Value of scholarly activity to a doctoral application?

My son is hoping to make his doctoral application more attractive. In the humanities, does delivering papers at conferences; publication of articles in peer reviewed journals; and being asked to chair a panel make a significant impact to his application?

The focus is literature, but the topics vary within modern and contemporary works. In your humble opinion, is there any activity you would recommend that might make his submission stand out?

Can’t speak to the humanities, but my son is in microbiology. He’s done two of those three things with only a B.S. and it seems to impress people in his field.

The phrase “publish or perish” dates back to 1932.

I just went through the application and admission process for biological sciences Ph.D programs, and from what I’ve read and heard from others, things like published papers, presentations at conferences, etc. definitely help your application. I’m not sure how this carries over to other fields, but I would think that it also applies to humanities, at least to some extent.

Again, someone with experience in another area (Computer Science).

Any applicant with the activity given in the OP would have gone from the Really Big Pile to the Really Small Pile (bypassing the Kinda Small Pile) right away on the admissions committees I served on.

Yes, absolutely (and I say this as someone who does have a PhD in English lit). My only caveats would be: 1) there are a few vanity-press journals (and vanity conferences) that would detract from his application (you’ll know which ones they are, since they charge outrageous fees); and 2) publication in a reputable peer-reviewed journal is a SLOW process in the humanities; if he’s just now thinking “I need something to enhance my application, I’ll just send off this seminar paper from my master’s program,” it’s unlikely that it will see print for years, if ever.

Am I the only one who is suspicious of the OP?

What would be the reason to not include these accomplishments on a grad school application?

I’ve looked at lots of resumes from new PhDs in CS and EE, and few have any sort of publication record as undergrads, so I’d suspect that you are right.
Coming from a good school helps a lot also. And being interested in an area that an existing faculty member is interested in.

Of course it does. Why would it not?

I just looked up my old alma mater’s requirements for admission into the PhD program in English. I went to a state university, not one of them fancy schools like Harvard.

Other than length, they don’t define what a “critical/scholarly paper” is, but I’d guess being published in a peer-reviewed journal would give it a certain legitimacy.

I’m happy to provide more context. The conferences which have accepted his papers (he’s delivered one to this point) are all well-known, reputable and have had rigorous competition. His articles are already accepted for publication and they too have been a slow process from his response to the call to hearing from the readers that the articles, with some edits have been accepted.

My curiosity was primarily around the “chair a panel” invitation he was given. His paper was rejected because it didn’t match what they were looking for as closely as other submissions. However, they were suitably enough impressed with his paper that they asked if he would be interested in chairing a panel.

Because there are time and travel costs he wondered if, in the end, chairing a panel would make much difference to his application. I lumped everything together wondering if there could be a relative value answer to the question overall.

He’s at a very good school.

Thank you for your answers.

I’ve chaired lots of panels. Chairing panels is more about traffic control than knowing the field (though knowing the field works) and doesn’t count for experienced people very much. However for an undergrad (is he an undergrad or a MA student) to get invited to chair one is something that will make him stand out, and so it is well worth doing.

However I find it odd that the consolation prize for a rejected paper is a panel. Often the panel organizer is the chair, unless the panel organizer really, really wants to be on a panel. No matter - if the conference is good he should do it, and he should be sure to shmooze with the attendees. Talk to them at lunch, go to the bar and talk to them, talk to people at parties, look for names he knows in the field. The #1 benefit of the conferences I help organize, according to our surveys, is networking. And most of the top people are not in sessions, they are in the hallways talking.

Thanks, Voyager. He’s an MA student. The panel he’s been invited to chair is probably a tad esoteric but still likely to be well attended. I can’t speak to whether the organizer intends to participate in a panel; hence extending the invitation. It seemed unusual to my son also.

While he’s been weighing the pros and cons of spending the money to travel to the conference, I had offered my opinion that chairing a panel would show a different skill set (traffic control) than speaking would.

My son also mentioned the number of social activities: dinners, parties, etc. at the first conference, but as a novice he’d essentially flown into town, spoken and flown out. I will pass along the importance of the hallway discussions. :slight_smile:

My wife is a music history prof at UCLA. She says that chairing a panel wouldn’t mean much by itself, but could be used as an example in a paragraph about how he’s already involved in the field. If he goes to the conference it should be for the networking, not for the panel chair “credit”.

Wow–that’s a level of ignorance which is scary–especially for someone who thinks he is smart enough to earn a Phd.
Networking means everything…in any field of endeavor.