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How critical are first-author publications when applying to a PhD program in psychology?


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I'm two semesters away from finishing my master's degree and looking at applying to some PhD programs in clinical and counseling psychology at schools in Florida (Florida Atlantic University and Florida Institute of Technology, specifically). As of right now, I have assisted on 4 research projects (1 as an undergrad, 3 as a graduate student), and presented at two APA conferences (senior thesis poster and paper as an undergraduate). My senior thesis was published in an undergraduate psychology journal.

As of right now, I'm sort of panicked. My GRE scores are "average" for acceptance (I'm not so great at math) and I've only been going to graduate school for 2 semesters. Each project I'm assisting with presently is with a different professor. My advisor seems to have a rather pronounced dislike for me, and so is very unhelpful and I was rebuffed when asking about asissting with her work, so I had to seek opportunities with other professors. I don't know these professors too well, so I feel that they wouldn't be able to give me a solid recommendation when applying to a PhD program. My undergraduate professors wrote me teriffic letters of rec for my master's program, but I don't know how good that would look on a PhD application to have undergraduate professors writing them.

Finally, my main concern is should I be trying to publish as a first-author on a paper (even though that seems IMPOSSIBLE)? And also, how heavily do admissions for PhD programs consider the number of publications and presentations to your name? I know they're important, but are there any other factors that could make me a more attractive applicant?

Sorry for the rant! Just trying to get my bearings and figure out what the best course of action would be.


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First-authored publications by PhD applicants are quite rare.  If you have one, that's great!  If you don't, please don't agonize about it, as most sucessful applicants do not.


I think most successful PhD applicants do have a few conference presentations - probably between 1 and 5 depending on whether or not they have a master's and whether they were lucky enough to work with someone with data.


Here's what's important in PhD psych, in rough order of most to least:


1) Research fit with the department.  This is best expressed through your statement of purpose, so this summer, spend some time drafting a really good statement of purpose and get some feedback on it.

2) Research experience.  You're on the right track, it seems.

3) Letters of recommendation from professors who have advised you or taught you.  Research advisers are best, of course.  You say your adviser doesn't like you, but is that just a personality mismatch and she seems to appreciate your work, or does she overall dislike you?  Perhaps you should have a frank conversation with her about whether she feels she can provide you a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school.  But if you work with other professors on research projects and this is semester 2, by the time October rolls around they should know you well enough to be able to comment on your research chops and whether you'd be a good doctoral student.  (Honestly, if they don't, you may not be approaching the RAship in the best way - reflect.)  I think you can get one or two recommendations from undergrad - especially if you wrote an honors thesis, did an independent study project, or worked intensely on research in undergrad - but it would be weird if you didn't have at least one from your MA program.


Then comes GPA (specifically performance in your field/major classes and last 60 credits).  GRE is arguably the least important, so as long as you have a decent/passable score don't worry about it.

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