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I'm a junior looking for insights on intro to academia. My GPA is considered low (~3.2), but I believe I have a reasonable understanding and experience in the field I'd like to study and would like to try to submit a paper to a conference to aim for top-10 CS grad schools and see if I really have research interest and potential.

I'm not sure what I should expect and how to plan for the next 1~2 years. Grad school applications are usually due before the spring semester, so I have roughly ~1.5 years to prepare, right? I noticed that the first deadlines for a lot of conferences in the field are between April~June. Will I have enough time to write one? How long does it usually take to publish a first research paper?

I'm planning on asking professors if I can join a project when the semester starts (or ask for a review when I write one? I'm not sure what the options are). I wasn't planning on going to grad school until recently, so I'm not very familiar with this process, and I'd like to hear what you think.

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    At least in the US, most grad-school applications are due in December or January. Don't forget about the three-month delay between submission and acceptance/rejection, and the other three-month delay between acceptance and publication. – JeffE Jul 19 '13 at 14:47
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    Why the down votes? – JeffE Jul 20 '13 at 4:18
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How long does it usually take to publish a first research paper?

That question depends on a lot of factors. Here are a few of them:

  • What is the significance of your research?
  • How much of your research is unique, novel, and relevant?
  • Will other computer scientists be interested in your findings?
  • How well can you write? How well can you organize your paper?
  • Where do you intend to publish?

Some conferences and publications are more competitive than others. (Put another way, some have a lower acceptance rate than others.) Much of that depends on who sponsors the conference or publication.

First, you have to do the research (this is not trivial). Significant findings need to come from that research (this doesn't always happen). You have to write that in a way that will appeal to the community (the community can be rather fickle sometimes). Lastly, you have to find some venue where the work can be presented (it's not always easy to find a good match).

If a paper gets rejected, it could be because:

  • The research doesn't report anything new or significant
  • The research doesn't report anything of interest to the community
  • The paper is poorly written
  • The paper doesn't cite other related research, leading to a credibility problem
  • There simply wasn't room for your paper in the publication, or it wasn't a good match for that venue

Getting back to your original question, you might be able to publish in a year, if everything goes very smoothly. However, that's a huge "IF." Even established researchers can spend years getting ready for a publication, only to see it be rejected by a committee.

Publication can be a long and arduous process, with plenty of opportunities for obstacles, setbacks, and dead ends. It can be very hard to estimate a timetable, particularly for a first-timer going from start to finish.

Your best bet might be to see what's going on at your university, and see if you can get involved with an established, ohgoing research effort. Before you do that, it might be worth doing a self-evaluation first, so that you're prepared to tell a faculty member what you can offer the research team. For example, perhaps you're a crack programmer, and a research project at your institution needs some software written, in order to complete an experiment or simulation. That might be a more realistic way to get started as a researcher.

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First things first -- generally, you do research with the intent to learn something and/or to solve an open problem, not with the intent to publish a paper so you can get into graduate school. This relates directly to your question:

Will I have enough time to write [a paper]?

Without knowing what you're planning on researching, or how it will turn out, this is unanswerable. Writing a research paper for publication isn't as simple as saying you're going to do it -- you have to have a legitimate problem to work on, the tools and ability to produce a novel contribution regarding that problem, and the drive to make it happen. Then, of course, you have to actually write and edit the paper, put together any graphs or other figures that demonstrate your contribution, find a suitable conference (or journal or workshop, etc.) to publish the paper in, and then actually submit it by the deadline.

All of that said, your idea to ask professors about joining their research groups is a good one. With this plan, you have the potential to:

  1. Find out if you enjoy and have the temperament for research.
  2. Get mentorship from a professor, grad students, or other more experienced undergraduates.
  3. Find out what problems are interesting and worth pursuing.
  4. Practice the steps of going from idea to published results.

Once you find a professor to work with (and again, I suggest phrasing your request in terms of why you are interested in computer science research, and not on the means to getting into graduate school), you will start getting answers to the other questions, like what specific conferences you might want to shoot for. Obviously, it behooves you to plan ahead in order to meet conference deadlines, but until you start the research, you won't be able to determine whether you will eventually have enough good results to put together a paper.

As a general guideline, it would not surprise me if you can find a good problem to work on and submit it to a workshop or conference within a year and a half. You might also be able to work on an ongoing project and end up as an author on a paper or two that come from this work. Good luck!

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