I've looked at the resumes of the type of candidates that get into computer science PhD programs at the top few universities (e.g. Stanford, MIT etc.) and a lot of them seem to have multiple publications (2-4) done during their undergraduate years. Is this representative of the entire pool? Or is this just a self-selected group that puts their resumes online.

I currently have one first-author workshop paper (5 pages), and I wonder how this might affect my chances at entry into these top universities.


You don't need any publications to get into a good Ph.D. program. Publications are often slow, and it's an unexpected bonus for an undergraduate to have publications, not a necessity.

What is a necessity is to have strong reference letters attesting to your potential for research, and one of the best ways to get those is to get involved in research. Being involved in research, in turn, will also tend to lead to publications. Thus, you see the correlation. Research and research-related activities that help a person into graduate school also tend to help cause that person to end up with publications.

In short: publications aren't the key, they are simply dependent on the same root cause.


Concur with jakebeal: no publications are required. I entered the Chemical Engineering PhD program at MIT without a single citation to my name, albeit with a semester of undergraduate research experience. That said, having publication(s) on one's CV almost certainly won't hurt one's prospects.

One of the nominal purposes of graduate school is to teach people how to do research; and, also, how to then publish it. An educational system where applicants were expected to possess the full skill set taught therein would be rather ... poorly conceived.


It really depends on a lot of factors, such as field and nation where the PhD program takes place. In the US publications are an added bonus but not fundamental. In Europe it is very helpful to have a publication, especially when you apply to a fellowship. In Australia/New Zealand PhD position are often tied to a scholarship application, and it is very unlikely that you will get such scholarship without at least one publication, so you might get admission to the phd program but without any funding.

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    From my experience with the Australian system most PhD scholarships in Australia are linked to undergraduate grades. In particular, your grades in your honours or masters research year will count a lot. A publication often gives you a little boost, but it's mostly the grades. Jun 22 '15 at 6:53
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    And, from my experience in the UK, almost nobody has any publications as an undergrad so I'm not sure I agree that it's "very helpful" to have one in Europe. Jun 22 '15 at 14:44
  • @JeromyAnglim that has not been my experience with NZ and AU universities. In Biological sciences often you have 100 applicants for 1 position and publications make a difference indeed. Jun 24 '15 at 18:53
  • @user4050 I guess the difference is between the large university administered phd scholarships and single stand-alone scholarships. For example, some universities might have a hundred of more APA and university-funded PhD scholarships. I find these tend to operate to a formula that heavily weights grades. In contrast, stand-alone scholarships are much more about individual academics who have a grant and are making choices between applicants. Jun 25 '15 at 7:31

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