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What makes undergraduate research publishable?

  1. Mar 3, 2014 #1
    Hi guys, I'm going to be starting my senior project in computational physics by next semester, and my goal is to do something publishable in the fields of either analytical or quantum mechanics. However, I'm having difficulty determing what exactly that could be; the idea is either so complicated that I couldn't fully analyze the system within 1-2 semesters, or its of no particular interest to any applied physicists. For example, my current thoughts have been to either analyze a simple harmonic oscillator going through air with a temperature gradient, or a charged double pendulum in an electric field. I'm not sure how far I could get with something along these lines, or even if such analyses would be accepted by a journal.

    Could I get some guidance?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2014 #2


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    The threshold or "publishable" will vary from field to field, but really it comes down to whether or not the results that you obtain have any value to anyone in the field and second to that, how novel those results are.

    So really, you start with an existing problem or a question. Most senior undergraduates don't have enough experience and aren't well-read enough to really have a solid grasp of what problems are outstanding in a given field. Most people start to gain appreciate for this somewhere in the middle of their PhD work - some later than others.

    That's why it's important to establish a dialogue with a project advisor.

    Then there's the question of getting some substantial results over a couple of semesters of work. One issue that you encounter is one of low-hanging fruit. Basically that means that if a problem comes up that doesn't require that much effort to answer, there's a good chance someone else has already done the work. So doing something novel enough to warrant a publication with only a few months of work while balancing other classes, is improbable.

    That's not to say that it can't be done. Nor is it to say that you shouldn't pursue a project that interests you, even if it's not likely to lead to a publication. There's a lot of negatives in that last statement - I mean to say there's value for a student in a project that doesn't get published. That value comes in: development of skills, networking, building a relationship with a mentor, getting a taste for research that will help you decide if this is the kind of work you like doing, and even confirming a existing results, or facilitating a small piece of a much larger project.
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