How concerned should I be about a mediocre paper I co-wrote being presented at a conference (by a classmate I despise and distrust)?
Last semester, I had the misfortune of working on a group project with the most awful person I have ever met (and two other individuals). Some of the things that went down include:
- The subject of our research (which was to be presented in paper and presentation form) changed multiple times, partly due to her insistence.
- She disappeared for maybe a month - it ended up being due to illness, but she didn't even send us an email telling us what was up - and then wanted to completely take over again when she returned.
- She did pretty much no research outside of one article we had already been assigned in class and some very tangentially related material she had used for a paper on another subject.
- She made really rude comments about the title I suggested (which we ended up using anyway, since no one had a better suggestion).
- She didn't meet deadlines.
- She claimed to be an excellent copy editor and insisted on having the final review on the paper, but her "final product" had numerous typos and other errors.
- She claimed to be an excellent public speaker and insisted on being the group member to present our research to our class, only to have a near nervous breakdown on presentation day. When we tried to practice the presentation with her, she repeatedly ignored all of our suggestions.
- When she finally presented, she spoke almost exclusively on her own section of the paper which was, as I said, pretty tangential to the subject at hand.
- She posted a nasty comment about the group on Facebook (after having added us all as friends. This is grad school, by the way, not junior high) literally during a conversation we were attempting to have with her about our concerns about the direction of the project.
- She wasted endless amounts of time during group meetings regaling us with stories of her recent and soooo tragic breakup.
- She insisted that we schedule group meetings around her - not even around when she had legitimate conflicts, but around when she might be tired or have other work to do (completely oblivious to the idea that the rest of us might be tired or have other work to do).
This is just to give you an overview of what went down. Anyway, in addition to her presentation being terrible, the paper, in its final form, was, in my opinion, not very good. The sections written by each member don't flow together well, and her section in particular is badly written (but uses lots of academic-sounding jargon). I think it suffers from the fact that we changed topics repeatedly, among other things. Miraculously, we seem to have gotten an A. The professor even gave Horrible Girl good reviews of her rambling, unfocused, jargon-filled but substance-less presentation that left out the actual research done by the rest of the group. So, despite being irked that other people weren't seeing through this girl's bullshit, I figured all's well that ends well and I'll just make sure I never work with her on anything again.
Fast forward to July: Horrible Girl sends an email to the group announcing that she would like to submit the paper to some journals/conferences, so that we can be FAMOUS, and please respond asap with bio info and such (she also offers to just submit it under her name alone if the rest of us aren't interested). I emailed the professor (with whom I had previously had a conversation about the issues I was having with Horrible Girl) with the following questions:
- Seriously, just how bad was the paper (because I think it was pretty bad)?
- Are these conferences/journals Horrible Girl is mentioning worth submitting this to?
- If it's a bad paper, should I be worried about being out there with my name on it?
- Or does "hooray, I've been published!" trump the public shame of having published epic crap.
The professor, busy doing research in Nepal or somewhere else with limited internet access, never responded, and Horrible Girl basically harangued the group into agreeing to let her submit the paper. I had conversations with one of the other group members; she was similarly concerned, but decided she was ok with it, and made a point of saying to Horrible Girl that all of the authors needed to be credited. We also figured that since the paper wasn't good, no one would pick it up anyway, so whatever.
Fast forward to yesterday: the paper has, freakishly, been accepted by a conference, and Horrible Girl will be traveling to DC in a few months to present - she (either really oblivious or fake-oblivious to the fact that we all hate her) suggested that it would be a totally fun girl party if we were all to go together.
So (sorry for the rambling) where does this leave me?
- I have pretty close to zero interest in attending this conference - the idea of spending another moment anywhere near Horrible Girl absolutely terrifies me. However, a) it would be my first time attending an academic conference, which is neat and b) I feel like the paper, despite not being very good, deserves to be protected by someone who isn't an idiot. When HG presented on it in class, she was relying on me and one of the other group members to answer questions, since she didn't actually understand a lot of the material in paper and didn't really draw the same conclusions the rest of the group members did. I am also slightly concerned that she will present the research in an inelegant manner that will offend a lot of the audience. Still, my desire not to waste another second of my life around HG almost certainly outweighs whatever damage control I might be able to do by being present.
- Do I even want my name on this paper, or should I tell her, on second thought, take my name off? I really do think it was pretty bad. Does the fact that it was accepted by this conference mean it's not really as bad as I think? Do the positives of being able to say that I had a paper accepted by a conference outweigh the crappiness of said paper? How embarrassed should I be if a bad paper of mine is floating around out there if there are three other names on it and it was clearly just a stupid school assignment? Will anyone ever read anything but the abstract anyway? I'm just a masters student and probably not planning on going into academia long-term, so does any of this even matter at all?
My ultimate goal here is to protect my professional reputation - it is tempting to accept suggestions simply on how to make HG suffer and expose her for the whiny, childish, bullshit artist intellectual poseur that she is, but I am attempting to cling to some modicum of grown-up behavior here.