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I'm currently finishing up my 3rd year of undergrad at a large state school and wanted to know how helpful first-author papers are for someone in physics when applying to grad school at a place like MIT or Caltech.

I've had the chance to work with two great professors in different areas of quantum physics. Thus far, I've published three papers as first author (one in PRX, two in PRL) and have three other papers in the works (one accepted to nature physics assuming some revision). Since my work was quite substantial, the postdocs and graduate students in both groups are using my techniques to study other problems and I anticipate having at least 5 other papers with my name in the 2nd and 3rd author position by the time grad admissions comes around.

In all cases I found/solved problems that were far beyond what my supervisors thought an undergrad could solve and they are both very happy with my work. I am wondering how much this would help with grad admissions? The reason I'm asking this here is I almost feel silly asking my supervisors since the schools I mentioned seem extremely prestigious and I wanted to gauge if I had any chance.

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    Put it this way, a lot of people will have less than 5 papers at the end of their PhD. I would say "good luck" for your applications, but I don't think you need it! :) – astronat Feb 15 '18 at 8:11
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    Is this a serious question? Someone that has published 3-8 papers in journals like PRL and Nature does not have to worry about getting into grad school anywhere in the world. It's more than enough to get a PhD already. Maybe 2. – Winther Feb 15 '18 at 10:00
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Any paper you publish as an undergraduate is a huge benefit to your application. Most grad school applicants do not have any publications, let alone five with some first author ones. You're way ahead of the curve, and it should make a very substantial positive difference in your application.

Of course, this does not constitute a guarantee that you will actually be admitted to the very best places. Other factors go into the consideration as well, but having read several hundred applications, I can tell you that your publications will be seen very positively.

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    I'd like to add the small remark that this is only the case if the publications are not in predatory journals or at spamferences. These could easily count negative on a CV if the future advisor sees this as an attempt to cheat or if the future advisor sees a risk that the future student needs to be trained in proper academic work first. In the best case the future advisor will look at the papers actually published, though. None of this applies to the OP, but to ensure the generality of the answer, I find it important to add. – DCTLib Feb 15 '18 at 13:22
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    @DCTLib: Correct. But PRX and PRL are both excellent journals, as are the various Nature journals. – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 15 '18 at 21:20
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    Exactly! Which is is why I added the sentence that this does not apply to the OP's situation in this case. I'm just expecting that there will be future similar questions by other people with publications at not so great publication venues that are then likely to be closed as duplicates of this one, and then this addition is kind-of important. – DCTLib Feb 16 '18 at 9:11

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