Internal competition: strategic planning, negotiations and publications

Now that I have removed Harvard and Princeton, having just realized how unrealistic they were in my context, while I still held on to UPenn, I was still freaking out, searching frantically for both a replacement to Harvard and Princeton as well as a way to strike a deal to ensure that this particular person will not apply to UPenn, despite the fact that the only ones who know about UPenn in my home department collaborate with others in soft condensed matter projects (experimental or theoretical). Unfortunately, perhaps I was a little naïve to think that negotiations alone would resolve the issue, knowing that neither side can resort to sabotage.

To ensure the negotiations wouldn’t fall apart, I had to double-check whether UPenn offered what physics she wanted (or whether soft condensed matter was acceptable to her eyes) but also what alternatives I could put on the table. Since I was quite confident that she could score high enough on the physics GRE for it not to be an issue, I had no qualms about suggesting Cornell and Stanford, in that order, given her desires as a condensed matter experimentalist. But someone pointed out that perhaps I am a little too hung up on the “publications” part of her dossier, and that the realities of our respective subfields are quite different.

To wit: experimental condensed matter is easier to get involved in early in an undergraduate career (some even say it’s significantly easier) compared to theoretical particle cosmology, due to the  more-or-less-vast discrepancy in background requirements as far as having the capability of contributing is concerned. Three summer internships, two publications. I know not in what capacity she took part in the research leading up to these two publications, but one thing is for certain: she isn’t an endorser (and, in condensed matter, endorsers are listed after the least contributor, in order of the importance of their material contribution, if they are individuals rather than organizations) even though she didn’t necessarily understand the whole shebang. In theoretical particle cosmology, one can’t really get started until quite late in undergrad: QFT, general relativity, topology are rather advanced tools. And authors are listed in alphabetical order, an artifact left behind by particle experimentalists and the sheer scale of the collaborations required for their experiments. Even so, IMO two publications done as an undergrad in experimental condensed matter are worth more than one theoretical particle cosmology publication (and that’s if we can get it done by the application deadlines) as a masters student.

Even though many Cornell and Stanford (as well as Harvard, Princeton, UPenn and so on, so forth, although maybe not at Vanderbilt or Dartmouth) PhD matriculants have publications, not so many of them did so as first author. However, this begs the question: to what extent do admissions committee take in account the circumstances (subfield, order of authorship in a publication, # of citations, etc.) under which the publications were written?

Addendum: I got the confirmation that she isn’t even considering UPenn at all, so all I can say is that I was in a sorry state for three days.

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