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How different are papers that are "in draft", "in review", and "pending publication" for graduate school application?

I have a research paper that's already drafted, but my PI is aiming for a high-profile journal, so he wants me to address all foreseeable questions about the method I'm about to propose, which means I need to do some supplementary experiments. But this way my paper can't be submitted at the time of my application, and I will have no objective proof about the significance of the work.

Or alternatively, I could submit my draft and wait for the reviewer's opinion, so I can put mark the paper as "in review". This will serve as a proof that my work is mature enough to be seen by others. But is it worth it?

By the way, I'm an senior undergraduate, and I got another paper in draft, but definitely won't be submitted before January. And both drafts are at the stage where they're fit to be reviewed by the admission committee. Besides my supervisors for both projects are listed as my recommenders, and should be able to vouch for me if contacted.

Thank you!

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    If a paper is "in review" then this is not proof that it is mature enough to be seen by others. (I have reviewed my share of papers that were certainly not at that stage of maturity.) It only proves that you have submitted something which has not yet been rejected, accepted or returned for revision. You might have submitted some random Lorem Ipsum five minutes before submitting your application. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 11 '15 at 16:29
  • @StephanKolassa so basically unpublished paper doesn't count in graduate school application? – arax Nov 11 '15 at 16:32
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    They could be trying to elicit reviewer comments. Or trying to hit the smallest publishable scientific increment. Or they could be trying to boost their publication list before applying to grad school (I'm not saying you do this). They could be running a "quantity over quality" strategy, submitting and resubmitting until a journal accepts their crap. They could simply not understand that their manuscript is not publication-ready yet. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 11 '15 at 16:47
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    I don't think having a working paper can hurt your application, as long as you are proud of it in its current form already - in particular if its a joint paper with a PI. Those papers are usually listed on a CV or personal web page. On the contrary, they should help document that you are engaged in research already. I just don't think that an "under review at..." monicker elevates it over just being a working paper. – gnometorule Nov 11 '15 at 17:06
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    Please be aware that many graduate schools ask for you to submit research articles as part of your application materials. In this case whether or not it is "in review" or just pending/forthcoming and you are including a draft, it is still worthy of inclusion and has a greater-than-zero value (if it's something that's worthy of graduate-level review, anyway). So I would say that an unpublished paper - even in progress - can matter for a graduate school application. I'm just not entirely clear on what value it has relative to an already published paper, or if a metric can meaningfully exist. – BrianH Nov 11 '15 at 19:06
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The value is going to be hard to quantify, as it will likely depend on you, the people reading the application, your field, etc. It will range in the eye of the reader somewhere between "0" and "Less Than a Published Paper".

Things a Paper "In Prep" Does Do:

  • It shows you're thinking about research enough to want to write a paper about it, and have engaged in actually doing so. How big of a deal this is alone likely depends on your field, institution, etc.
  • If you give an interview, it gives people a targeted thing to talk about. I've been asked questions about a manuscript 'in submission' before, because the interviewer thought it sounded interesting. These kind of directed questions, in something you're hopefully very comfortable talking about, are probably more useful than "So...tell me about yourself."

Things It Doesn't Do:

  • Critically, it doesn't actually show that you can write a paper. It shows that you can write something you've decided to call a paper, but the key act of academia, getting it published hasn't happened yet. Depending on how well your advisor is known by the admissions people, you might get some credit for "Dr. Superbigdeal wouldn't let anything come out of her lab unless it was solid gold..." but I wouldn't count on it.

Or alternatively, I could submit my draft and wait for the reviewer's opinion, so I can put mark the paper as "in review". This will serve as a proof that my work is mature enough to be seen by others. But is it worth it?

I'm not sure this will meaningfully change the value of a paper. Getting it published? Major shift in its value. Shifting from in prep to in review...distinctly less so. Because again, it's lacking that last critical piece of being actually accepted. The difference between the two can be as trivial as a few buttons on a website, and personally, I would treat the difference as such.

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How different are papers that are "in draft", "in review", and "pending publication" for graduate school application?

They all have value, although it is hard to quantify. In draft papers show you have initiative and signal (but not reliably) some level of creativity and experience. In review papers suggests the same things to a stronger extent as it implies that the work is more mature (a draft could be at any stage of completion). Obviously, a paper pending publication is a very strong signal of ability.

Or alternatively, I could submit my draft and wait for the reviewer's opinion, so I can put mark the paper as "in review". This will serve as a proof that my work is mature enough to be seen by others. But is it worth it?

Without knowing much about the details, I think it would be worth doing if you are not going to lose out in someway. I know of people who got academic positions partially on the basis of papers in review (although usually at advance stages, so second or third round). In contrast, I don't know of anyone gaining much advantage from claiming they had a draft paper.

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