Assemble Your Application

Resume and Publications

Your resume is a way for you to succinctly convey to the admissions committee your professional background. Not all universities ask for it, but do submit one if given the opportunity. Also, make sure it clearly lists any publications and major awards you have.

If you are applying to an MS program, your normal resume showing off your relevant experience should suffice. Most of the discussion below on the publications list applies primarily to applicants who have prior publications, and may apply less to MS applicants.

Publications list.If you have published research papers before, make sure that you provide full citations, so that the papers are listed clearly in your resume. In particular, we suggest that you give a full reference to the paper, including the full title, the full list of authors (in the order that the authors appear in the paper), the name of the conference or journal, and the year of publication. If a paper has not been accepted for publication but is under review, make sure to clearly denote it as such (with a phrase like “under review” or “submitted for publication”).

Surprisingly many students give unclear references to papers. If your name is “Allison Able”, the would be an example of a clear citation:

Charles Tan, Allison Able, and Cindy Tsai. “Fast approximation algorithms via the Cheap Splay algorithm.” In Proceedings of ICML, 2012. [You can also optionally give a url to a PDF copy of the paper here.]

In contrast, this is not a good way to cite your paper:

“Fast approximation algorithms via the Cheap Splay algorithm,” with Charles Tan and Cindy Tsai.  In Proceedings of ICML, 2012

This is because this latter citation is missing the ordering of the authors.

Unfortunately, admissions committees are often not sure how much credit to assign to non-first-author papers.  If the paper’s authors are in alphabetical order and you’re second author, but with an asterisk that denotes “equal contribution” between the first and second named authors, then the committee will know how to interpret that.   If you’re first author, the author will also know how to interpret that.  If you work in a research area (this is rare) that always lists authors in alphabetical order, then the committee, assuming they’re in the same area, will also know how to interpret that.   If however the configuration of authors is anything other than the examples above, then it’s hard for the committee to evaluate your contribution to the paper, and the committee will largely be looking to your LORs to determine your degree of contribution. 

By the time you’re applying to graduate programs, it’s probably too late to write/publish additional papers.  But what this really means is that in the months or years leading up to the application deadline, it’ll be helpful if you try to do work leading to a publication, ideally with you leading the project (first author), and publishing in an international conference with rigorous acceptance standards. 

Papers under review. Because of pressure to show publications, some students in the past have tried to submit a lot of papers for publication right before the application deadline, so that they can list lots of papers as “submitted for publication” on their resume, to make it look like they have written a lot of papers.  Admissions committees have caught on to this trick, and don’t particularly appreciate students submitting a lot of weak papers just for this purpose. 

Of course, if you have one or two strong, bone fide papers--ones  that you think have a decent chance of being accepted--by all means submit them for publication, and list them as “under review” on your resume.  In this case, hopefully your letter writers will report in the LORs on the strength of these papers (thus reassuring the committee that they were not submitted just for the purpose of listing in your resume).  If you don’t have any accepted publications yet, but have only 1-2 papers under review, you might also consider enclosing this paper together with your graduate school application (or providing a url in your application), so that the admissions committee can look at the paper and judge for themselves the merits of your work.

If you have a paper accepted a few weeks after the PhD application deadline, it’s worth contacting the admissions office to let them know.  Sometimes they’ll be willing to update your application to reflect this paper acceptance, thus strengthening your application.

Awards.  Listing awards on your resume can be useful. However, except for some small number of prominent awards (Putnam, IMO, etc.) the committee might not know how to interpret the award.  So, you should explain it clearly to them.  For example, if you say that you were  “1st place in Intel Science Talent fair”, the committee might not have any way of judging if this is a significant accomplishment.  Since the committee is looking for evidence to admit, if there’s a piece of evidence that they don’t understand, there’s a good chance it’ll simply be ignored.  In contrast, if you say you were  “1st place in Intel Science Talent fair (member of team of 3; won first place out of 80 competing teams in Santa Clara, California region)”, then this gives the committee more context with which to evaluate your award.  Similarly, if you write “Greenleaf Undergraduate Award, 2011” on your resume, the committee might not understand the significance.  In contrast, “Greenleaf Undergraduate Award, 2011 (awarded to the top 5% of Seniors in XYZ University)” is more helpful to the committee.
If you have won an award outside the US, then a US admissions committee is even less likely to be familiar with it than with US awards, and you should be extra careful to explain to the committee the significance of the award.

Homepage.  If you have a homepage that describes your work, you should consider giving a link to it as well from your resume.   Admissions committees will sometimes follow the link, which gives you another opportunity to present your work and present more evidence to the committee.  On your homepage, also do post links to all your research papers, ideally in a way that allows your reviewer to easily find/download/read the paper.  The other advantage of giving a homepage url is that if you have new papers accepted for publication, new research results, or other updates, you can also continue to update your homepage even after the application deadline. 

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