medphys761 wrote:I have seen a lot of people post about their research on the applicant profiles thread. However, I recognize that the people who post on those threads tend to be those with better chances of getting in (I don't think people with poor stats really want to post that publicly).
So I was wondering if anyone could attest to what a "good amount of research experience" is. How many people typically have a publication? What is an indication of a good amount of research? Do poster presentations at conferences matter? And is there any merit to just working with a group for 3 years even if it didn't result in a publication?
Basically, I just want to get an idea of what schools are looking for in regards to research experience.
Here is my opinion based on discussions with profs and having gone through grad school.
Average research experience depends on what program you are applying to. Let's quantify "one research experience" as either one entire summer of full time research or one entire year of part-time senior thesis type work (or "directed studies"). For a top tier school, the average admitted applicant probably has 1-2 experiences. For applicants across the country, I would say 0-1 such experiences. Remember that "average" means there are successful applicants with more and less. One friend got into a top tier program with no experience at all.
Typical first-author publications: 0. (Interpreting "typical" as "mode"). If you average all applicants, I'm sure the average # of publications per applicant is closer to 0 than it is to 1.
Typical co-authored publications: Mode is likely still 0 or 1. Harder to quantify this because in some fields, it's pretty easy to be a coauthor on a large number of papers if you worked on a key part of a project. I wouldn't use publication count as a metric since a lot of students publish their undergrad thesis work after they are grad students. Being lucky with timing is a major factor in whether you get your undergrad research work published in time for applications.
Indication of a good amount of research: Probably best demonstrated by strong letters of reference. In addition, having something tangible that is "produced" by the research, such as a tool you made for a research group, or a poster presented (even at a student conference), report written, publication or something.
Poster presentations: Yes, these are great! Whether they are at student run conferences or at full conferences, that would be great. I think presenting a poster is a good indication that your research project accomplished some milestone (since your advisor likely would not send you to present a poster if you didn't at least finish some part of it).
Working in a group for 3 years: Sure. Publications aren't the only metric used to measure "successful research", especially not at the undergraduate level. "Publish or perish" should not apply to this stage. If you really enjoy the work and are learning new things each year, I don't see a problem with staying in the same group. That said, if you are in your 1st or 2nd year and considering staying for longer, it might be a good idea to consider different experiences if they are available to you.
In my opinion, an undergrad doing three short research projects vs. one long multi-year project has different pluses and minuses, so I wouldn't say one path is necessarily better than the other. The goal of undergraduate research work should be for you to learn what you like and to develop the skills you want to develop. I'd say you should focus on that rather than your "output". Especially since the more you progress in academia, the more you will have to specialize and focus and the more you will be evaluated on your paper count etc. Take advantage of this time to do what you want to do instead. If that's working on a project that you enjoy for 3 years, great. If that's trying lots of different things, also great. Just don't feel like you have to do one or the other and not enjoy it.