Just for some background information: I’m currently enrolled in a MS/PhD integrated program and finished my first semester last fall. I’m planning to opt out and apply to PhD programs this year and if all goes well then I’ll be attending school in the fall of 2021.

I’ve been looking into schools, labs, and professors that I may be interested in working with, and have fortunately found quite a few. Just an FYI, my field of interest is geometric deep learning in CS.

It is a little early to be asking, but I’ve sent emails asking professors if they believe they’ll have spots open in their labs for 2021. Some professors specify on their websites that if you’re going to send an email to attach a CV.

As of writing this, I don’t have any publications in journals or conferences. I submitted one as the second author in January to an international conference, and am involved in three other projects. However, I’m not sure if the results for the acceptance or rejection for these papers will be announced by the time I actually apply. Thus, the “Publications” section of my CV would essentially be blank.

What would be some advice for someone in my position? Should I specify the progress of the work that I’m doing or elaborate on my research interests?

Any tips or advice are appreciated. Thanks in advance!

  • Thanks for the comment. I assumed that research interests were put on your CV as well as it seems that every professor's CV I look at they included it in a separate section.
    – Sean
    Feb 23, 2020 at 1:31

2 Answers 2


As of writing this, I don’t have any publications in journals or conferences. I submitted one as the second author in January to an international conference, and am involved in three other projects.

I cannot speak for admissions committees, but this looks really strong. You have already submitted a paper, and you are involved in not just one but four research projects. As such, you will want to make sure to highlight this at the very top of your CV.

To highlight it, I would not include a "Publications" section, but include a "Papers", and put in submission or draft for as many papers as that applies. (This is a common structure for academic CVs, even for mid-level PhD students.) I would also include a separate section for "Research Experience" or "Research Projects" and list everything you have been involved in.

If you are confident about naming research areas, including research interests at the top of your CV is also a plus. Morgan Rogers' comment is correct that this should be very brief, only bulleted keywords (e.g. "Geometric Deep Learning"). In my area of CS this is perfectly normal (although definitely not expected, particularly for someone who is only applying to a PhD, and not yet a student).

This related question is about if you have no research experience. Fortunately, having significant research experience but no publications puts you in a far better position.

  • 3
    Good answer! About the suggestion to include research interests, be careful not to name too many/too diverse research areas -- an excessive namedropping may come off as unfocused. Ideally, the given research areas should match the ones of the submitted/drafted papers. Feb 23, 2020 at 12:58
  • 1
    @lighthousekeeper I agree. If you are not certain of precise research areas, better to leave it off and just explain in your cover letter. Or have someone who is an expert look it over to make sure you are at the right level of specificity. Feb 23, 2020 at 16:29
  • Hi! Thanks for the encouraging answer and comments. I was just curious and wanted to ask. Those other three projects I’m involved in, I’ll probably only submit one of them as a first author. Will it be a problem if I’m not the first author? I guess I’m feeling anxious because it seems the programs I’m aiming for are much more competitive than I thought, and even students with stellar publication history get rejected.
    – Sean
    Feb 23, 2020 at 23:54
  • 1
    @Seankala I know that ML is competitive and may have higher standards than other areas, so I cannot answer that definitively. But in general, papers are good, and it is of less importance whether they are first-author. I would not worry. :) Put together the best application that you can. Feb 24, 2020 at 14:27

If I were you, I would list four publications. It is normal to list publications as "submitted" "in press" or even "in preparation".

I wouldn't abuse the last one, especially if you have a lot already (you don't). But I think in your case, it makes sense to do that.

Sure, it's possible that no paper comes out of one of the three in progress projects. Or even that two come out of one project and none out of another. But it's clear that ANY publication, not finally accepted may still fall out (even a submitted or in press one).

If it makes you feel better ethically, you could start a Word file on each of the three projects that are likely to get published and just write an outline (and I mean a very high level outline). The good thing is this sort of practice (starter file for an in process project) may prompt you to get them over the goal line, rather than dropping off and never getting your merit badge. Sometimes doing this actually gets me motivated to do the research itself!

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