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research experience of typical top grad school applicants

10bets10bets Registered User Posts: 68 Junior Member
edited February 2006 in Graduate School
Science and Engineering majors planning to go to a graduate school
eventually find out that it is better for them to obtain some research
experience before applying to schools. And I am one of such students
(I am a CS major). However, I do not have an image of how much experience
admitted applicants for top graduate programs (say, top 5 in their fields)
have. Do many students publish papers as undergraduates? Do many
students participate in respearch programs outside college?

What distinguishes an applicant from another, when both have research
Post edited by 10bets on

Replies to: research experience of typical top grad school applicants

  • ecnerwalc3321ecnerwalc3321 Registered User Posts: 2,065 Senior Member
  • mol10emol10e Registered User Posts: 445 Member
    What distinguishes students is the nature and quality of the research experience and the letter of recommendation that your research advisor writes for you. Not many programs will expect you to be a sole or lead author for a publication in a highly reputable journal, but they will expect you to demonstrate some promise as a researcher. What this means is an interest in doing research manifested by ongoing involvement in a research project, persistence, and an aptitude for doing research manifested by having creative research ideas. To get a good sense of undergraduate research experience in the CS field, look for the major CS organizations' awards for undergraduate research to see what other students are doing.
  • 10bets10bets Registered User Posts: 68 Junior Member
    So, does it mean that most admitted applicants of the top graduate programs
    have published papers during their undergraduate years and a considerable
    number of those papers appeared in famous journals?
  • meumeu Registered User Posts: 18 New Member
    i sincerely doubt that there are many applicants who have published articles in their undergrad. what you can do is go to your college library's website and you should have access to a database for your discipline where you can type someone's name in and access citations for all their publications. then, go to the web page of, lets say, princeton's cs department, and look up the names of a couple of their grad students and see how much, if at all, they have published. and then you can look at the year of their publications and you can pretty much guess whether they were published during their undergrad.

    but like i said, i sincerely doubt it, and if they were published, they probably were one of 50 different authors of an article and had a really small part in the actual research.
  • molliebatmitmolliebatmit Super Moderator Posts: 12,374 Super Moderator
    One of my professors, who's on the admissions committee for MIT's grad program in neuroscience, said that most applicants (he said 95%, but I think he was just saying a number, rather than that being a hard and fast percentage) don't have published papers.

    He also said that having a published paper can make an applicant stand out from the crowd in a pretty significant way.
  • JacobianJacobian Registered User Posts: 159 Junior Member
    OK, a couple of question in regard to this whole publishing thing.

    Does publishing in say, an undergraduate research journal hold particular significance in graduate admissions?

    Also, where does publishing just an abstract or getting published at conference proceedings stand throughout this process?

    And last, how does publishing outside your discipline look (like in a math journal when applying for physics graduate programs for example)?
  • ucsdpoliucsdpoli Registered User Posts: 24 New Member
    Just a side note but my girlfriend is a 3rd year Ph.D at a solid UC. She is studying mollecular bio and biochem and never was published as an undergrad. With no research/publication experience she was accepted to UChicago, Southwestern Medical Center- Texas and the UC. She was not published until her 2nd year as a 2nd or third author.

    She said as far as she could see having good grades from Umich, a few solid letters and personalizing her statments towards each program helped her and that she had worried about research/publication hurting her but it did not.
  • meumeu Registered User Posts: 18 New Member
    as far as what would set someone apart from another who has already published is 1. where they have been published, 2. whether they were of only a few authors or many, 3. their conference experience

    and of course, sadly to say, in many programs, if you can make above 700s on both sections of your GRE, you can pretty much be secure that you will get in somewhere pretty good. that is, unless everyone is making above 1400s, and then you have to make sure that you have a knock out purpose statement, and letters of recommendation. And not to forget a very closely edited writing sample. (have a couple profs look at it if possible).

    as a last note, if you can, get involved in research and publishing as soon as possible. you might not get something published right now (dont expect it, but at least try), but as most students wait till their final years of their doctorate or even afterwards to start to learn the publishing game, you will be far ahead of the pack if you start now and thus more attractive to future employers

    my advice to you would be to approach every single paper you have to write for your studies as though you intend to publish it, present it at a conference. that extra polish you put on them now might pay off dividends in the future.
  • kihylekihyle Registered User Posts: 307 Junior Member
    i've gotten into a couple (not all) top programs in my field - i've had:
    1. various jobs in labs my sophomore and junior summers
    2. 6 month part-time work experience in the industry my senior year
    3. undergraduate research for 1.5 years
    4. part-time research tech position after I graduated for 5 months
    5. 1-year masters program with TAing requirement
    all of my seven jobs were somehow relevant to my field - but my test scores and gpa were low so i didn't get into all the top programs

    i did not have my name on any publication when i applied - few people publish really before their go to grad school, so at least i wasn't in the minority as far as this goes - i was also working under a very young assistant professor - when i joined he had no publications on his own - my first project was my own, so i had little help or guidance from anyone experienced - i'd definitely recommend going into a group with a well-established advisor and joining efforts with a group of people on his team so that when they publish your name gets included on the paper - first-author publications will require you starting research early and putting in a lot of time (or being very bright and lucky along the way)

    publications are often sometimes overrated - i knew one person who had a publication but she basically just did a lot of work with her hands - she put in a lot of hours but practically all of it was manual labor that was guided by a post-doc every step of the way - so when they published, she was one of the authors - i had no publications, but i had to pound my head a couple of times along the way trying to solve problems on my own - even if i wasn't successful in some of the approaches being inexperienced when i started out, it still taught me to be thoughtful and resourceful on my own - so i think that process benefited me more than having a publication this way

    nevertheless, publications will always make you shine brighter in the eyes of an admissions committee - i've known a guy who's got 4th % on his subject GRE but he had one first-author publication and got into some very good grad schools
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