To be specific, I just graduated with a Bachelor's degree, and my final project supervisor has asked me to co-author a paper with him about the subject of the project I did with his supervision.
I'd love to join the research community, and I guess this would a be good starting point, but there are two issues I'm concerned about:
- The first is related to the subject itself: (a) I'm not convinced of the quality of the suggested solution. (b) The project tries to solve two different problems.
- The second issue is that I'm not interested in the field of the project. My interest is in a different field. Though, both are related to computer science.
So, would participating in this paper do any harm to my reputation or my chances of getting into a good graduate program in the field I'm interested in?
Thank you so much for the kind answers. Almost all of you agree that the second issue is harmless, but there are different opinions regarding the first one.
So I said that my supervisor knows better, and I decided to go on and started planning the outline of the paper with his help. When I got to the writing part, I noticed that the main body doesn't relate to or even mention the main problem that we've specified. This is when I decided to decline the offer. It just doesn't feel right.
Minimum conditions for ensuring this - or any other - paper doesn't hurt your career:
- The research findings must be sound. don't get tempted into writing, or being listed as a co-author for, papers presenting research when you're "not convinced about the quality" of the research findings; or 'fluffy' papers which don't really present much at all; or mere rehashes of other results etc.
- The paper must be relatively well-written - both in terms of language and in terms of structure and narrative flow. Now, I say 'relatively' because this is often hard to get right with the pressure of time and page limits; and with English not being the native language of most researches. So, readers will be somewhat tolerant about this point - but if you write something that is just very hard to follow, or in very poor English, that doesn't reflect well on you.
Unfortunately, attention must be paid to the venue of publication. I must first qualify that... obviously some publications are more highly-regarded w.r.t. their filtering process and the typical quality of articles they carry, and some less so. The thing is, I believe one should not assume that if a paper is published in a 'weaker' journal, that necessarily means it's bad - and if someone is evaluating your qualifications as an academic they should bother to skim the paper itself and make up their own mind. That doesn't always/often happen, so people may well judge your work by looking at where you've published. Of course, this is not something binary ("good" journals and "bad" journals, or conferences) - but having mostly obscure venues in your list of publications does reflect poorly on you, and in some fields I guess there are venues you should actively avoid even at the price of no publication.
Having said all that - for your first publication, as long as it's not a disreputable venue, it doesn't matter much. Most people "start out small".
The last point, about venues, is also a sort of a safety guarantee for you: If you submit a paper to a conference or journal with a good peer-review process, and you're accepted, then it's highly likely that your paper is actually pretty good, and even more likely that it will reflect favorably on you (the converse is not necessarily true of course; lots of good papers get rejected).