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Doing meaningful research in high school/undergrad

  1. Jul 13, 2009 #1
    I'm a bit confused and would be grateful if someone cleared this up. How is it that so many undergrads nowadays get their names on publications? Or, the newspaper reports on high schoolers doing "research" that's supposedly meaningful. Or, competitions like the Siemens ask high schoolers to turn out novel research and supposedly they do it?

    How can it be that people who have little to no real education in physics can supposedly do "work" in the field? This question is more geared towards media attention towards high schoolers- I understand that most undergraduates that are published do so under a professor and much of the work is subsidized by their professor's guidance. But high schoolers? People who haven't even taken a rigorous E&M course are doing meaningful things in physics? How does that happen?
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2009 #2


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    It's possible to learn physics outside of the normal route of waiting until you're 18 to go to college and do 4 years of undergrad work etc etc. Some kids are truely gifted and can learn what normal people learn in college in high school. I mean hell, I think a lot of people feel their undergrad careers mainly consist of going to lectures they didn't understand, chasing professors that can't be found, and eventually having to learn the material themselves or with friends :rofl:.

    I think a lot of newspapers don't really have anyone who has any sense of what constitutes actual scientific research and many stories are of kids who don't know what they're talking about or are ahead of the curve but are being misreported as being the next einstein.
  4. Jul 13, 2009 #3
    I've always questioned those Siemen competitions. I get the impression that there's probably someone doing a whole lot of 'helping' and 'guiding' behind the scenes and a lot of the winners say they 'consulted' with a family friend who was a professor or some such.
  5. Jul 13, 2009 #4
    But then again, maybe i'm just jealous of the wunderkind.
  6. Jul 13, 2009 #5


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    It's called connections. Unless you know a professor personally, I doubt a university prof would want to waste time on a high schooler instead of helping an undergrad or a grad student in a more sophisticated and meaningful research.
  7. Jul 13, 2009 #6
    I know a 16 years old that's doing QFT research. I mean real research.
  8. Jul 13, 2009 #7
    What's their name?
  9. Jul 13, 2009 #8
    I know what you mean, I don't really know if its true or not. He says his helping with HEP, CERN, FLUKA. He knows quite a lot of physics at least as far as I can tell, doesn't sound like some idiot lying.

    ughh I sound like a idiot right now..:grumpy:
  10. Jul 14, 2009 #9
    There are some very young talented people but I think if CERN had a 16 year old on staff it'd be the physics human interest story of the decade.
  11. Jul 14, 2009 #10
    When I was an undergrad, my name was on a paper... but primarily this was because I took the bulk of the data; it was only later in the process where I really understood what was going on. As a graduate student, some of our undergrads went on our publications for similar reasons... they perhaps made samples and did minor characterization (so we could pick which sample we used for experiments). I think these students really understood at least their part of the process, which is, I think, what is important if you are a coauthor on a paper. If your name is listed and you have no clue about how you contributed a part to the whole, then you shouldn't be listed.

    So that's undergrads. I do also know some high schools that are in the region of national labs where high school students do go to the lab a few times a week and participate in research. While I haven't personally worked with any of these students, I imagine their experiences to be similar to that of undergrads (where they are taught to do some sample preparation, some particular aspect of sample characterization or data acquisition/analysis).

    So in general I agree with Pengwuino, who explains that there might be a few gifted students out there but that:

    After all, newspapers (and even these awards programs) are out to sell something to the public (either the paper or the idea of science itself).
  12. Jul 16, 2009 #11
    REUs and university funded research for undergrads. As for high schoolers, it beats me. Good for them.
  13. Jul 17, 2009 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    They don't. In my experience, high-schoolers (and a lot of undergrads) who participate in research projects (which is fine and should be encouraged) are often little more than button-pushers.

    I've seen what happens when these students have to face real questions about their summer project- the smart ones are not the ones who regurgitate the canned talk they memorized and practiced in front of their group for weeks. Some actually learned something.
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