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During my undergraduate, I have a publication, however I am listed as the second author. I know it is not as ideal as being listed as first author, but for graduate admission, will it still play a role?

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    Congratulations on the early paper, by the way May 8, 2014 at 15:02
  • What field is your paper in? If it's math or some branches of CS, "second author" only means "second author in alphabetcal order".
    – JeffE
    May 9, 2014 at 0:27

2 Answers 2

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It will absolutely still play a role. What graduate schools are looking for in terms of publications, undergraduate research conferences, etc. is not that you already have an established body of first author publications (that's the point of grad school) but that you have some experience and aptitude for research.

A second-author publication establishes that.

This is especially true in some fields like medicine, public health, etc. where the results of a large study might have many authors, and no matter how much you contributed as an undergrad, the odds of you meriting first or last authorship is slim. However, regardless of your field, there are some things you should also consider doing:

  • As @PeterJansson suggested, make sure you can describe what it is you contributed to the paper. You might not have room for this on your CV, but in application essays and in interviews, this will be important. If it's the only paper on your CV (which is likely), you're going to have to talk about it. It won't be held against you if you're the 2nd author, but it likely won't look good if you can't communicate what the paper was about or how you helped.
  • Consider seeing if there are ancillary questions in the research (how sensitive our our results to X? What about Y?) that might make good projects you could take the lead on and get a conference presentation or short paper out of.
  • Similarly, look out for opportunities to present undergraduate work at your institution, and apply to those. Even if you're not the first author on the publication, it's often possible to present on your part of the work in the context of the larger whole.
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    You will almost certainly be asked to talk about it, possibly in some detail depending on the research parts of you undergrad course. It's a really good starting point, so read over the material including background again to be sure you can explain the whole thing as well as just your role in it.
    – Chris H
    May 8, 2014 at 19:46
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No-one would expect an undergraduate to publish papers so the fact that you have been involved in publishable research is a merit. One of the goals of a Phd education is to learn to write good research papers so, again, no-one would expect that from your from the start. I would suggest that you try to describe your contribution to the paper so that your authorship can be valued from the perspective of that contribution. Being able to understand the skills and experience of a student, provided it is good, is of value in a selection process.

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    No-one would expect an undergraduate to publish papers — This really depends on the field and the target department.
    – JeffE
    May 9, 2014 at 0:28
  • @JeffE While there are likely many good departments who admit several published first authors, I find it doubtful, though, that this is "expected" of applicants in almost any department. Expected is a very strong word, to me, it means that not having a pub pretty much eliminates one from consideration in all but exceptional circumstances. Publications are not "expected" in math, bio, psych, sociology etc even at the most elite schools in the USA [at least by my definition]. Can you share what departments would "expect" this? Apr 27, 2018 at 9:03
  • In practice, most new PhD students in machine learning at top-5 departments have publications when they apply. Same for a significant fraction of top departments—especially smaller departments—in other subfields of computer science; theoretical computer science at Princeton is a good example. As far as I'm concerned, that makes publication a de facto expectation for admission for those departments in those subfields.
    – JeffE
    Apr 27, 2018 at 14:36
  • @JeffE ok yes, if we are going as specific as subfields of research within a department, I bet you are right. There are likely a few others too. May 27, 2018 at 2:08

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