list it on a CV, and mention a sentence or two that you are published elsewhere in your application, it will only help. You don't need a paragraph explaining all the details of the experiments, and I don't think it is likely many profs will read it thoroughly, don't sweat it.

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You could talk about your research experience in your SOP without talking about the publication. There are probably skills you gained in the course of working on that pet project. Even though they seem irrelevant to you now, you never know if they might prove useful in the future.

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I don't think you need to worry about this. The point of a graduate program is to train you to become a strong independent researcher and it is during grad school that you develop the ability to write papers that are deep. Since this sounds like work from your undergraduate years, no one will fault you for writing a paper that is not as good as a paper from a grad student/professor. After all, if you are already able to do this, then you don't really need grad school. It might be different in other fields, but generally in the sciences, incoming graduate students aren't expected to come in already trained to write academically. This is part of our graduate training.

Also, you may be too hard on yourself. Maybe the writing and paper isn't as bad as you think. After all, the professor was willing to put their name on it. I'm not saying that people never put their name on work that they aren't proud of, but we also have to remember that as students, we are still trainees and we should give our mentors the benefit of the doubt sometimes. But of course, since I don't know the details, I can't really make a judgement and I don't intend for this to be one, just playing "devil's advocate" so to speak.

And finally, to continue playing devil's advocate, it might also be possible that you have an idealized sense of what should go into a scientific paper. Maybe I am out of line here and you have way more experience than a typical grad school applicant, but I just want to provide some ideas to provoke thought (and it might help another person reading this). I feel that many undergraduate students, myself included, have an idealized view on what the paper writing process is like until we go through it a couple of times ourselves. The real process is a lot less pretty and neat! One of the first biggest things I learned when writing papers was to properly define its scope. A paper does not have to cover every little detail or nuance. You may consider this not deep, but in the reality of the academic world, there are very real deadlines on getting publications out. You don't want to publish completely wrong things or utter crap, but once you have a fully formed idea and some analysis, it needs to go out the door! In some sense, it's quantity over quality. 

There are also other good reasons to do this. Science is about communicating ideas. It's no good to hold onto your data or your studies/analyses until you figure out every single nuance. You're holding onto valuable and useful knowledge that can advance your field. Usually, the standard protocol in my field is to publish as soon as you have a single coherent idea with a well-defined scope. If you can provide an new answer or insight to a single scientific question (even if that answer comes with a bunch of conditions), that is generally the time to write it up and publish. As you find more answers that cover other areas of scope (maybe a different set of conditions), then they can be published as follow-up papers. I'm simplifying here, of course, because depending on the significance of your result, you might just first publish one answer under one set of conditions, or compare several possible answers under multiple conditions.

The main "trouble" with research is that we are trying to seek answers that are just beyond the edge of current knowledge. There's a lot we don't know so we can be searching forever. One of the hardest parts about writing, in my opinion, is knowing when to stop looking and communicate our results. This comes with experience which is why I would generally say we should follow our advisor's lead on this (except in scenarios where there are clear ethical breaches of course). 

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