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Question about publication


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Hi everyone,

I'm undergraduate civil engineering student,

I am doing some publication right now, and I want to know if:

-How does it affect the name order in the paper? (2nd, 3rd, ...)

-I want do a publication with my name only, does that help me a lot or not?


-I know that journal paper is better than conference, but can someone give me how many should I publish for both of them to be "super researcher" as an undergraduate student?!

I am looking for direct PhD in one of the top ranked universities, and I want to impress my future advisor!


Edited by abohammed
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Any publications from undergrad would look great. More specifically: 


- being 1st is better than being 2nd or 3rd. This may be field dependent, but at some point if you are a "middle author" (3rd or more in some, 2nd or more in other fields) it doesn't matter too much where your name appears. It's just clear that you did something but weren't the main contributor to the project. For an undergrad, this would still be great. 


- having a singly authored paper will help a lot, if it's in a good journal. It will help less if it's in a lower tier journal, a student-run journal, one that's not peer-reviewed, etc. 


- there is no such thing as a "super researcher" so no one can give you a definition of how many papers you should publish to reach it. Again -- any publications or presentations would look good. The better the venue, the better it'll look. Having a publication will count for more than having a conference presentation, but it's more realistic that you would have a conference presentation than an accepted paper in a good venue out of your undergrad research. 


To be very clear, you can have an impressive CV without having publications as an undergrad. It'll be impressive if you have diverse research experiences that you are able to talk about intelligently in your SOP, and if you have any experience going to conferences. If you are interested in going into research, then being able to spell out an interesting research problem and explain why it is important will be very valuable. 

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Just to add, especially as an undergrad, I think it's more important to have defined contributions to a paper and be able to talk about those in detail than the position of authorship. Even at the post-grad level, I'm starting to see more and more papers with end-sections defining exact contributions of each author- especially in projects that are getting less and less easily divided in to "first author, last author, others". 


A good rule of thumb I've heard a lot (and like) is that the first author should have done about 80% of the work on the paper to be a clear first author. It's not an exact thing, but it gives a good qualitative sense of contributions. Much less, and you're approaching the territory where co-first authors (i.e., "these authors contributed equally to this work") becomes more and more appropriate. 


Single author papers are really highly field dependent. In most bench sciences, for example, it's almost impossible to have less than two authors and generally 3-5 is common. In social sciences and humanities, sole authorships are really common. I'm not exactly sure where CE falls on the spectrum, to be honest. 


That said, co-authorship in a higher ranked journal is probably going to be better (as Fuzzy mentions) than sole authorship on a really low-ranked one.


I would imagine that as an undergrad in any experimental field, sole author would be really hard to achieve- you likely had access to facilities, supplies, and perhaps some funded (and maybe even guidance on the project) that would likely lead to co-authorship with the person who provided those things.

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  • 3 weeks later...

1) Like fuzzy already said, the higher your name is on the list the better. Pretty much any position helps for an undergrad, unless the paper has like 20 authors and you are below like 7-10 on the list.


2) Field-dependent. In my field, sole-authored papers are very uncommon and are usually comprehensive reviews or thought pieces done by big names in the field. A sole-authored paper by an undergrad is unlikely to be the kind of paper that any journal in my field would want, and I think it would be difficult to get it published anywhere. Moreover, it would take more time than doing a co-authored paper. It also wouldn't help an undergrad any more than a co-authored paper would unless it was simply brilliant - the work of a prodigy. So I don't think it's worth it.


3) There's no quantitative answer for this. Most undergrads don't publish anything, but publishing something is common enough that one or even two won't make you a super-researcher. In my field, I would say more than 3-4 publications with significant authorship (third or higher) would be impressive for an undergrad. However, I would also be semi-skeptical at that number, and would ask the undergrad a number of questions to ensure that their PI didn't just put their name on the paper to be nice. And I would probably be more impressed with one well-written, first-authored paper in a decent journal than I would be with three third-authored papers.

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Just adding another data point: My field is not a "lab bench science" but a single author paper would be really rare for an undergrad. Like juilletmercredi said, these are usually comprehensive reviews.


I have only published my data/observational work and all of these papers have 10+ authors on them. Usually you only see papers with less than 3-4 authors on them when it is from the theoretical side. Some excellent graduate students in theory do publish single author papers if they came up with and wrote the idea all on their own, with minimum guidance from an advisor. But usually, in my field, there is a huge divide between ~3 or less authors (theory) or a lot of coauthors (data). 


I also agree with Eigen that for an undergraduate applying to graduate program, it's far better to have contributed a useful thing to an important paper as a coauthor than it is to publish a first author work that isn't great. And juilletmercredi makes a great point about differentiating between "adding an undergrad just to be nice" and actually making a contribution. Be sure to discuss your contributions in your application (and your LOR writers should be writing about this too). I wrote about my specific contributions in my SOP as well as listed in my CV. 

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