<deleted for anonymity>
First author publications don't necessarily mean much... I worked for 2 years solid on a project that was just published, but was 4th out of 4 authors (simply because two profs who didn't do any work wanted to be 2nd and 3rd).
Yeah, whether or not a student publishes and where his name falls on the christmas list of authors depends much less on the student and more on the prof. Some profs refuse to put any undergrad on a paper while others will put anyone who was in the vicinity of the lab during the experiment on the paper. But again, with lots of high grades and test scores out there, I worry pubs and such things are the brownie points needed to get serious consideration.
Also, the Goldwater scholarship is a complete joke. It's limited to 4 people from each school, so kids from freaking community colleges end up winning it because X ivy league school/stanford/MIT/etc. can only nominate 4 people. To top that off, a friend of mine with 3 Nobel laureate recs and a perfect GPA at MIT was only an honorable mention. How does that make any sense?
Yeah and this award too defeats its own purpose, so it seems. They claim the award intends to "foster and encourage excellence in science and mathematics" and "provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields." But yet if you read profiles of the winners it seems they've all been doing independent research projects since high school. Thus the scholarship is not fostering excellence since the students were already so wonderful to begin with... and they're
not providing highly qualified scientists since the winners were already determined on being scientists since puberty at the latest.
To top that off, a friend of mine with 3 Nobel laureate recs and a perfect GPA at MIT was only an honorable mention. How does that make any sense?
They probably didn't like one of his essays... oh wait, the one person who read his app didn't like his essays... oh wait... the one person who skimmed a few sentences of his app found reason not to like him and threw out the whole app...