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Thinking of applying for a PhD in a 2-3 years as I want to focus on my industry job at the moment, and I was wondering how publications are evaluated by grad admissions over time? Will a very good publication not be evaluated as highly if it happened 2-3 years prior to the candidate's application (given they have not been in academia during these last 2-3 years)? Is there an expectation that your most recent pub will be the best?

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    Well, it depends on each single comitee. I any case, you should frame your publication as "when I was a student, I was able to publish" rather than thinking "my best publication is 2 years old". Think about what the publication tells about you, not about what the pubblication contains...
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Mar 19 at 13:06
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    "Is there an expectation that your most recent pub will be the best?" No. Commented Mar 19 at 13:10
  • I did my PhD as a "Mature Student" many years after I completed a masters by coursework and thesis. I also published a couple of papers at the time. The admission criteria was based on the ability to do research, hence they required either a masters by thesis or equivalent and/or evidence of publication. They didn't care how old the publications were. (In Australia PhD candidates usually have to complete an MRes/MPhill before entering a PhD program to "prepare them" and this is waived if you have previous research experience) Commented Mar 19 at 22:44

2 Answers 2

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No one can predict how an individual will judge something like this, but I would find it highly unusual that a small number of years would even be noticed. Twenty or so years might be, however.

But, peripherally related to this is a sense that one might well favor someone who is active in research, though more for a faculty position than doctoral admissions.

One way to mitigate any effect, however, is to have a "Work in Progress" section on your CV. This indicates that you haven't given up the research "mindset". If you are currently active in research I suggest that you keep a notebook of "ideas" that occur as you go along. Ideas about extensions or variations on the current theme or just things that pop into your head and that might be worth pursuing later. Mining such a notebook for research is a valuable thing to do and can lead to that "Work in Progress" section.


As for the headline question, an incited work probably diminishes in importance over the years as no one currently finds much value in it. But a highly cited paper probably increases in "value" for such things.

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If you write your essays correctly, your application will be evaluated in the context of your career path. If your career path carried you outside of areas where you are expected to publish, your evaluators should pick up on that, and a 2-3 year gap in your publication record should not impact your application negatively (Keep in mind that a good number of candidates who get accepted to PhD programs will have zero or one publication of any real merit).

I would think that an important part of your application package would be conveying a feel for why you want back in to academia after going to work in industry. You want your evaluators to think of you as an applicant with real direction, and not one simply wandering from gig to gig. This isn't as critical for your current situation as for, say, somebody in industry for 10 years, as you haven't been in the working world for that long, but paying some attention to this will make your applications stronger.

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