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Should You Publish As An Undergraduate?

Publish? Perish? Prosper? Is it wise to publish as an undergraduate? Will it affect your chances of getting into a PhD program? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of publishing as an undergraduate—and what it could mean for your academic career.

Dec 6, 2016
  • Student Tips
Should You Publish As An Undergraduate?

What’s does it mean to publish as an undergraduate? It’s academic currency. Validity. Worth. Is it something you should do as an undergraduate? Maybe. From the benefits of research opportunities, connections in the field, and career opportunities to its potential drawbacks, publishing as an undergraduate has its ups—and downs. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of publishing as an undergraduate—and what it could mean for your academic career.

Pros of Publishing as an Undergraduate

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1. Research

Here’s the bottom line: research isn’t done until it’s published. If you’re an undergraduate participating in research, publication is the completion of the process—it “professionalizes” research. Colleges and universities that encourage undergraduate publication realize that by investing time, energy, and resources in undergraduate research and publication, they’re preparing future researchers to work independently and to understand the process of publication. The benefits of undergraduate research and publication? It casts a wide net to attract interested peers. It offers undergraduates the opportunity to participate in a “professional” process. It forces students to meet deadlines, organize, collaborate, and demonstrate responsibility, in addition to making them feel confident about their work—and how to showcase it. It also takes the mystery out of publication and makes it accessible for undergraduates to feel confident about their research—and then to publish it.

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2. Connection

You don’t publish alone. Faculty in any department will be connected to research that comes from their department. Your research as an undergraduate not only reflects on you—it reflects the integrity and intelligence of the department and the people in it. Faculty should take a concerted interest in your publication as an undergraduate—it’s an opportunity to develop a professional, academic relationship with members of your department that you probably won’t find any other way. Undergraduates who publish will also have the opportunity to connect to other researchers in the field, which could offer potential opportunities down the road.

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3. Career

Publishing early in your academic career may highlight future opportunities in the field. As a published undergraduate, you may opt for advanced academic study—or confirm that your interests lie outside of academia. Either way, publishing as an undergraduate will give you a taste of what is to come—or not.

Cons of Publishing as an Undergraduate

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1. Beware Vanity Journals

Caution! Caution! Caution! A Faustian bargain at best. These are not reputable, peer- reviewed journals and could actually hurt your future academic and career prospects. Vanity journals will publish anything—for a price. Don’t make the price your academic soul.

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2. Challenging

Let’s face it—the academic world can be cutthroat. It may not be the choice you want to make as an undergraduate. For starters, the better academic journals have low acceptance rates, even for graduate students and established professors. Those acceptance rates decline if you have limited experience in selecting the right journal—and the right audience. As an undergraduate, you almost definitely have limited experience. That limited experience also affects your ability to write for specific audiences. Sure, you might be able to change your tone for an audience in Comp 101, but changing your tone and style for academic journals is an entirely different beast—and a challenging one. You have to decide: is the challenge worth moving forward in the process? If you look at the process itself as a learning experience, then it certainly can be. If you look at the process as a means to publication, it might not be worth your while as an undergraduate.

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3. Not necessarily helpful for PhD

Fact: you don’t need to be published to get into a top-notch PhD program. You need to be smart—and be able to show it. Having a publication or two under your belt as an undergraduate applying to PhD program certainly won’t hurt, but it won’t make or break your chances of acceptance, either. What is important for a PhD? Individual thought. Creativity. Innovation. Publication? Probably not.