I am currently 3rd year Physics UG and have been working on Cosmology for past 3 years.

I want to explore different areas like QFT, Quantum Gravity and maybe a bit of basic Math research as well, before I enter into PhD.(I have 2 more years of MS education)

However, with an ever increasing stress on Publications for PhD applications, it's very hard. I can try get 1-2 publications if I continue in Cosmology, as I already know the bare minimum and can start my projects with comparatively less reading. But if choose a new field I'll first have to do a lot of preliminary readings and only then start my research projects. Thus lower chance of good publications.

So how should a Physics student go about exploring different fields?

Note: [I am not considering doing a course in QFT, Math as exploring the topic]

PS: I am from India where it is much less common for UG students to get publications compared US/Europe. So, if possible, please do consider this.

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    It is not common for undergraduates in physics in the US to have publications. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 19 at 11:54
  • In an interview for internship (around 3 months back ) I was asked if I'll publish my research project. This was asked even after knowing that I am a 3rd year UG. It was a European lab though. I assumed the same for US! – Indigo1729 Apr 19 at 12:30
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    The fact that you were asked does not mean that you were expected to give a positive answer - they asked so that, if you had, you would have the opportunity to say so, but I find it extremely implausible that a negative answer really made you uncompetitive. I really don't know what you mean by "an ever increasing stress on Publications for PhD applications" - I've yet to hear of a PhD programme in either Europe or the US where your application is seriously compromised by not having publications. – E.P. Apr 19 at 12:37
  • I do not mean that it is mandatory. But given the competition it has virtually become mandatory for the very top institutes (say MIT, Standford, ETH Zurich, Max Planck Germany), at least according to online forums. These are just 2 examples - 1) quora.com/… 2) usgraduatesblog.com/… – Indigo1729 Apr 19 at 12:44

It would be amazing for you to get 2-3 publications before you enter PhD. Maybe it’s just the semantics of what is meant by “getting 2-3 publications” but just participating as co-author in one publication in first- or second-quartile journal is not that common, and it’s extremely unlikely that this would be “your” publication, i.e. that you would be the major contributor to this.

It is not easy to publish original work in a mature field like cosmology: the low-hanging fruits have long been picked. In other words, all the easy work has already have been done by current researchers or their graduate students or their undergraduate students, or by the generation before them. Rejection rates in well-recognized journals are generically above 70% of submissions, and these are submissions by authors who considered their work sufficient good to submit to those journals in the first place, i.e. the rejection rate would be much higher if it weren’t for a significant self-filtering of submission to good journals.

I recommend students not to play it safe at the undergraduate level, i.e. if they would like to learn about cryptography then take a crypto course rather than some other “safe” topic which might narrow rather than expand their expertise.

There is this nice article published in the NYTimes which makes a similar point, although in a the context of students obsessed by grades and from a more “dealing with failure” perspective.

  • You are right, "2-3 publications" is actually "at-least 1" !! But all questions in internet regarding "enrolling to PhD" in top colleges across the world suggests students to have publications (For example - quora.com/…) – Indigo1729 Apr 19 at 12:17
  • In an interview for internship (around 3 months back ) I was even asked if I'll publish my research project. This was asked even after knowing that I am a 3rd year UG. – Indigo1729 Apr 19 at 12:29
  • @Indigo1729 unless you are truly brilliant (and maybe you are) I’m sorry to say there is no way an undergraduate research project gets published in any reputable peer reviewed journal. Not suggesting it cannot be published on some website somewhere - good undergraduate work is very valuable from a pedagogical perspective and in supplying useful examples - but I understood the OP as referring to peer-reviewed publications. – ZeroTheHero Apr 19 at 12:58
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    @Indigo1729 being co-author on one paper in a top-tier peer-reviewed paper is very good. However, I stand by my recommendation which is to explore all topics: there is time enough for you to make your mark once you have found something you're truly passionate about. – ZeroTheHero Apr 19 at 13:15
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    There are often conferences that are friendly to undergraduates, such as the annual meeting of the major society in the field. They may accept posters that are minimally peer-reviewed to check for relevance and basic quality. This is likely what most people have on their applications. As for top tier conferences or high-impact journals, obviously that's absurd. – A Simple Algorithm Apr 19 at 16:48

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