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Schools Having Trouble Finding a Math Undergraduate Research Project

  1. Feb 25, 2017 #1
    I am an undergraduate pursuing mathematics and computer science in the research university at U.S. Inspired from the applications of algebra to math and statistics, I have been trying to find a suitable project in the mathematics with supervision from a faculty member, or a reading course in some topics of the pure mathematics. I have been sending emails to professors at the math department for either a reading course or a project (regardless of the difficulty) I can pursue, but they are either not interested or ignoring my emails and corresponding followup reminders. When I visited one of faculties during her office hour, she told me that she have been ignoring my emails since she is not interested in my proposal of research idea (I felt sad for a while as I hope she should informed me she is not available through emails rather than ignoring it).

    The general outline is that I approach professors doing research similar to my interest, and ask them if they have any available project. If they do not have projects, then I ask them if they are interested in hearing about my own ideas.

    I am started to feel anxious about it as I really like to work with professors in the mathematics (my interests are not really in the domain of CS, but more or less the pure mathematics and its applications in theories of CS); I am interested in their research, but they are not interested. I understand the busy schedules of professors, so I am curious if there us any way to approach them to acquire the opportunities of project or reading course. So far, none of the professors at the department is interested or available..I visited many professors during their office hours, only returned with the rejections. The few professors I really know well are also unavailable due to personal issues like medical treatments. Now, I am ran out of choice and really feel frustrated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2017 #2
    Don't take the ignored emails too personally; this is totally standard for academics to ignore proposals they're not interested in, rather than directly deny the student. I'm assuming from this post that you're at a somewhat highly ranked school as well. You're in an unfortunate situation indeed, but you must understand that you likely don't know nearly enough to even begin contributing to a serious project in pure mathematics, and that probably makes itself very apparent in your "research proposals". Any professor who agrees to take you on is taking on a large time burden to help you learn and adjust, and if one eventually does then you should be very thankful for that.

    I think in particular you should, for the current time, stick to only asking professors for reading courses, and only professors you've had a course with (and ideally done well in). Have a topic in mind already, be sure that the professor will be familiar with the material, and ask if they can recommend a book. Also, try talking to them in person when you ask, and try to play up the fact that it will not take up too much of their time. Suggest that you only meet once a week for 50 minutes, or something in that range. You should learn to be a self-sufficient studier anyways, so expect to largely be learning from a book on your own and only asking the occasional questions.
     
  4. Feb 25, 2017 #3
    Thanks for your advice! My interests are in the complex analysis, differential geometry, and probability theory, and their applications to problems in the information geometry. I actually took both relevant undergraduate and graduate courses in those mathematical branches, so I think I am ready to at least begin to read the papers. This is why I am frustrated since I have a strong background in them. When I was rejected for undergraduate search request, I actually did followup with a request of reading course; of course, I read some of their foundational and latests papers to deduce specific topics that could be interest to us both. I do not demand significant time, as I requested an hour or so for every week or two weeks, and they are still not interested. I also visited them in person during their office hours.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2017
  5. Feb 26, 2017 #4

    StatGuy2000

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    Education Advisor

    Instead of asking individual professors whether they could supervise you in a research project or a reading course, have you spoken to the math department about any available REUs or supervised research projects that are advertised and available? I remember these being available to undergraduate students who have demonstrated high academic achievement in their senior years.
     
  6. Feb 26, 2017 #5

    Stephen Tashi

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    Science Advisor

    If the project is a degree requirement then faculty will know that supervising such an activity is one of their duties. If the project is just your own initiative, you can't expect the typical faculty member to volunteer for more work

    You also can't expect a faculty member to supervise a project in a specialized field unless it happens to be one of their own specialities - which would mean it would be one of their own interests.

    The practical way to proceed is to see what topics the faculty suggest themselves.
     
  7. Feb 27, 2017 #6
    I think you misread my post. I did ask faculties for research in their specialized fields, sometimes incorporating them as a main theme of my ideas (I also mentioned that I read their papers too). The research project is a requirement for my major, but it seems that I have hard time acquiring one at the math department.
     
  8. Feb 27, 2017 #7

    jtbell

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    Staff: Mentor

    If the major requires research, then the department should have some system for matching students with research supervisors. Have you talked to a departmental academic advisor about this?
     
  9. Feb 28, 2017 #8
    At the schools I've work at, there was always a faculty member in charge of matching up students with the appropriate faculty to mentor their projects for required "senior research" type of projects. By junior or senior year, there were often a couple math majors who had acquired a reputation in the department for having a poor work ethic. Usually, faculty were not keen on working with them, and it was not unusual for them to need to find projects mentored by faculty outside the department.

    In other cases, students struggled finding a project because they were either too narrow in their thinking or wanted to pick projects much harder than faculty expected them to be able to accomplish in the available time (1 or 2 semesters). Faculty were not interested in all the hand holding they thought would be necessary for a project they saw as unlikely to be a good match for student abilities.

    I would recommend broadening your scope of potential projects and being willing to work in areas that may not be your first choice. For whatever reason, you have not won the confidence of faculty approached so far with your project ideas. If there is an academic adviser or supervising faculty for the required course, get their advice on how to proceed in a way more likely to produce a match between a project idea and faculty member.

    If all else fails, send me a PM. I keep a list of undergraduate project ideas on a back burner, and I've worked with students at different institutions who were not able to find faculty mentors at their home institutions. My expertise is NOT in your areas of interest, and most of the projects I've supervised are applied. However, if we can find an area of mutual interest, I'm fairly sure you can complete a project that will meet your institutions requirements (unless they have a rigid rule requiring you to work with faculty at your school).
     
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