How to list conference proceedings ?

I wrote a blog post some time ago about conference proceedings, and their widely attributed lesser value than articles submitted to and published in peer-reviewed, refereed journals.
I am often asked by junior colleagues working on their resumes, whether papers published as conference proceedings should be listed separately from “regular” journal articles.

My personal take is that a curriculum vitae should list one’s publications, and I tend to go by a relatively broad definition of the word. In my opinion, for productivity evaluation, as well as promotion and tenure purposes, conference proceedings can and should be regarded as “regular publications”, i.e., fully equivalent to articles submitted to peer-reviewed scientific journals, if the following conditions are met:

Proceedings are peer-reviewed.
It is often stated that peer reviewing that takes place at a conference tends to be sloppier, less thorough, due to time pressure. Moreover, because reviewers are conference attendees anonymity cannot always be ensured, and that may result in less rigorous assessments of the quality of the manuscripts. My personal experience does not really support any of that, though.
First off, I happen to think that the average quality of refereeing is low these days, even if referees take weeks to submit their reports, and that ultimately it is the assessment that the community indirectly provides through citations (more about it below) that tells the story. Still, the fact that at a conference one can listen to the talk, or the poster presentation, and discuss with the author of the paper that one is assigned to review, is an advantage, and often allows for more informed reviewing.

Proceedings are published in a regular journal
It is often the case that proceedings are published in a special issue of an international, journal that ordinarily publishes contributed, peer-reviewed articles. In that case, I think it is fair to assume that the Editor of the journal commits to ensuring that all published articles, regardless of whether conference proceedings or regularly submitted manuscripts, be subjected to the same in-depth scrutiny.

Now, curriculum vitae aside, is an article published as part of the proceedings of a given conference, peer-reviewed or not, in a book or in a journal, less “prestigious” a publication than a regular article ? Should it be given lesser weight, for example in assessing the publication record of a tenure applicant ?
To me, the acid test is: Is the article read and cited ?
I really think that this is the bottom line. As Mark Twain would have put it, The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all. If an article published as part of conference proceedings garner hundreds of citations, it is meaningless to ascribe any importance to the format or venue of publication. The community has expressed its judgment, and regards the manuscript as a valuable contribution — that is really what should matter in the end.

Any differing opinion ?

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8 Responses to “How to list conference proceedings ?”

  1. pika Says:

    I think this is totally field-dependent, country-dependent and purpose-dependent, so it can not be generalised.

    For example, in the reports that I need to submit to my national funding agency (in a European country) every year, they have a metric, where they separate the following types of publications:
    – peer-reviewed research journal articles
    – peer-reviewed survey journal articles
    – books
    – book chapters
    – peer-reviewed conference proceedings papers
    – other conference submissions (non-peer reviewed and/or abstracts and/or posters)
    – other
    Each of these categories gets a different weight in evaluation – in the order that I listed with journal articles weighing the most and conf proceedings not that much. This is a national agency that funds ICT, Biotech and Engineering research.

    But in (another European) country where I did my PhD, peer-reviewed conf proceedings were worth the same as peer-reviewed journal articles.

    So I don’t think you can generalise the subject, it is just important to figure out what are the rules in your place.

  2. JF Says:

    Note that all that is hugely community-dependent. In geology for instance, we do not have proper conference proceedings (our conference, mostly, have just an abstract volume, a CD these days in fact). On the other hand, it is not uncommon for session convenors to organize for a “special issue” in one of the usual journals; it would, then, appear with a normal volume(issue) number, and a subtitle such as “proceedings of the …” or “papers submitted after the XXX symposium”. They would be regarded as proper papers.

    • Massimo Says:

      Yes, I agree with what both you and pika wrote but I do not see how it conflicts with what I said. I think that they should simply be listed as publications, no more no less than regular articles, and in the case I specifically discuss I see no reason why they should be regarded as different.

  3. Cherish Says:

    And in some fields (especially some sub-specialties of EE and CS), conference papers are far more valuable (and harder to get published) than a journal article.

  4. Sophia Says:

    Most conference proceedings tend to not be original work, they are usually a (very slight) modification of work already published as a regular peer reviewed article. As such, they tend to be ignored and not cited much.

    • Massimo Says:

      Not in my experience. My observation is quite the opposite, actually, people very often use conference proceedings to put “out there” stuff that is still preliminary, in order to establish priority in case it is confirmed later on. If it turns out to be a fluke, they can always dismiss the work as “just conference proceedings”.

  5. Toni Says:

    The question I would have is: how likely are conference submissions to be rejected? Would that submission be as likely to be published by a journal than accepted at a conference? The review process at a regular journal with rigorous peer review can take years and involve several rounds of resubmission. Is that likely to happen with a conference proceeding? Also, and as important, is a conference submission required to be original? Researchers often present the same or similar result at several conferences. That is perfectly legitimate but these contributions cannot then be listed as equivalent to original research articles. You state at April 15, 2010 at 6:56 am that proceedings are often used to put out preliminary stuff. Presumably, then, the same work will be published in a real journal once it is considered mature? Ultimately, the question is how to make sure that proceedings aren’t used to inflate publication lists. Given that publications are used to quantify research productivity – a tendency that is perhaps unfortunate but cannot be ignored – there is a strong incentive to do so and the community must define standards so as to prevent this.

    • Massimo Says:

      The question I would have is: how likely are conference submissions to be rejected? Would that submission be as likely to be published by a journal than accepted at a conference?

      Well, I do not have the stats but I think it all depends on how serious are the journal that publishes the proceedings and that which publishes the manuscript. I can surely tell you that papers submitted as conference proceedings are routinely rejected and/or sent back to authors for revision. My own experience is that I rejected a paper the one time I have been the Guest Editor, and that paper ended up published as a regular article.

      The review process at a regular journal with rigorous peer review can take years and involve several rounds of resubmission. Is that likely to happen with a conference proceeding?

      Well, OK now, let us not kid ourselves: indeed, the refereeing process can take years, but that, by and large, does not reflect the seriousness of the process, but rather the laziness, unprofessionalism and unfair competition that are rampant in our world.
      In my experience, refereeing is far better, more informed and effective at conferences, mainly because referees are conference attendees (I am talking about my own area, low temperature physics). At conferences, referees can talk to authors (for example they can ask questions during the talk and/or during the poster presentations) and receive clarifications where needed.

      Also, and as important, is a conference submission required to be original? Researchers often present the same or similar result at several conferences.

      … or, publish the same paper several times in several journals, in slightly different formats and/or with only incremental changes — are you going to tell me that you have never seen this ? Again, let us not kid ourselves.

      Ultimately, the question is how to make sure that proceedings aren’t used to inflate publication lists.

      Honestly, I think it is a non-issue.
      First of all, why is a manuscript on a regular journal with impact factor 0.1 “better” than a conference proceeding ? I can always find a journal that will publish whatever — I don’t think that that should make a CV look better. I think that the difference between the average level of conference proceedings and that of articles published in lesser journal is “within the noise”, frankly.
      Secondly and more importantly, the bottom line is: are the manuscripts cited ? If they are cited, who cares if we are talking a conference proceeding or a “regular” journal. If they are not cited, well, again, who cares ? A CV padded with irrelevant publications does not take an applicant places, I can guarantee it.

      My opinion only, as usual.

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