My question concerns PhD applications that are handled on a departmental level by graduate admissions committees, as is the case in the US, Canada and a few other places. Further, I am interested mainly in STEM fields, with a particular focus on engineering applications.

I wish to know if graduate admissions committees look at any information that may be available about the applicant, beyond what is provided in the application itself. For instance, if an applicant's CV lists a couple of papers (and maybe even provides arXiv links to those publications), would the committee go out of their way to take a brief look at the papers (if not otherwise submitted by the applicant)? How would this change if the paper has been peer-reviewed or not?

What about other materials that an applicant may have provided? If an applicant's webpage is listed on their CV, would the committee take a look at it? More generally, what about information that the applicant may not have even provided? Would a committee ever feel the need to independently go out of their way to obtain more information by, say, searching Google, or social media, or a LinkedIn profile? Is this even "ethical"?

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Since committees are made up of individuals with their own ideas, there is no way to predict what will happen in an individual case. There are probably situations in which there are rules to prohibit looking elsewhere for information, but I don't know of any.

But, the members of such committees aren't bored and looking for additional work. They have enough to do to weigh each application as presented. But a look at items listed on a CV might be expected and peer reviewed articles are better than otherwise (and don't probably require a look).

Websites might get a peek, but likely not a deep dive. In fact anything you include on the application might get at least a peek. But mostly, I think, people are looking for positive things, not negative ones. "Is this a hardworking, dedicated, student with some insight and a good likelihood of success?"

But social media posts might be a special concern for students. If someone is notorious online for any reason, then it might come back to some committee member and it is impossible to say if that would influence a decision. It might influence the vote of that member, of course.

Since searching for non-famous people on Google is pretty frustrating, I doubt people would bother to do a general search unless something alerts them that it might be necessary. A look at LinkedIn might be different, as it is supposed to be a "professional" information site.

But, public information is, by definition, public. There are probably no ethical constraints beyond adhering to local rules. If a person thinks they have a problem, they would be wise to clean it up as much as possible.


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