As an undergraduate student, I have worked on some projects for my own interest, and recently a professor said that one of these works can be published (in a Elsevier journal with impact factor of about 2). I personally think that this work is not strong enough to be published and included in my resume. (I don't have any prior experience in publishing and related stuff.)

Can a weak research article published in a journal affect my application for graduate school in a negative way?

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    I don't think it'll have a negative effect for graduate school as this is not expected from undergraduates. In my case I had one article in preparation when I was applying, but I don't think that was a decisive factor for my admission. The rest of the people I know didn't have one and yet got admitted.
    – Prastt
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 0:14
  • I asked a related question, but from the other (hiring) side: academia.stackexchange.com/q/7908/929
    – StrongBad
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 11:17
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    Unfortunately, weak published work is usually considered positively, while personally, if I see something which I find to be a waste of paper, it degrades my appreciation of the author (... unless they're an undergraduate, in which case I'll chalk it up to the follies of youth or something).
    – einpoklum
    Commented Apr 29, 2022 at 10:18

4 Answers 4


There are very few circumstances under which I think it's a bad idea for undergraduates to write research papers. These primarily have to do with the quality of the journal: so long as it is a reputable, peer-reviewed journal, I wouldn't be too concerned with the "strength" of the work.

The reason is that publishing while an undergraduate—particularly as a primary author—demonstrates that you have already started to learn the basics of how to do research in your field. This means that you're less of an "unknown" quantity, and therefore less of a risk for a department reviewing your application. If you don't publish the research, then there's no tangible proof, and then you need to rely on your research supervisor to make that point in a letter of recommendation. (But then the question becomes: "if she could have written a paper, why didn't she?")

As for the exceptions above, so long as you don't publish in "vanity" journals (those which will publish basically anything, so long as people pay the appropriate publication "fees"), you should be fine.

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    do you include arxiv.org in "vanity" publication sites?
    – math
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 9:48
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    No. There's no publication fee associated with arXiv, and it's not a publisher. It's a repository, and unless it's the primary source for your field, it's not really "published" if it's in arXiv.
    – aeismail
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 10:46

I fully concur with the reply from aeismail but will add the following:

Publishing means your paper will go through peer-review. With a journal with impact=2 (reasonably respectable) you are likely to get a good set of revieweers. This will either lead to rejection or to suggestions for improvements. If publsihed the paper will likely be better than when it arrived at the journal. So remember that publishing includes more work than just sending something to be printed.

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    By way, JMMV on impact factors. There are a grand total of 9 math journals with impact factors >2 (since mathematicians write fewer longer papers than in most sciences). Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 20:52
  • That and they don't tend to cite very many papers when they write a new one. Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 2:29

I think your supervisor may want to extend the research with more experiments, data, etc. This will lead to an much stronger paper.

Good journals often reject weak papers, or ask authors to make major changes to their manuscript. So it is hard to publish a weak paper in a good journal. But always remember that Many weak papers are improved to strong papers in the review process.

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    1-"It is a fact that good journals almost always reject weak papers". No it is not a fact 2-"All Strong papers are amended versions of weak papers". No they are not. Not All of them. This is an academic SE please keep it that way.
    – blackace
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 7:48
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    @blackace but statistically, will those statements stand?
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 1:22

It is of course always much better to have publications in high impact journals, but this also depends on who is publishing. For a professor or post doc, the impact factor of the journal is very important.

However PhD student or undergraduate is usually understood as somebody who still cannot deserve a very high significance of they research work just by they competence and hard work. It is often looked just like a success and matters less. As a result, publications in low impact ( > 0 ! ) journals in this stage are also good enough.

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