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Admissions Am I suppose to be doing research?

  1. Oct 24, 2017 #1
    I just graduated with my A.A and I'm fully committed to getting into a Physics graduate program after my bachelors. I've just recently learned that grad schools want to see research experience in addition to GRE scores and I'm a little confused about what research is.

    Do I just google different Physics related labs and ask them to do research?

    I have only completed Calc I and Gen Chem I. I don't exactly think I have the necessary skills to complete whatever it is these places are even working on..

    I'll be taking Calc II, Gen Chem II and Physics I in the Spring.

    What can I do now in your experience to have a stellar file to hand over to an admissions committee when the time comes.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2017 #2

    jtbell

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    Undergraduates normally get their research experience at the college/university where they're studying. To find out what opportunities are available where you are, ask your professors and classmates, and study the departmental web site and the bulletin boards in the hallways. With your current background, you don't know enough physics yet to be really useful in research, but it doesn't hurt to start looking around and sizing up opportunities for later.
     
  4. Oct 25, 2017 #3
    Wow! Completed an AA, intending to major in physics, and have not completed a single physics course.

    Yes, at some point doing research is important if you aspire to admission in a decent graduate school. Research supervisors also tend to write better recommendation letters than classroom instructors.

    You need to be poking around at your institution for opportunities in undergraduate research. Find out the paths through which other physics majors have become involved in research. Look at the bulletin boards and departmental web site.

    As others have mentioned, your coursework is currently pretty thin to make you an attractive candidate for an undergraduate research position right now. Make sure you work very hard in your physics courses. Impressing my classroom professors is how I landed two important research positions as an undergraduate.

    You will also want to get a programming course and become skilled in programming as soon as possible. Ask around to see what programming languages are in the greatest use in your department. Many projects suitable for undergrads involve programming, and an undergraduate candidate for lab jobs who is a good programmer is a much more attractive candidate.

    The students I've mentored in research tend to have a higher success rate contacting professors in person (go by their office during office hours) than emailing a resume cold and asking about research. Put together a resume and bring it with you. If possible get some feedback from others. See if you can get a look at resumes of other physics majors who have been successful in landing undergrad research positions at your school. Consider what you need to do to improve yours.
     
  5. Oct 25, 2017 #4
    I spoke with a career adviser today and he said he might be able to find me some sort of tag-along observational experience for the summer. In the meantime I'll just keep an eye out and look around . While I'm looking for research experience should I only be accepting opportunities that will be relevant to my intended grad school, or should I branch out and just take what I can get?

    As far coding, should I self study some object-oriented programming on the side or do they want to see more scientific stuff like MATLAB? Should I build up a portfolio?

    Thank you for the advice.
     
  6. Oct 25, 2017 #5
    My usual advice is for undergrad physics majors to get into a research group as soon as possible. If you have time and improved opportunities, no one will think poorly of you if you later move to another group that is a better fit for your interests. But who knows? You may discover you really like something because you tried it. My undergrad research experiences included crawfish, nuclear physics, atomic physics, and astrophysics. I discovered I really liked atomic physics.

    The best advice I can give here is to ask around and determine which languages are most important in the research groups in your local physics department. Pick one of those languages and learn it. Some learn programming languages better by taking a course. Others are capable of becoming proficient through self-study, but this is more common after one has learned their first language in a more formal setting. By the time you know a couple programming languages in departmental use, there won't be much doubt that you can pick up another one on the fly if it happens to be needed by the group you join.

    A portfolio is not bad, but more likely you'll need to describe the projects you've addressed in each programming language you can list on your resume.
     
  7. Oct 25, 2017 #6

    symbolipoint

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    My opinion is what you can do NOW, is to keep on studying. Not yet did Physics 1 ? You're not ready to do any research in Physics; but as you go further, that will change. You will need to become interested in something in which to research.
     
  8. Oct 25, 2017 #7

    symbolipoint

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    I clicked a "LIKE" for post # 5 mostly because,
    .
     
  9. Oct 26, 2017 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    I agree with symbolpoint. You're 3 or more likely 4 years away from your degree, so you have time. What you need to do right now is successfully manage the transition to 4-year college, a transition that many find difficult. You don't want to load up on other activities until you are certain you can handle the new, faster pace of coursework.
     
  10. Oct 26, 2017 #9
    I agree with this to a point - research should not interfere with success in coursework. But most college students spend an awful lot of time pursuing recreational activities, and could easily spare 10 hours a week from their recreational activities if they have an opportunity to join a research group. My experience (both as a student and as a mentor) is that research groups have always been flexible with students at crunch times (usually mid-terms and finals) when they need to scale down their work hours to focus on academics.

    I've seen the cliche "not have a job so I can focus on courses" devolve into students spending 20-40 hours a week on time wasting activities to recommend it with much enthusiasm. More likely to be true for many college students is the idea that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Another cliche, to be sure. But my experience is that students who are so busy with classwork and research that they have very little time for drinking, partying, video games, and internet porn do better in the long run than students who avoid having a job to "focus on coursework."
     
  11. Oct 28, 2017 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    I don't think we're that far apart. In any event, if the OP is the sort of person who needs a little extra time to successfully make the transition, and yet spends that extra time on beer-drinking, the problem of grad school admissions will take care of itself. :wink:
     
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