Low Hanging Fruit, Salami Style

Low Hanging Fruit, Salami Style

One of the core things a young faculty member must do is publish. Without publishing, you will not establish yourself in your field, and the lack of results will make it more difficult to get funding. Without funding, you won’t have students to find results and publish, and then the downward spiral continues.

In order to avert this process, you need to keep your eyes peeled for some low hanging fruit. That is, topics which haven’t been published before but, once you come across them, they are rather easy to simulate/build/measure/quantify/whatever, making it an easy way to churn out a paper.

DrWife, Colleague, and I have been working on one such low hanging fruit, hence I didn’t have time to photoshop some salami onto my low hanging branch. This stemmed from an idea discussed several months ago. With me defending, DrWife and I both interviewing for positions and preparing to move back to the US, we put off this idea because we were mainly unsure how much effort was needed to really get some results. It turns out, however, after only a few hours of really working on it, this idea seemed to ripen right before our eyes (pun intended). We’re quite pleased with ourselves. This looks like it will be easy brownie points for our CVs. It should be one of a handful of publications during my first tenure track year, which should help me hit the ground running.

There’s only one catch. If we wanted to, it is possible to break this paper into two or three separate papers, each tackling a specific topic within the main topic. Or, as we say in academia: “salami slice the hell out of it”. That’s great because you can turn one paper into many papers, which helps pad your CV, makes you look like you get a ton of research done, and hopefully helps you move up the academic food chain.

At the same time, I really dislike salami slicing, even though I have done it before. And with the publishing game in academia the way it is right now, I see it more and more. I constantly find myself reading through papers saying, “This topic should have been combined with the previous 2-4 other papers from [Author]. If I was reviewing this, I wouldn’t let this slide.” But in reality, I have let it slide on more than one occasion.

During my PhD studies, I’ve spoke to many people about this topic and it seems there isn’t a right answer. I’ve heard everything from, “Stand your ethical high ground,” to, “It’s a meatgrinder and you want into academia. Get used to it.” I’d like to stay on the ethical side but at the same time, I want to make tenure eventually. Now, I’ve told myself that if it comes down to me needing to publish X papers for tenure and I only published X-1 papers, well, then I did more things wrong than just that.

So I have a few questions for the masses out there on the interwebs. First, what are your thoughts about publishing and salami slicing? For those of you in academia, do you think 1 paper can make or break tenure? If so, would you salami slice all you can? Also, do you find this to be a problem in current literature (ie: you often read articles that are marginally publishable work but if combined with other work they would be good)? If you have any other thoughts or comments, that would be great as well.


I think salami is an excellent analogy here. If you slice salami too thinly, it starts to fall to bits, and you’ll see obvious holes where things have fallen out. On the other hand, for many people, a thick slab of salami is rather unpalatable. The right sized slice is important.

I don’t agree with breaking up a paper for the sake of more papers, but it can certainly be worthwhile to slice a paper in two ( or more) if you have two (or more) significant results you want to highlight. I have certainly encountered papers that really should have been merged with another paper from the group, but I’ve also run into papers that should have been divided up so that they could have gone into more detail in procedures and discussion.

I have two thoughts on this. I prefer to read papers in ‘bite size chunks.’ I abhor reading the ‘super papers’ that have everything but the kitchen sink included.

That said, I also hate reading a paper that is a reworking of another paper. I have run into too many papers like that, and it totally pisses me off. You can tell that what they’re going after in tenure padding.

I think that if the research has an obvious conclusion from the results given, it is probably fine. If the results are ambiguous and the conclusion is that more research needs to be done, then you shouldn’t even be submitting it. If, however, the papers, while on the same topic, have little to no overlap in data (i.e. it tells its own story and doesn’t need the other papers except perhaps as background), then I think it’s probably good enough to stand on its own.

That’s my take on it, anyway.

I like the salami technique with the caveat of where there is:

A) a point too it (not a paper for papers sake)
B) where the further paper(s) don’t delay otherwise useful results
C) not too thin on details

Personally I thrive on juicy low hanging salami and I was once an RA but am now just a general pleb on t’intetwebs

Papers should be meaty. You don’t want a whole cow in there, but thin shavings off the end of a sausage are unacceptable. Papers should not be made like sausages either—pure, simple ingredients are to be preferred.

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