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Dilemma: Should I apply this year or next


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My stats

  • BSc in Computer Engineering from an obscure university. Decent grades
  • MSc in Development Studies from a top university in the UK. Decent grades.
  • Working for a year at a well known policy research institute
  • Research interests- social demography, poverty, inequality, gender and intra-household welfare

I am currently working on a couple of papers, one single and two/three co-authored (I will be the lead author for at least one of these). I hope to get them finished by the end of this year and have at least two accepted for publication in peer reviewed journals by the end of next year.

My dilemma is as follows. I am in my late twenties and anxious to starting applying to PhD programs as soon as possible. I was in fact, hoping to take the GRE in September, and apply this year. However, if I do so, I don’t get to show any publications in my resume.

On the other hand, if I apply next year, there could be at least 2 publications to support my application. I was speculating that a publication or two might strengthen my applicant profile, especially since my undergraduate degree is not in the social sciences. I was just wondering whether anyone has any advice. How favourably are publications looked upon by ad coms, i.e. is it worthwhile delaying my application by a year?

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Overall your profile looks really strong. While having some publications can only help, they're hardly a requisite thing that adcoms look for. If you plan on submitting papers in the Fall, then you can list them as "under review" on your CV and talk about them in more detail, either in your statement of purpose or CV. Apps are generally due between Nov and Jan, so you might even have an R&R by the time you apply.

But overall, adcoms will be looking for research experience in general more than a track record of publishing. I would say you're ready, pending of course the GREs.

Also, don't worry too much about the non social science BS. Adcoms often prefer the atypical applicant, especially if it means strong quant skills. My UG advisor went to a top soc program with an engineering BS. Also, a lower GPA in a major with a reputation as being more difficult will sometimes look good, accepting of course the huge variability in adcoms preferences and biases in a given year and across programs and individual profs.

Check out the poll we have around here somewhere on 2012 applicants' backgrounds, including publications.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'd say go for it. It can be really difficult to gauge where you're going to get in, especially with an atypical background, so why not give it a shot? Plenty of people get into top places without publications, so don't take that as a requisite-- it's just icing on the cake, and, as socialgroovements points out, you still get mega bonus points for being able to say you have a publication in the works on your CV and to be able to discuss it in your SOP.

The fact that you're involved with publishable research is probably much more valuable than the merit badge of the publication itself. I think some times people get overly concerned about these little frills and demarcations of having done work rather than the content and quality of the work itself. AdComms generally care if you have interesting, sophisticated, and/or creative ideas and experience carrying out research as much if not more so than whether or not you've published (and the fact that you're in the process still says a lot about your seriousness, ambition, etc). Anyway, I'm rambling at this point, but I would just say don't lose sight of all the valuable work you've done!

I almost waited to apply this year (I applied last year), and in retrospect I'm really glad I did it sooner rather than later. We can all rationalize how we'd be better if only given a bit more time to improve ourselves and our records, but you'll just never know how you stack up against the competition until you actually apply. If it doesn't work out, you can always apply later!

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While publications are nice and especially if they are in a reputable journal, it's like "stamp of approval" from a third party. But like others said, the thing that is actually important is that you were involved in publishable-quality work. This means your LOR writers will have tons of good things to say about you. I'm not in the field, but I think this is something that is true to academia!

But what's the harm in applying this year and then just reapplying if things don't go well?

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