I am a second-year Math and CS undergraduate in the US. I am beginning to consider my prospects for graduate school, or possibly industry research.

My research experience thus far is from an internship at a private company. I do not participate in client work, only in proprietary/confidential R&D. In terms of demonstrating results, my work is at best reported in an internal whitepaper or two. Otherwise it's strictly confidential. The only thing I have to show for my work is a cleaned/approved resume blurb.

Thinking about my application from the perspective of a University, I feel like my research experience really just looks like I'm hand-waving results without anything to point to. I really enjoy the work, but I am worried that its lack of visibility will hurt me in the long run when applications roll around and I have nothing tangible to show for it.

Is this a typical concern? Or is this enough of a reason to request to participate in research presented at conferences or switch to research at my University instead?

  • What type of grad school are you applying to? I ask because there are parts of CS where the top grad schools will have a much higher bar for published research than most other fields, so general answers could be misleading.
    – cag51
    May 4 at 17:34

2 Answers 2


Yes, I think lack of visibility hurts a bit - university researchers mostly value the open disclosure model of university research.

Yes, I think it would add value to your resume to be able to show the research you've done in an academic setting. Really, what grad schools are looking for is your potential to do academic research. Nothing can substitute for evidence of doing good academic research to speak to that potential. You're early enough in your undergrad career that you have time to do academic research, so if your goal is academic research I'd definitely recommend getting involved on the academic side now. The purpose of this isn't just to build a resume, though, it's also to find out if you like doing academic research.

However, not all applicants will have academic research experience, and PhD applications are judged as a comprehensive whole, not a single criterion. I think the best thing you can do with your application is to have strong letters of recommendation that speak to your aptitude for research. These letters are best from university professors, but your industry superiors (especially if they have academic credentials, at least a PhD of their own) can also assist you to move your research background from "hand-waving" to "tiral's boss says they're a great researcher and would do well as a PhD student". They need not describe the specifics of a project to speak to your skills.

Of course, some companies may forbid this sort of honest letter-writing, which is very unfortunate for you and I have no solution to that problem.


If you apply to graduate programs in the US, little in the way of research will be expected of you as few undergraduates have any serious experience.

You can mention proprietary research in your CV, mentioning the name of the company if possible.

If you want it verified by a reader you have a couple of options. One is to use a researcher at the company as one of your letter writers, they can verify that you have been involved. The other way might be better, actually, since letters from academics are a bit more useful. Ask a researcher at the company for permission to give their name (& email) as a contact to verify your participation. If you get permission, then include that information in the CV.

But a professor who knows of your industry work might also be able to put a line in a letter. It wouldn't need detail.

Note that things that others say about you can have more weight than things you say yourself.

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