I am a recent MSc graduate of a program in Machine Learning and Data Science with a BSc in Economics, and currently looking for Ph.D. opportunities in machine learning. Given my BSc background and the fact that I was unlucky enough to enroll in the MSc during the lockdown, I didn't produce any publications in Machine Learning.

Many Ph.D. programs that I am interested in applying, not necessarily at top universities, require applicants to already have publications on "top" avenues. I think it is because of the competition around the world for doctoral studies, but I still cannot get my head around why in a program when you are supposed to learn how to do research you are expected to be a top published researcher already just to be considered.

Is it common that the PhD programs in Machine Learning require applicants to have publications at top venues? Is it mandatory to have publications prior to applying?

  • 3
    "Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd?" is not a question that works well on the Stackexchange format. We want questions that admit a definite answer, not discussion prompts. So I'm voting to close (but yes, this is absurd).
    – Arno
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 11:22
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    Yes this is crazy, but its driven by hyper-competition in this field at the top universities, if you go a bit down in the ranking, there is no such requirement.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:09
  • Also can you provide some sample of these requirements, or links to the application requirements?
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:15
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    I will edit the post to save it from being closed. Probably it will no longer reflect what the OP wanted
    – Neuchâtel
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:32
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    Edit : I have to go. I hope someone will help me edit the rest, but I already changed the content of the post. It is no longer opinion-based. Also, the answer from Allure is still valid.
    – Neuchâtel
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


It's certainly not required to have published in top venues to be admitted to PhD programs. Check out for example the requirements at Stanford, one of the top programs around. There is no publication requirement. The only formal requirements are TOEFL, recommendation letters, a resume, etc. The listed requirements even say "Please be sure to include any publications here", implying that some applicants might not have any publications.

However, there are some 3000 applicants to Stanford per year, and some of them are going to have publications in top venues. All things equal should Stanford admit students who have publications in top venues or students who don't have the same publications? If you agree the answer is "the students who have publications" (it looks trivially like so to me) then publication requirements are going to be a de facto requirement even if it isn't a de jure requirement.

Ultimately, the point is that top programs want to admit students who are really good, and students who have publications in top venues are likely to be really good. It's a competitive world.

  • How could undergrad or MSc students, with barely any deep knowledge (I cannot fathom how someone would have mastered a field sufficiently within 2 or 3 years in a broad BSc curriculum), manage to get not one but several publications, especially in top journals or conferences? It seems crazy to me. Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:34
  • @ConstantinePhoenix amazing, right? But it's doable, see e.g. academia.stackexchange.com/a/189462
    – Allure
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 23:59
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    @ConstantinePhoenix With proper supervision and motivation is it definitely possible, but should not be a requirement, note that its not the program that puts these requirements but some Professors to consider you.
    – Dr. Snoopy
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 0:29
  • 3,000 applicants to a single program? Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 0:53
  • @AzorAhai-him- for Stanford, yes. cs.stanford.edu/admissions/phd/application-requirements "Admission to the Computer Science Department is very competitive. Each year approximately 3,000 applications are received for our graduate programs. It is recommended that all parts of the application be strong as many outstanding applications are received."
    – Allure
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 7:44

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