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Grad school - importance of research

  1. Jul 20, 2012 #1

    I am a sophomore undergraduate and I have a question about the importance of research experience for grad school applications (from senior year to masters or phd).
    I have read that research experience and letters of recommendation are the two main factors for top 10 grad school admissions. I am confused, as, from my own experience, the quality of research experience you can get is extremely dependable on luck.
    What I mean by that is that the results of your research (as well as recommendation letters) can vary tremendously depending on some factors that are usually out of your control in REU's and even inside your own research university: your research group, project and mentor. Depending on the conditions, you could either have an amazing and productive research experience, with potentially some co-authored papers, or a completely disappointing and unproductive one. You could end up with an advisor that ignores you completely or with one that really cares about your research/project and makes sure you get the most out of it. Both have already happened to me.
    Given that, isn't it unfair that so much emphasis on grad school applications is put on publication record? Many students with little/not stellar research experience might just not have had a good experience that was able to make the most of their abilities.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2012 #2


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    This doesn't sound right to me. What is your source of information?

    You might also want to keep from obsessing so much about getting into a top-10 graduate program. Those rankings are pretty meaningless, because it depends completely on your subfield of research. In a given subfield like, say, condensed matter physics, a grad school ranked #47 in physics could be much better than a grad school ranked #1.

    Then aren't you in good shape? One of your experiences was good, and presumably the good experience will look great on your grad school applications.

    A record of publications is a whole different thing than an undergraduate research experience. You're not expected to have a list of publications when you apply to grad school.

    For perspective, I went to grad school at Yale, which I think was ranked 20-ish at the time in physics. About half my fellow grad students were from China, and the Chinese students had typically never touched an oscilloscope before they got to the US. Nobody was expecting them to have done undergraduate research. When they applied, they were probably evaluated on whether they'd made the most of the opportunities available where they'd done their undergrad work. It sounds like you've done quite well in making the most of the opportunities at your school, so you should be fine.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2012
  4. Jul 22, 2012 #3
    It shouldn't be surprising to you that unfair things happen.
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