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As the title suggests, I am a Master's student with no publications. I will apply for a PhD in the USA next year so I am a bit worried that most applicants with a Master's degree have a publication. Is this (no publications in Master's) common within mathematics?

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  • 4
    Is your masters outside the US, or within?
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 14:10
  • 3
    What area of math? Also, most people applying to math PhDs in the US that did their bachelors in the US will not have a masters degree.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 16:20
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    Your country? In mine, the majority of students do a master studies direct after the bachelor studies. Almost none has a paper.
    – user111388
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 16:22
  • 14
    @Ken.Wong: Definitely not normal for German master students to have publications (before/after the end of master study)
    – user111388
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 17:11
  • 7
    I don't think it's been mentioned yet, but it's probably less likely for master's students in math to have published papers than in other fields (such as biology). Doing an original research project is more accessible/realistic for master's students, or even advanced undergraduates, in more empirically based fields.
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 2:48

5 Answers 5

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I cannot speak for the whole world, but for a master student in Europe, it would be exceptional to have a published paper already. A preprint is perhaps not completely unheard of but still extremely uncommon.

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  • 3
    Some people publish their thesis as a paper, most the time short before or after finishing the thesis itself. But this is still an exception and nothing that's expected from a student.
    – allo
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 13:21
  • @allo: ... if there is something to publish from the master thesis. Usually this is a formality with pretty much useless content.
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 19:26
  • What does "exceptional"/"extremely uncommon" mean? I would say that this applies to at least 10% of students (but certainly a clear minority).
    – user151413
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 21:59
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    I would also add that publishing a paper these days takes a lot of time. I am in a different field, but am still in the process of publishing papers from my PhD, which I finished over a year ago. Where Masters students already have a publication, it is most often a (relatively) small contribution to a larger project that was already in its late stages. Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 12:36
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Don't worry about it. Having a publication on entry to a (US) Ph.D. is unusual (though not unheard of), regardless of whether you're coming in with a master's or a bachelor's degree. In fact, in most subfields of mathematics, most of those completing a Ph.D. will not yet have a paper submitted, much less accepted or published (though many will have turned all or part of their thesis into a preprint by then.)

That being said, for admission to a competitive Ph.D. program, it is very helpful to show some evidence of excellence in mathematics beyond coursework. A publication/preprint is one way to do that; good competition results in math contests another; great reference from a professor a third, etc. etc. So figure out what is your excellence calling card.

Good luck!

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In the US, there are diffent kinds of masters degrees. Some are mostly course based and some have a research component. Of those, not all will require formal publication outside the university. This guides the decisions of those on admissions committees for doctoral programs.

Having a publication in a good journal is a strong plus, but lacking one isn't necessarily a strong minus. At the top schools it would be likely to count for more than otherwise, but still, not likely to be essential.

I suspect that for students applying it is not especially common to already have publications. This is partly because of the short and time-limited nature of most US masters programs. Research tends to be open ended, hence the long time it can take to get a doctorate.

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No, a Master's degree is a "post baccalaureate," not a "pre PhD.

Many master's programs have a "capstone" requirement consisting of a paper or a project, but it is uncommon for it to be of publishable quality.

Basically, you are usually not qualified to do "research" until toward the end of the of PhD program, and your thesis may well be your first publication.

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It is very unusual to have a paper -- further, it would be extremely unusual to have a solo-author paper, and whether you have a paper with one of the project supervisors you had in your undergraduate or Masters depends more on them that it does on you.

Having a paper is a (small) positive, but not at all a requirement. Appearing interested and knowledgable at your interview is much more important.

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