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About college, research, and living on your own. I need help

  1. Jul 2, 2010 #1
    I have a few questions that I need to get over my head with.

    1. I am a freshman and about to start college. I am 18, when I finish my freshman years, I will be 19. I am just wondering since I am just starting first-year-physics, is there even a point in finding research? Where do I find research opportunities? Do I just go to my physics professor and ask him for a research? I personally don't mind spending my free-time on research, but are all physics major required to do a minimum hours of research?

    2. My other question deals with living on my own. I was reading a thread on some college board and it says that most people (males mainly?) start living on their own and have a job by the time they are in 3rd year. I am just wondering, is that true? What kind of part-time job should I seek to balance my life? I mean what kind of part-time job would I be able to afford time and money to support myself?
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  3. Jul 2, 2010 #2


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    Most undergrads don't do research in their freshman year. You'll probably be assigned an advisor, it would be best to ask him/her about research opportunities.

    If you have financial support from your parents, count yourself as extremely lucky and don't get a job. Your goal should be to get the highest grades you can; a job would only distract from that...just my two cents.

    Do you know at this point if you'll need a job?
  4. Jul 2, 2010 #3
    Actually my parents has been bugging me about it, they rant on paying college, food, shelter (Actually, they always complain supporting me with food and shelter, so it isn't anything *new*), and other various stuff. So I kinda want to get a job that might support myself, which I know is close to impossible because I am just a freshman with no skills.

    So just when do I get research opportunities officially? Is it possible to spend my summer 2011 just doing research? Or shuold I just focus on my GPA?
  5. Jul 2, 2010 #4
    It's rare that you "officially" get research opportunities. It's more a case of asking around and seeing what is available.

    As for a job... a summer job might be worthwhile, but if your parents are willing to pay (even if they b**ch about it), I think you should avoid a job during the school year. You need to focus on your studies... if reality intrudes and you must work, that's a different matter. But being a student *is* a full-time job.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2010
  6. Jul 2, 2010 #5
    I should add... one professor I know regularly "recruits" undergraduates into his research group based on how they do in his freshman physics class. So the best way to get into research is to do very well in your courses... professors *do* notice!
  7. Jul 2, 2010 #6


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    Next to impossible? A large portion of the job force is high school graduates/drop outs, you can find a job. Of course, as lisab said, try to keep support from your parents as long as you're civilized and grateful for it (you don't want them to cut you off 100% in your senior year since you weren't civilized about it, that can spell disaster). The only people I know who can't find jobs, even in this economy, are people who feel they're entitled to the job THEY want (a rant I can go on about for hours... but I'll save that for elsewhere!).

    Also, what kind of university do you go to? Some universities don't even care if their students do research and I've never heard of a university that requires it outside of doing it as a senior thesis. Ask your advisor/coordinator, they know what is required/expected out of you far better than we do. As for doing the actual research, you'll probably see it advertised more than just told to you. Doing research will come fairly natural in my opinion. As you interact with the department and the courses, you'll hear about things to do and professors who have groups or that do work with undergrads etc etc. Just keep an ear open... ask other people what work they're doing who have been around longer... see what they have to say. You'll be hard pressed to find someone who can't take 2 minutes out to give you the quick rundown of their work and how you can get into it or what else is going on in the department.
  8. Jul 2, 2010 #7
    Yeah, but they are low-end paying jobs and they live with their parents. I know this is low to ask this, but do departments pay people to tutor lower classmen? I already completed calc III and in the process of Calc IV this summer. I guess the only drawback for me is linear algebra.
  9. Jul 2, 2010 #8


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    Far from it, many people get by on minimum wage. That's not the point though, there are jobs out there you're perfectly qualified for, even beyond minimum wage jobs. The worst way to land a job is to think there are no jobs to even try for. As far the department goes, they probably won't hire a freshman if they even do that. More likely, however, is the university offering tutoring work. Then again even that's probably slim pickings for a freshman (considering higher up students are probably also looking for similar work). Not that you shouldn't ask first of course.
  10. Jul 2, 2010 #9


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    If there is a physics students' club (probably a chapter of the Society of Physics Students), join it. Some of the meetings may feature talks by professors and/or other students about their research, or about research opportunities in general.

    If the department has a weekly colloquium where faculty (both from there and from other schools) give talks, go to some of them. At many schools, these have refreshments beforehand and they give a chance for people to socialize a bit. You may not be able to understand much of the talk itself, but you can probably get enough out of the introduction to get an idea of what the work is about. Sit near the door so you can easily slip out when the material goes over your head. :wink:

    Make yourself noticed by your professors, in a favorable way. Show that you're really working at the material, stop by their offices to ask questions about homework, etc. Even if you actually have teaching assistants at first instead of real professors, get them to know you. Professors and grad students talk to each other, and gossip about their students, at least the ones that come to their attention.
  11. Jul 2, 2010 #10
    I started research last year, when I was a freshman. However, my research adviser stressed that this was highly unusual. Also, I attend a liberal arts college that has a strong science program, so it's easier for me to find research than, say, someone at a large state university.
  12. Jul 2, 2010 #11


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    There also might be a subtle hint here about making yourself noticed in a "favorable way". Our department has had their fair share of students who were so annoying towards the professors that the only one who would work with him is the guy who never had him in a class. He would practically spam them with emails, interrupt the classes with questions, and in general be very rude. How he got any recommendation letters to get to his PHD program is beyond me. He was quite a special case, but if there's anything to learn, it's to keep things civil and if you ever need to contact a professor (as you will have to probably at some point), remember that they're typically pretty busy and I've heard of professors that take up to 2 weeks to respond to emails.
  13. Jul 2, 2010 #12
    What kind of advice would be offered to a student who must hold a job, probably part-time, for the entirety of their undergrad education? Avoid STEM majors? Cut down some aspects of social life?

    Thank you.
  14. Jul 2, 2010 #13


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    The latter. The whole point of going to college should be beginning your education in a field you want to pursue for the rest of your life. Why decide against that because for a couple years you need to juggle some financial issues? It's not hard to get into a field without the degree in the field, especially in STEM majors, but getting a non-STEM degree is certainly not the best way to start.
  15. Jul 2, 2010 #14
    I was supported by my parents through my undergrad, so I never had to have a job. I did, however, work for the physics department as a sort of TA (though they are called "learning assistants" at my school). You might consider looking for that type of position after your first year; maybe your school hires students who do well in a class as tutors for that class? Then you can partially appease your parents and learn the material better.

    As for research, it can't hurt to start thinking about that right away. I regret not applying to more REU programs during my sophomore year (I didn't get in anywhere until my junior year). The best thing you can probably do is get to know your professors so they can write good recommendations, which will be more or less difficult depending on the size of the school.
  16. Jul 3, 2010 #15


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    You have to find a job that fits.

    Sometimes it's a matter of looking at what's available at the time, but you also have to make sure that you're making the most of the opportunities you have. It's not always the pay that's the point of a job. Often it's the experience that matters because skill sets that you learn part-time and over the summer can become your marketable traits when you start looking for a job after school. People tend to look down on sales and service positions, for example, but these are positions that will give you front line experience in dealing with people in a professional manner - something that's difficult to avoid, even in STEM careers.
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