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Another math REU thread

  1. Dec 11, 2009 #1
    After participating in a more algebra-oriented REU last summer, I would love to try working in some area of geometry of topology this year. Unfortunately this seems to be a pretty rare field for REU topics. Here are the programs I have found so far that have geometry or topology projects:

    Indiana? (not yet updated for 2010)

    Does anyone know of others?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 12, 2009 #2
    Let's make this thread more general. If you are applying to math REUs this year, feel free to panic, b**ch, moan, celebrate, socialize or just share your thoughts! Experiences from past REU participants are welcome as well!
  4. Dec 12, 2009 #3
    I heard -- somewhere -- that topology isn't usually a big topic because the typical undergrad doesn't know much topology beyond basic point-set stuff. Who knows.

    I'm hoping to get into one of these programs this year. That one at Tennessee looks especially cool because their FAQ section talks about students from smaller schools. That's me! It's good to know not every program is obsessed with recruiting from the Ivies and other big schools.

    Where did you end up last year, owlpride? How was the application process? Were the programs as difficult to get into as they are reputed to be?
  5. Dec 12, 2009 #4
    i'd love to get into an reu this coming summer. what qualifications did you guys feel helped you get in? i'm doing research with/under a professor next semester and i have the standard classes under my belt and a 4.0 but i've heard these can be quite competitive. suggestions? i'm also applying for the one at cornell (among many others), it looks really interesting.
  6. Dec 12, 2009 #5
    I went to Cornell last year. It was a lot of fun!!! All of the professors in the program were great and they chose interesting topics - accessible, yet didn't feel "fake" like many other undergraduate research topics. (My group is hoping to publish a paper in one of the better professional research journals, provided we can tie up a couple of loose ends.) Retrospectively I have the impression that Cornell is one of the more serious math REUs. I spent most of my time doing or thinking about math, at all hours of the day and every single day, including on July 4th. Some of my friends who attended programs elsewhere reported that their programs felt more like summer camps than a serious academic endeavor. /Unfortunately/ my success of getting into Cornell last year will be unrelated to my chances this year because the program was run by different professors.

    I got into about 7 out of 10 programs last year. I don't have high hopes for Tennessee this year because they rejected me last year, despite being from a small school :(

    As for general chances, my REU adviser told us that he received ~200 applications and that he picked us because something stood out about our applications. Someone asked him if he could share with us exactly what we did that made us stand out, because it might be a useful piece of information for graduate school admissions. His reply: "Oh, it's nothing you did. Your letters of recommendations stood out."
  7. Dec 12, 2009 #6

    hmm... so what makes a good letter of recommendation? I've always heard this is one of the most important factors, which makes me nervous since i'm a sophomore and haven't had to much time to get to know many of my professors.
  8. Dec 12, 2009 #7
    I don't know - I have neither written one nor evaluated them. My REU professor said that he was looking for two specific points: a statement along the lines of "best student I have had in x number of years", and evidence that we work well with others. But Cornell is arguably one of the more selective programs. Being the best student in some number of years cannot be a prerequisite for all programs out there.

    I had the same concerns last year you that you are having right now - "but I am just a sophomore, I don't know my professors all that well." And frankly, that is still a concern for me right now :) I was lucky that I am attending a small college, where my professors will invariably get to know me even when I am not going out of my way to meet with them. I had one professor who I had taken 4 classes with, the last one being an intro-graduate-level algebraic topology course with only four students. I suspect that I got a very strong letter from him.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2009
  9. Dec 12, 2009 #8
    makes sense. thanks for the clarification. and do you go to rice by any chance?

    edit: how do the letters of rec. work? do i request them, professor writes them, then i mail them in? or do i give the professor the addresses of the various places to which i am applying and he does all the mailing and what not?
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2009
  10. Dec 12, 2009 #9
    No, I am not attending Rice.

    Some programs accept letters of recommendation via e-mail. For the rest, I provided my professors with addressed envelopes and they took care of the rest. Make sure you ask your professors at least 4 weeks ahead of the deadline, and give them a friendly reminder closer to the deadline. I have talked to a number of students in the department about letters of recommendation, and I got some very useful advice from them as well - especially about which professors *not* to ask for a letter.

    Enough about me. Do you have a shortlist of programs yet?
  11. Dec 12, 2009 #10
    thanks again, i've been given a reading list for the winter break by a professor (the one with whom ill be doing a bit of research/work for in the spring) and hopefully i'll get it all done and then some and ask for a letter of rec. at the end of January. as far as which programs I plan on applying to...i don't really know. don't get me wrong, there are definitely a few which stand out as more interesting than others. for example, i'm much more interested in cornell's analysis on fractals than i am in arizona state's mathematical biology program. however, i'm not in a position to be picky and i would be content getting a taste of real research in any mathematical field so i'll probably apply to 10-15 programs.
  12. Dec 12, 2009 #11
    If you are interested in the Fractals project, experience with Matlab would be a definite plus! Most of their day-to-day work is computer experimentation. Professor Strichartz is developing a theory of Analysis on Fractals. Students work out special cases, which suggest how the general theory should go. When I was there, I got the impression that every theoretical breakthrough is preceded by several years of numerical experimentation.

    This thread reminds me that I should go talk to my professors next week before winter break. Oh how much I hate writing applications...
  13. Dec 12, 2009 #12
    Good info. I'm definitely looking to get into a more "serious" program. I'm not busting my *** to get into these things just so I can go sit at a barbecue and eat hot dogs. I'm actually slightly suspicious of the programs that prominently display hikes, social events, etc. But then again, I hate fun.

    So, it seems that letters of recommendation play a large role -- I was expecting that. Hopefully my profs know how to write!
  14. Dec 12, 2009 #13
    looks like i'll also be brushing up on my matlab over the break...thanks for the tip. and writing applications? is there an essay or something like college apps? i was counting on sending in my transcript, resume and letters of rec. and that's about it. maybe a paragraph or two on why i want to do this but i certainly wasn't expecting to write any real essays or anything.

    i'm with you there. i don't want a summer camp, i want to go to work and learn. anyone know which of these are known for more of a camp atmosphere than academic one?
  15. Dec 15, 2009 #14
    A few of the super prestigious programs (e.g., Duluth) feature camping activities, so don't rule programs out just because of that.

    I will be applying to programs for next summer. I'll probably apply to Duluth just because, well, it can't hurt to send in an application, and I'll apply to Cornell certainly (as well as the "summer math institute" there as long as that's still going next summer). Then I'll look for less selective programs to round out my applications and so I actually have a chance at getting in somewhere. :D

    Anyway, I have a somewhat bizarre situation. I'm going to be transferring to Rice next semester, so I'm going to have to somehow negotiate these letters of recommendation before this semester is over (and this is finals week).
  16. Dec 15, 2009 #15
    My comments regarding camping activities and such was said out of jest -- er, at least somewhat. See, I think I'm funny.

    These "prestigious" programs worry me. As I understand it, these REUs were started with the intent to give students who otherwise don't have access to higher-level classes or research opportunities at their home schools to have a chance at research. Is this correct? Then why does the list of past participants at Duluth look like a Harvard alumni-reunion roster?

    These kids will already have a leg up on me when it comes to undergrad name-recognition in grad-school applications, now they're stealing my REU slots!

    Oh well, I'm not as bitter as I may sound, I actually think this whole application process will be fun. Oh, and since you guys are my competition, I have begun spreading vicious rumors about all of you. Good luck!
  17. Dec 15, 2009 #16
    Yeah, I agree that it's frustrating how ultra-competitive some of them are. But I think Duluth was actually one of the very first pure math REUs; it may have been the one that originally showed the idea could actually work (i.e., undergraduates are capable of doing publishable research in math over the course of a summer).

    Heh, the word "Harvard" appears 81 times on that list of participants (although that includes where they went to grad school or ended up working).
  18. Dec 15, 2009 #17
    You couldn't really run a Duluth-style REU with anyone less than the top math majors in the country. Only few undergraduates can be productive on an individual project w/o much guidance and take full advantage of meeting current experts in the field. Wisconsin runs another ultra-selective program.

    Realistically speaking, most professors would rather work with the "best" students they can get, rather than the most disadvantaged students they can find.
  19. Dec 15, 2009 #18
    Indeed. I've seen the CVs from some of these kids -- holy buckets. I know that I would feel waaaaaaaaay out of place if I somehow ended up in an REU with a bunch of Putnam fellows or something. I'm not looking to get into the most super-prestigious programs, I just want to get in SOMEWHERE and have a productive summer.

    I need to get this damn inferiority complex under control.
  20. Dec 16, 2009 #19
    The past Wisconsin projects/papers are simply incredible. I've seen papers produced at Duluth, and while impressive they usually don't draw on much sophisticated machinery. The projects at Wisconsin are both impressive and based on a lot of more sophisticated math. If you are expected to be familiar with that material (e.g., modular forms) before entering the program, I can honestly say that one is out of my league. :D
  21. Jan 8, 2010 #20
    bump...i'm noticing many of these application require a page or two essay describing your interests in math and why you're applying for this particular reu. how important are these and if i'm applying to about 10 reu's, how different should each of my ten essays be?
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