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06/25/2020

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VAP

Caveat: never been anywhere near a grad admissions committee.

My sense, having talked to others more senior to me about this when advising my own students, is that publishing in an undergrad journal probably won't help at all in any direct way. That is, I don't imagine grad admissions committees will be impressed. It also probably won't help much with the softer skills; I doubt many UG journals do rigorous peer-review in which you have to respond carefully to reviewer comments, etc. (It is for this reason that I think UG *conferences*——which *do* at least help with the soft skills involved in presenting one's work and responding to feedback on the fly——are immensely valuable for underclassmen especially.)

Moreover, publishing it could conceivably hurt, if the paper is archived online (as many are) and later found to be embarrassing or cringey or just plain bad——though perhaps this is a very low risk in the majority of cases. To be fair, I doubt anyone will go hunting for it, and most undergraduate cringe is forgivable.

My lone piece of advice——which I'm curious if any others would co-sign——is that if the paper is truly a good enough paper, the student might be able to get it published in a lower-ranked philosophy journal. This doesn't fully avoid the issues of cringe/embarrassment; but it would certainly be more impressive to a committee to see that a UG was able to get a paper published in some journal that regularly publishes graduate students and faculty. (Beware the scam journals, though!)

Concluding with a reiteration of the earlier caveat and a note that you shouldn't take the above too seriously unless someone else with relevant experience co-signs it.

maybe

I suspect that having a publication in an undergrad journal could be helpful to applicants who are applying from less well-known institutions and whose grades and letters are therefore likely to count for less with admissions committees.

Here is a bit of (admittedly anecdotal) evidence: I went to a very small state school where I majored in philosophy. The year I graduated I applied to several PhD programs also in philosophy, and I submitted a paper that I had published in an undergraduate journal as my writing sample. I was rejected at all the programs I applied to, but was eventually waitlisted for an MA program and got in. When I arrived on campus, it emerged that one of the people who was instrumental in securing me a spot on the waitlist had done so partly because they were impressed by the fact that I had a publication.

Again, anecdotal evidence only. Perhaps for many committee members, this wouldn't have made a difference. I also don't know whether having such a publication would be valuable for people applying from better-known (and more highly-ranked) institutions. But in my own case it seems to have helped persuade at least one committee member to recommend a waitlist rather than a straight rejection.

AD

Don't publish in undergrad journals. Either the paper is good or it isn't. If it is, submit to a real journal. If it isn't, then don't submit it at all. Publishing in an undergrad journal is a no-win situation.

Signed: someone who published in an undergrad journal once upon a time.

AS

Couldn't agree more with AD! Advise your student to submit to a suitable (undergrad or grad) conference instead.

Cheshire Cat

AD
I am curious: was your undergraduate paper good or not?

I published in a graduate student journal - I think the same advice goes for those as well. Though my paper has been cited.

AD

Cheshire Cat: It was okay, I guess. It wouldn't have been published in a real journal. But at the time, it sure sounded cool to have something "published."

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