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I’m currently in the first semester of MSc of psychology in a university in Germany and we got a lecturer from a university abroad who wanted to know what we had published. To his surprise, none of us had any publications. For us at least, not having any publications when entering the graduate program is normal.

I know of a couple of peers who were able to publish their bachelor’s thesis and one person who had several publications even before he started his masters, but at our university those are the exception, rather than the rule.

How is the situation in other countries and disciplines? Do undergraduates generally have any publications?

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    What field are you in? – astronat Dec 27 '16 at 10:57
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    I'm doing clinical psychology and he gave a course on general psychology. – Mark Dec 27 '16 at 11:09
  • What country is your lecturer from? And you are doing your MSc in Germany, but what country did most of you do your BSc in? – shoover Feb 1 at 16:22
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Throughout every country and every field that I am familiar with, it is fairly unusual to be part of a publication as an undergraduate.

It is also the case, however, that those who did publish are more likely to go on to graduate school, and that it would be unusual to have a class of any significant size with nobody who had published in it. I don't know the actual statistics, but let's assume only 1 in 10 undergraduates who go on to grad school have published something as an undergraduate, in which case in a class of 20 students, there is a ~88% chance that at least one person would have published.

Thus, it might well be surprising to the lecturer that nobody had published, even though publishing as an undergraduate is fairly rare.

Note: the numbers that I gave were notional, just in order to illustrate the way likelihood is non-intuitive for a whole class. As a point of reference on the high extreme, however, consider that 85% of MIT undergraduates participate in on-campus research programs. A lecturer coming from a high-density research environment like that may well have biased expectations about research frequency.

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    I would be very surprised if someone has published something during their bachelor in Germany. 1 in 10 is way too optimistic. I don't have any numbers either, but it's probably less than 1 in 100. Students are simply not involved in research at this stage. Even the bachelor thesis usually doesn't have sufficient scope. A German bachelor is even more like school than its equivalent used to be prior to the Bologna process. When applying for master studies it is not expected from students that they have research experience. – Roland Dec 27 '16 at 12:39
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    I agree with @Roland, probably all around Europe is very rare for an undergraduate student to publish, and certainly not alone. 1 in 100 is probably a good guess for a co-authored publication. Note also that historically, at least in my country, undergraduate students and Master's students were frequently excluded from group publications, especially by older professors. Things are now slowly changing. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 27 '16 at 13:09
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    Jakebeal, I don't know the numbers for Germany, but in my country I'd say that 1 in 100 of those who go to graduate school are likely to have published as undergraduates. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 27 '16 at 13:35
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    @CarstenS The concept of undergraduate/graduate education is somewhat different between Europe and the US. I've exemplified a bit the difference in this meta question. In some sense, many in Europe, both in industry and academia, consider the BSc degree just as a transitory degree toward the MSc (probably, many would like to go back to the pre-Bologna process era ;-) ). – Massimo Ortolano Dec 27 '16 at 16:30
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    Jake, your profile says you're in the US and my impression is that undergrads in the US are significantly more likely to have published than in any other country I'm familiar with. I've worked and studied in several British universities (including Oxford and Cambridge) and I don't recall any faculty I knew doing research with undergrads. There just isn't a culture of doing that, here. Undergrads don't have time to research during term time, and they don't have funding to research outside term time. – David Richerby Dec 27 '16 at 16:50
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It depends what field, and also depends on the culture.

Sometimes students only respond to what is available to them. I remember the first article that I wrote as an Architecture Undergrad, we were told that the best articles would have a shot at publication. In this field, obviously research and publication will not be in the minds of young undergrads, therefore, it only became an option because the academic staff had encouraged it.

but it is rare, I would imagine. Especially as even if the students had the motivation, the quality of the work might be lacking.

  • It depends a lot about field and the culture. I am from the top university, and they would never allow anyone to publish in not top 20 journals. It is thus rare that anyone without title of Master would publish. Having a Master is the standard and Bachelor is seen as a middle step. Thus not even most of the Masters publish as most go to industry; in general only PhD students and professors publish. Then there is some more relaxed universities and fields where Bachelors go to industry and Masters students are researchers as nobody would think it a disgrace to publish in not top journal. – user3644640 Dec 27 '16 at 14:52
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    "I am from the top university" I was not aware that there is one university that is unambiguously regarded as the world's best. But if you want to go by e.g. thebestschools.org/features/… then I am from the top university, and "they would never allow anyone to publish in not top 20 journals" is certainly not true: even undergraduate students are given a great deal of autonomy and certainly have the right to publish wherever they wish. – Pete L. Clark Dec 27 '16 at 16:31
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    @PeteL.Clark I don't think they're a native English speaker. There are some other weird grammar constructs in their comment as well. – Kat Dec 27 '16 at 19:19
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    @Kat: Thanks for the insight. I wondered about that. It was not my intention to pick on the language but rather take issue with the fact that at "the top university(ies)" students are not allowed to publish in certain journals. – Pete L. Clark Dec 27 '16 at 20:14
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This quite depends on field - my friends from experimental physics were more likely to get a publication as a member of some team then me doing mathematical physics. (I eventually did get a publication before finishing MSc as a solo author but the results are nothing outstanding or special in the big picture.)

Also some universities (such as the one I attended) provide the opportunity to participate in a students "competition". It goes as this: you get an advisor to oversee you, you get some results and you prepare a poster to present it. Few people are selected (best work/presentation in the respective field) are selected and awarded (they get some extra money, quite a nice amount for the local costs). The results are not published in a journal but I think they are kept somewhere in a database of the university. This system is good because nobody expects the students to produce any significant results - compared to journals but they still get to do some scientific work. But the downside is it is not recognized as a publication.

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