Friday, October 15, 2010


This big grant on applying for, to lead my own group, requires me to do all sorts of things beyond just completing the grant application. I need my CV to look as good as possible when I submit, and that doesn't just mean checking for typos. A lot of the work that I've done recently is not yet in the form that goes on a CV, so I need to get it in that form. A paper that is written but just sitting on my computer is not a publication. So last week I submitted a draft to a high-profile journal is very rapid turnaround time, hoping to have accepted before my application deadline. I am now working on what is called an LPU.

The Least Publishable Unit has a long and proud history in science. It is often the case that one can either toil for months over a very long paper, or chop that up into several smaller papers which will come out faster, often in lower profile journals. The quality of the work is not necessarily any lower, but the step is more incremental and the CV filled out faster. This particular LPU is a simple reanalysis of some data from my doctoral work. I started writing it today, and expects to have completed draft by sometime next week. I will submitted to a low-profile journal with rapid turnaround and hope to have an answer from them before I send in my CV.

I do not feel at all bad about this, my first LPU, for several reasons. First, looking through the CVs of most of the very successful scientists I know, there are quite a few little papers among their giant publications. Second, I can think of several papers which seem to me to have started out as LPUs but which turned out to be tremendously important and widely cited. Third, experience and mentors have told me people are more likely to read a short paper. Fourth and finally, writing short papers is a hell of a lot easier when one has to dictate everything.

There is one way in which this paper does not really meet the classical definition of an LPU: there are lots of data behind it. The true LPU should have just enough data to make a publishable paper. In this case, the sample being analyzed is fairly enormous, although not much bigger than is needed to answer the question.

All in all, writing a little paper seems a good change from the massive review article I've just submitted. I hope it turns out to be as easy as I think it will.

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