Short background:

I've got BSc's in both Mathematics and Computer Science and I've just started my Master's in Computer Science after which I hope to pursue a PhD in Mathematics at a university other than the one I'm currently studying at (no PhD in Math or Comp. Sci. offered as the department/school is rather small).

For what it's worth this is all happening in the U.S.


I've talked to two professors at my current university and one has told me if I want to get some funding I had better publish while the other sort of shrugged it off, making publishing seem like it's just another thing.

Well, which is it? Should I really push to publish as much as possible while working towards my Masters or should I not worry so much about having something in a journal somewhere if my goal is to get accepted to a PhD program with tuition paid and a living stipend?

  • 3
    It depends a lot on the level of university you are looking at. Lots of students get into mid-level math PhD programs with funding without having published. At the top schools, everything is more competitive and papers could certainly be the difference between acceptance and rejection. (You can expect that if you get into a PhD program at all, it will be with funding - typically a teaching assistantship that pays your tuition and a stipend. An unfunded acceptance is, for most practical purposes, a rejection.) Jun 28, 2017 at 20:15
  • Thanks @NateEldredge. I would certainly like to get into a top-tier university, but we'll see how things turn out. I'll keep this advice in mind. Jun 28, 2017 at 20:16
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    I disagree with Nate Eldredge. Even at a top-5 math department, most admitted students don't have publications, and for all but a tiny number their publications don't affect admissions (from my experience on grad admissions). The letters of recommendation are what matters. By the way, it sounds like the advice you're getting might be from someone who knows CS rather than math (e.g. the comment about funding). If so you need to take it all with a hefty grain of salt, many things don't translate.
    – Tom Church
    Jun 29, 2017 at 1:50
  • Another thing you should consider is: You are doing a Master's in CS, but going for a PhD in math. So you will need really good letters of recommendation, that state why you are a good candidate for a PhD in math and not simply go for one in CS. Btw. you might want to ask yourself why you are aiming for math rather than CS, even though you choose CS now over math...
    – Dirk
    Jun 29, 2017 at 9:14
  • 1
    @TheRealKernel Then this should be exactly what you and others emphasize in recommendation letters, interviews, etc.
    – Dirk
    Jun 29, 2017 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


It is not clear what you mean by publish. In the simplest form, with predatory publishers a check and some gibberish, and the gibberish might be optional, you can get published. Even respected publishers do not always peer review (e.g., ArXiv only moderates) meaning the quality does not need to be particularly high. To get published in a respected peer-reviewed journal, or conference proceedings, requires you, or the team you are working with, to produce novel and exciting research, write a clear description of the results, format the results to meet the journal's specifications, and address comments by reviewers.

Having been involved in the production of novel and exciting research is very helpful for admission to a PhD program. The ability to write up results is also important, but this can come across in your application and doesn't require a publication. Formatting to a journal's specification and dealing with reviewers is not something that admission committees really care about.

In general, publishing is the end product of the research process. Admission committees don't generally care if you make it to the end of the process.

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