Some papers I wrote recently as an independent researcher, several years after receiving my Bachelor's degree have been accepted at good CS conferences (rank B in the CORE conference ranking).

I'm considering getting a PhD. Is it realistic to expect that these papers can be used to partially fulfill my PhD requirements?

  • 2
    The answer is usually no (publishing often isn't even listed in official PhD requirements) but you'd have to ask your advisor/department/university. Commented May 8, 2015 at 20:24
  • I'm only considering getting into PhD and don't have "my" advisor/department/university. And I've seen publishing listed in official PhD requirements: "It is expected that a dissertation should contain at least two publishable papers (in a peer reviewed journal or highly regarded conference proceeding) – and preferably three" gc.cuny.edu/Page-Elements/… Commented May 8, 2015 at 20:32
  • "Publishable" is not the same as "published".
    – JeffE
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 15:45
  • @JeffE My understanding is that they just mean "published or accepted" there. Commented May 9, 2015 at 18:04
  • That's not my understanding at all. "Publishable" is a statement about quality; "submitted" is merely a logistical hurdle.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 15:36

3 Answers 3


Is it realistic to expect that these papers can be used to partially fulfill PhD requirements?

Probably not, if you're in the U.S. There's a concept of a "Ph.D. by research", which is awarded on the basis of past research accomplishments. This only barely exists in the U.S., although it's more common in some other countries.

Instead, the way most U.S. Ph.D. programs work is that the dissertation must be based on research conducted as part of the program. One reason I've heard is that overseeing research in person makes it easier to judge how well or honestly you are carrying it out or how much assistance you might be getting. In any case, being unable to use your previous papers in your dissertation is generally not a real obstacle to graduating quickly, if that's your goal. Much of the time in a Ph.D. program is spent developing the ability to do high-level research, and if you already possess that ability upon entering you could finish substantially more quickly than usual. (I'm not convinced that finishing quickly would be a good career move: it's almost always much better to focus on depth rather than speed. However, you shouldn't worry that putting your prior work off-limits for your dissertation will be a burden.)


Although I'm a social scientist, this would not be acceptable in my program. In fact, I was not allowed to use a paper I had published during the program directly in my dissertation.

Of course, you can very likely make use of elements of your previous research (e.g., the literature review and perhaps even data) to help reduce the amount of work required to complete your PhD dissertation. At the end of the day, you are going to have to ask your dissertation committee chair and/or department chair what the rules of your program are -- but at most schools in the US, the department wants to see evidence of your ability to work as independent scholar before they let your graduate.


Most academic work is only judged on what you produce during the period of study, so in that sense it is unlikely that an institution would accept previously published papers to tick certain boxes.

It's worth clearing up this issue of publication underlying your question. A PhD is awarded for performing and documenting research of publishable quality during your candidature. It's up to your external examiner to decide whether your work meets that standard, but it helps them make their decision if it has been published (as it means some others have peer-reviewed it).

If your previous work is a solid foundation for your new work, then it may count in your favour, but it would be even better to publish your new work. As you have experience of producing publishable quality research, this goal should be within your grasp :-) Best of luck!

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