How much does an nth author publication count, really?

pseudoscalar
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How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby pseudoscalar » Sun May 11, 2014 5:49 pm

So throughout my undergraduate physics "career" I've been fortunate to been able to work a lot with one great professor. Through some stroke of luck, I've managed to get my name on two papers which are both published in quite prestigious journals (one of them is Science). But on both of these papers I'm not the first author; I'm only 4th on the Science paper and 2nd out of 2 in the other one (I did real research work though, the professor doesn't just hand out authorships). I don't think this (not being first author) is surprising given that I was only a freshman/sophomore and most of the work was helping out in the implementation of my professor's brilliant idea. Still, I consider myself very lucky - if you Google my name and "physics" then my name shows up in all sorts of science news websites mentioning the research when it came out :D :D .
Still, though does anyone know how much these publications count, really, in applying for grad school? I know that it's better than nothing, but does it really help much when you're not the first author? How much does it compare, say to a first-author publication in an ordinary (but still decent) journal? I'm aiming for the highest tiers (Harvard/MIT/Stanford/etc.) if I can, and I thought that these publications would give me a good boost, but realizing how many applicant profiles are filled with people who have been first authors, I'm not sure it's that special anymore.

TakeruK
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby TakeruK » Sun May 11, 2014 6:57 pm

Where are you getting these applicant profiles with people that have first author publications in undergrad? If you are seeing them here or other grad forums, remember that the profiles online are *not* a representative sample of grad school applicants! In addition, if you are at a top ranked school right now and you are comparing to your classmates, remember that most grad applicants will not be coming from top ranked schools.

I would say that the majority of applicants do not have any publications at all, not even coauthored ones. Sure, a first author paper is great, because it means you have experience writing papers yourself, but co-authored publications show that you have been exposed to "real" research and contributed to research at a level that merits publication/coauthorship. This is great.

I am at one of the schools you are aiming for and almost none of the people in the incoming classes have a first author publication. Many of us have at least one co-authored publication but a good fraction have no publications at all before grad school.

You have definitely been very fortunate and skilled to have been able to work on research in your freshman/sophomore year!! Some schools emphasize research more than others but I would say that the majority of grad school applicants do not start research work until after their junior year, and some of them might not even have any research experience at all outside of their senior thesis work.

Finally, I have a similar publication record as you from undergrad. No first author papers (actually, even now, I don't have a first author paper yet), but a nice number of coauthored publications, including one in a pretty prestigious journal. I think that really helped me in my grad school applications!

In summary, I think your publication record definitely makes you stand out and it will be a great boost to your profile. I also think you should keep in mind that there is a lot of "observation bias" when comparing yourself to others online and others at your current school!

Catria
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby Catria » Sun May 11, 2014 8:07 pm

Thank you for this information; I told myself that many who applied to UPenn and Yale (as well as Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, and so on, so forth) will have publications, and the majority of matriculants will have at least one.

That said, is it true that, if you have an authorship in a multi-author article with a person that can write you a letter of recommendation, the co-authors will write you stronger letters of recommendation? (compared to people with whom they did research work but without authorship in articles)

TakeruK
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby TakeruK » Sun May 11, 2014 11:31 pm

Catria wrote:Thank you for this information; I told myself that many who applied to UPenn and Yale (as well as Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, and so on, so forth) will have publications, and the majority of matriculants will have at least one.

That said, is it true that, if you have an authorship in a multi-author article with a person that can write you a letter of recommendation, the co-authors will write you stronger letters of recommendation? (compared to people with whom they did research work but without authorship in articles)


It totally depends on how much you worked with the co-author. For some of the co-authors on my publications, the only interaction I ever had with them was when we gave our feedback on a draft. This happens when I am doing the analysis of the data and the coauthor was a person who worked on building the instrument. It would be a bad idea to get a LOR from someone you barely know like this. However, some of my other coauthors I worked extensively with on the analysis and we were in weekly telecons discussing our methods. This would be someone who would be great to get a LOR from (although it would still be better to get a LOR from someone who supervised you directly).

So, in my opinion, it's a matter of your working relationship with the person--it doesn't really matter if they are a coauthor or not! One of my papers has 30 coauthors, and I barely know most of them (I did get to at least see most of them in a collaboration meeting).

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quizivex
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby quizivex » Mon May 12, 2014 4:19 pm

Catria wrote:I told myself that many who applied to UPenn and Yale (as well as Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, and so on, so forth) will have publications, and the majority of matriculants will have at least one.

LMAO, where do you get these ideas from? Those programs are ranked #54 and #70 by US News. This gives me nightmares of the Tufts: dream or reality? thread. You're going to make other folks worry that their safety schools are reach schools.

As for the OP, I think you're in good shape research-wise as long as your advisor says in his recommendation that you made significant contributions to the work. You have an impressive publication record on paper. I wouldn't fear getting rejected over some other applicants who have a first author paper in an XYZ journal. Even undergrads who get first author papers are usually just following the advisor's instructions for the most part (and I think most admission profs understand this). I think you should worry more about your GPA and the PGRE moving forward.

Arbitrary
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby Arbitrary » Tue May 13, 2014 1:30 am

I also hold the opinion that the OP is overexaggerating the research credentials of the majority of the applicant pool.
You may check my profile if you wish. I have precisely zero publications in peer reviewed journals, and I'm an international student (which is far worse in terms of admission chances). These facts did not impede my admission to two highly regarded schools (UofC, UMich) for theory.
Having good recs, grades and PGRE is practically enough, and your publications in such prestigious journals is a huge bonus, even if your name is written fourth on the list.

Catria
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby Catria » Tue May 13, 2014 9:17 am

quizivex wrote:
Catria wrote:I told myself that many who applied to UPenn and Yale (as well as Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, and so on, so forth) will have publications, and the majority of matriculants will have at least one.

LMAO, where do you get these ideas from? Those programs are ranked #54 and #70 by US News. This gives me nightmares of the Tufts: dream or reality? thread. You're going to make other folks worry that their safety schools are reach schools.

As for the OP, I think you're in good shape research-wise as long as your advisor says in his recommendation that you made significant contributions to the work. You have an impressive publication record on paper. I wouldn't fear getting rejected over some other applicants who have a first author paper in an XYZ journal. Even undergrads who get first author papers are usually just following the advisor's instructions for the most part (and I think most admission profs understand this). I think you should worry more about your GPA and the PGRE moving forward.


Thanks for clearing that up.

Vanderbilt and Dartmouth, while much less selective than UPenn and Yale, still receive quite a bit of applications from people with research experience. I guess I could be prone to overreaction because of my intended research field (HEP-theory/cosmo)... which is hard to break into.

However, I knew that, even at Yale or UPenn, people that did publish were likely not to have done so as a first author.

pseudoscalar
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Re: How much does an nth author publication count, really?

Postby pseudoscalar » Wed May 21, 2014 6:04 am

Thanks everyone for the replies - it was nice to be reassured that my perception of number of publications by undergrads was kind of skewed. As others have mentioned, I'll now focus on other things which are more important - my PGRE score and GPA. I have a couple of questions about those though (I know this is the wrong section of the site to ask them, but since there are already people in the thread, why not). Is it really important to get a 4.0 GPA to get into top 5 physics schools? Obviously it's not a dealbreaker, but once again it seems that in those profile threads, the people getting into Harvard and the like are mostly those with perfect GPAs. Is this again another case of biased perception?

(I'm an international who's doing undergrad in US, and my physics GPA is around 3.93 btw - due to getting A minuses in a couple of sophomore level courses like Stat Mech. I won't be that disappointed though, if I get into a top 15 school like Michigan, Yale, Colorado, or Illinois)

Secondly, if there are multiple candidates coming from a small school (my college is a liberal arts college with a strong but small physics department), will schools tend to admit only one person from that college (who they deem to be the best)? There are 2-3 other people in my year who I think can have slight advantages over me in GPA (like he got an A in a sophomore level physics course, while I got an A-), but I think I have the best publication record. Throughout the years there's only been one year in which we had two people going to the same grad school - but since the sample size is so small, maybe that doesn't mean anything at all.




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